By Local Town Pages - A free talk by a prominent expert on immigration, Jessica M. Vaughan from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), scheduled to be held Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3402 on Pond Street on May 18, was abruptly canceled when the Post pulled the plug.
“After weeks of preparation and advanced notice about the speaker, we heard from the Post Commander, Larry Bedarian, a few hours before the event, that the doors would be locked and the lights off-- that we couldn’t come,” explained Jim Gianotti, chair of the Franklin Town Republican Committee, which was sponsoring the event.
The cancellation apparently came as a result of calls from individuals associated with Action Together for Massachusetts Western Norfolk County, affiliated with a national group, Action Together Network (ATN). According to that group’s web site, ATN is “a volunteer-run support and resource provider for the growing resistance movement in the United States. “
Expecting to find the event still going on, Action Together demonstrators, about 15 in total, at least one from as far away as Rehoboth, assembled in front of the VFW around 6:30 p.m., occasionally chanting slogans such as “Immigrants are welcome here.” People who were unaware of the cancellation arrived and congregated in the parking lot. One individual, who declined to provide his name, walked up and tried the door of the building, only to be told of the cancellation. “I’m an immigrant myself and I was really looking forward to hearing what the speaker had to say,” he explained. “It is too bad people aren’t more tolerant, I hope it is rescheduled,” he added.
It is unclear whether that will happen.
“We wanted to shut it down; we don’t want hate, and we don’t want our kids exposed to this,” said Kim Thibeault from Medway, who said she helped organize the demonstration. “It’s not a political thing of Democrats or Republicans, we just want to stop hate,” she added. Stephanie Roberts, also from Medway, agreed. “CIS is a hate group; their blogs try to make immigrants look like criminals,” she said.
According to the CIS web site, the organization is run by “a diverse board of directors that has included active and retired university professors, civil rights leaders, and former government officials,” with research funded by contributions from individuals, government agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau and Justice Department, and foundations. Vaughan, a local resident, has testified before Congress and the National Press Club and has made frequent appearances on local and national news outlets, including both MSNBC and Fox News. She is a former member of the State Department diplomatic corps.
However, according to Roberts, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit with an endowment of more than $300 million that focuses on civil rights, has determined that CIS is one of a number of groups founded by a “white nationalist” that believes in eugenics and “their most quiet group” is CIS. “That’s the point of my sign,” she explained, pointing to a placard that read: “Your fancy words don’t fool me CIS you’re spewing hate.” But the SPLC is not without some critics of its own. Writing in the Weekly Standard in 2014, Charlotte Allen noted, “the SPLC started out fighting legal battles against lingering segregation in the South. More recently—and more lucratively, its critics say—it has transformed itself into an all-purpose antihate crusader, labeling 1,007 different organizations across America at last count as “anti-gay,” “white nationalist,” “anti-Muslim,” “anti-immigrant,” or just plain “hateful…”
“It is a missed opportunity for area residents,” said Gianotti. “There has been a lot of miscommunication across the Internet, and this was a chance for people to hear and have a dialog with a leading expert on immigration policy. Instead of just picking up headlines, they would have had a chance to dig deep and ask questions. We just wanted an open and respectful dialog,” he said.
Gianotti said he hopes the event will be rescheduled. “This has gone way beyond the issue of immigration, this is now about the right to free speech and assembly,” he said. “The night of the event and over the next two days, I had dozens of calls asking what had happened and wanting to know when it would be rescheduled,” he added.