Young woman dies and GOP sees opportunity
On the day she disappeared last month, Mollie Tibbetts had left her boyfriend’s home in a small town in Iowa to go for run.
As has been widely reported now, Chisthian Rivera was driving when he spotted 20-year-old Tibbetts, who was white. An Iowa law enforcement official said Rivera told authorities that he first followed her in his car, and then pulled over and started running next to her.
Tibbetts was frightened, Rivera said. She pulled out her phone and told him, “I’m gonna call police.” Police say he can’t remember what happened next, a memory block he claims is common when he’s angry or upset. He did, however, lead authorities to the cornfield where he had hidden her body.
Police initially described Rivera as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and said he may have used a stolen ID to avoid federal detection. On Wednesday, his lawyer said he was here legally.
Rivera was working on a farm owned, in part, by a prominent Republican. Please note that I’m not blaming that Republican for Mollie Tibbetts’ death. See how that works?
Rivera was an angry man who wouldn’t take no for an answer. He is now charged with killing an innocent woman. Also this week, a white Colorado man named Christopher Lee Watts was charged with killing his pregnant wife and their two young daughters.
Watts did not inspire the president and his Republican minions to denounce his alleged crime on Twitter.
Rivera is another story, and we all know why.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds tweeted, “We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community …”
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted: “We commend the swift action by local, state, & federal investigators working in Iowa in apprehending an illegal immigrant, who’s now charged with first-degree murder. Now, justice will be served. We will never forget Mollie Tibbetts.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted a now-popular meme of side-by-side photos of brown-skinned Rivera and Tibbetts, writing, “Mollie would be alive if our government had taken immigration enforcement seriously years ago.”
Trump, who never tires of baiting the racists in his crowds, alluded to Tibbetts’ murder at his Tuesday rally in West Virginia: “You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico. And you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman. Should’ve never happened.”
It is racist to blame an entire population of nonwhite people for the crime of one. Journalist Jamil Smith, who is my friend, worded it exactly right on Twitter: “If a young woman like Mollie Tibbetts had been killed by a white boyfriend or family member — as is significantly more common in America — there would have been no @WhiteHouse video lamenting her ‘permanent separation’ from her family. Trump’s exploitation of her death is abhorrent.”
At that same rally, yet again, the anti-Hillary Clinton crowd erupted into a chant of “Lock her up!” Wrong person, but we can see why they had prison on their minds.
There is so much these Republicans want us to forget.
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, for example, pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight federal counts ranging from tax evasion to campaign finance violation, and implicated Trump. As his lawyer later made clear, Cohen “would never accept a pardon from a man that he considers to be both corrupt and a dangerous person in the oval office.”
On that same day, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts of financial crimes.
And then there are all those innocent children, 565 of them, who remain separated from their parents after U.S. officials tore them apart at our border. Where are all of those Republican tweets sharing side-by-side photos of mothers and their traumatized children?
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich emailed Axios editor Mike Allen “to make sure that we’d be covering (the Mollie Tibbetts) story … ahead of the Cohen-Manafort news.”
Gingrich’s take: “If Mollie Tibbetts is a household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble. If we can be blocked by Manafort-Cohen, etc., then GOP could lose (the House) badly.”
Calling this vile exploitation doesn’t begin to describe the harm Trump’s Republicans are willing to inflict on a grieving family. On Wednesday, the family released a statement that read, in part: “Our hearts are broken.
“On behalf of Mollie’s entire family, we thank all of those from around the world who have sent their thoughts and prayers for our girl. We know that many of you will join us as we continue to carry Mollie in our hearts forever.
“At this time, our family asks that we be allowed the time to process our devastating loss and share our grief in private.”
Tibbitt’s aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, posted this public statement on her Facebook Tuesday evening: “Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color. Our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends from all different nations and races. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
No relative should have to say this in the throes of grief. But when politicians try to turn your family’s tragedy into their road to victory, what choice do you have?
Editor’s note: Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism.