Following in the footsteps of other potential Republican presidential candidates, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced a $3.1 million deployment of 100 National Guard soldiers to the southern border in Texas (the only border state with a Republican Governor). This fits the pattern of Republicans offering dangerous and wasteful political stunts to advance party-wide anti-immigration messaging instead of solutions.
In his official statement this week, Youngkin claimed the move was in part due to fentanyl “devastating Virginia families and communities.” But this is a falsehood, and a dangerous one.
While it’s true that fentanyl is a serious and urgent issue for Virginia and communities across America, Youngkin’s deployment will do nothing to address that. He is using state taxpayer money to appear to be doing something about fentanyl, when he ought to be spending taxpayer money actually doing something about fentanyl.
In reality, the border deployment is a continuation of the kind of racial animus he harvested during his 2021 race, when he used racist dog-whistles around CRT (remember that?) and crime in Virginia to win the gubernatorial seat. Lots of political media portrayed him as a moderate guy in a red vest. His record, of course, shows otherwise.
Youngkin is now clearly mulling a 2024 presidential run, which is why he’s now moving on from CRT (an issue that worked for him statewide but may not play as well nationally), and taking up anti-immigrant demonization in order to position himself in a GOP primary field. This comes as a time when elected Republicans have embraced deadly white nationalist “invasion” theory. Virginia Congressman Bob Good echoed these racist lies as he applauded Youngkin’s move by saying the governor was addressing a “border invasion.” Republicans are also peddling dangerously escalated rhetoric about going to war with our neighbor, Mexico.
“Three recent articles — in Rolling Stone, Politico, and Semafor — traced the rise of the proposal [taking military action against Mexico] from obscurity to the party’s highest levels, finding ample evidence of the idea’s popularity in the GOP ranks,” Vox reported in April. “Every single declared Republican presidential candidate has endorsed treating cartels like terrorist organizations. And in both the House and the Senate, leading Republicans have proposed authorizing the use of military force in Mexico to fight cartels.”
These stunts by GOP governors do nothing to deter the cartels. If Youngkin was serious about countering the impact of the cartels, he’d call his friend and fellow Virginian Wayne LaPierre to demand that the NRA stop making it so easy for the cartels to get access to American assault weapons. He’d make the same demand of Republicans in Congress, too. Youngkin won’t do that, of course. He could also be encouraging other solutions, like using the tools of international trade as outlined by historian Kathleen Frydl. “There is no time for any more performative politics on the opioid crisis,” Frydl writes. “Last year alone, over 100,000 people in the country died from drug overdoses.” This news also comes as we learned that a federal court in New York is allowing the Sackler family, the billionaires who owned Purdue Pharma, to use the bankruptcy system to “have full immunity” from lawsuits over their role in fueling the opioid crisis.
GOP border stunts “are typically billed as responses to the fentanyl overdose crisis,” Vox continued. But the fact is that fentanyl is overwhelmingly trafficked through ports of entry by US citizens. Youngkin’s troops will not be going to ports of entry, they’ll be standing around chicken wire like other deployed soldiers have had to do. Virginia doesn’t even share a border with Mexico.
But like his Republican colleagues, Youngkin doesn’t want solutions here, just chaos to fuel a strategic racist political attack. The fact is that a deployment is nothing more than a campaign photo-op, as Governor Greg Abbott has shown in Texas –– and at immense costs both financially and in human terms. And, of note, just last month, Youngkin issued an executive order to deal with the fentanyl crisis. Not on the list: Sending Virginia National Guard to the border.
Youngkin shouldn’t have just trusted the Texas governor on this, because there have been a lot of problems with his own border stunts. “Wave of suicides hits Texas National Guard’s border mission,” Army Times reported in 2021. Four soldiers tragically died within a two month span. “Deplorable conditions, unclear mission: Texas National Guard troops call Abbott’s rushed border operation a disaster,” The Texas Tribune and Military Times said in a joint report last year. The report detailed degrading conditions, including some female soldiers having to relieve themselves in bushes because of a lack of toilets.
Others slammed the deployment in an anonymous survey reported by Army Times last year. “I hate it here,” one soldier said. “Another, asked for general feedback, simply posted four middle- finger emojis,” the report continued.
Youngkin isn’t alone when it comes to GOP governors recently announcing political stunts at the border. Within the past eight days alone, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster have announced deployments to the border. The statements from Lee and Reynolds peddled the kind of false “open border” claims that have been a financial boon to cartels, while McMaster cited a supposed “national security crisis following the end of Title 42.” It’s clear some wanted chaos following the policy’s expiration last month. But as we’ve noted, there’s been a relatively calm and orderly process in the weeks since.
In a tweet, Virginia Delegate Dan Helmer, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, succinctly captured what Youngkin is doing: ”This latest political stunt won’t keep us safe — ripping National Guard from their jobs and families to prop up your campaign is pretty low.”