An email from United Tea Party of Georgia which included a reference to carrying guns into a Gwinnett library where a 287(g) forum is set to be held Wednesday has Democrats alleging the Tea Party plans to intimidate opponents of the controversial immigrant detention program at the forum.
The forum is being hosted by Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, the black Alliance for Just Immigration, Racial Justice Action Center and Project South at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the library, which is located at 455 Camp Perrin Road in Lawrenceville. The organizers pitched the forum as a chance to learn about “the real impact (the 287(g)) program has on immigrant communities.”
Proponents of Gwinnett County’s involvement in the program, however, have been framing it as an attack on the sheriff’s office and have been encouraging their supporters to show up en masse.
“Billed as a ‘Community Forum’ it will really be a place for just the anti-Butch Conway and anti-law groups to speak their mind,” the unsigned email from the United Tea Party of Georgia states. “I am planning on going and would love to have some company! We need to arrive early because they may recognize us and claim the room is full. NOTE: You can carry a weapon (open or concealed) in the library as long as you have a valid permit. I will certainly be armed.”
The email prompted pushback from two Democrats running for county offices in 2020. Gwinnett Commission chairman candidate Curt Thompson and Commission District 1 candidate Kirkland Carden reached out to their supporters with the allegations of intimidation by the United Tea Party of Georgia against 287(g) opponents.
“This threatening, and intimidating remark is another in a long line of questionable actions and conduct by the most ardent supporters of the 287(g) immigration enforcement policy,” Thompson said in a statement.
“Those who support 287(g) must reckon with the climate of fear they are creating, especially during these trying times for our nation, and the consequences of what they are doing to political discourse in Gwinnett County.”
Carden struck a similar tone in an email to his supporters.
“This publicly propagated statement deeply concerns me,” he said. “I know firsthand how controversial and contentious the 287(g) issue has become in Gwinnett County and in our nation.
“We should never reach a point where one side of the debate is attempting to intimidate the opposition with weaponry and create a climate of fear where violence could erupt. This kind of violent insinuation is neither safe nor productive for our county.”
After the Daily Post and other media outlets began reaching out to the United Tea Party of Georgia, and its chairman, David Hancock, the organization sent out a statement saying it was not advocating violence at the forum.
It was not clear if Hancock, who often sends emails out from the party’s general email account, or someone else wrote the statement because it was not signed.
“Nobody needs to be armed for the event,” the email states. “I was asked if it was OK to carry in a library, so I double-checked the library policy and included the information in my notice. I carry everywhere I go, but because of the situation, I will probably leave my gun in my car.
“The comment was not meant for anyone other than the few friends I have on my Facebook account and my mailing list. NOBODY is advocating or anticipating violence in any way and I am sorry if it was taken that way by someone. We who carry do so to protect ourselves and others (INCLUDING those who are against programs like 287(g)), and never with the intention of harming anyone and always with the hope that we will NEVER have to use a firearm. I am going to simply sit quietly in a corner and learn from the information presented.”
The email is the latest in a series of fraught tensions over the 287(g) program. The center of the issue is the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office’s participation in the federal program.
Opponents of the program had been calling on county commissioners to withhold support of the Sheriff’s Office’s participation in the program for months. Things blew up, however, after Sheriff Butch Conway invited Dustin Inman Society founder D.A. King to participate in a 287(g) forum hosted by Commissioner Marlene Fosque.
Some groups pulled out of Fosque’s forum in protest of King’s participation. King later ended up in public disagreements with Carden and Fosque.
Carden had circulated a petition calling on commissioners to condemn Conway for inviting King to participate in the forum. Meanwhile, Fosque publicly condemned Conway for the invite, which prompted King to file an ethics complain against the commissioner.