The people of Rutland, Vermont, have gained a measure of revenge against former President Obama’s forced influx of Syrian refugees, voting out the five-term mayor who helped negotiate the controversial resettlements with a federal contractor.
Rutland is Vermont’s third-largest city but still very small, with a population of 16,500.
The candidacy of Mayor Christopher Louras went down in flames in Tuesday’s election as he was defeated by the refugee program’s most ardent opponent on the board of aldermen. David Allaire won with 52 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Louras.
“That’s not just a win, that’s a drubbing,” said Don Chioffi, an activist who supported the upstart candidate Allaire.
Louras came out last April and “announced,” much to the surprise of his residents, that the city would be taking in up to 100 Syrian refugees in fiscal 2017 along with others from Iraq. The announcement divided the city among those who wanted to welcome the refugees – no questions asked – and those who thought the refugee program was being dictated without any local input and with very little information. Protests and counter-protests were organized, attracting national media attention.
Unfazed by the division it caused in Rutland, a State Department contractor opened an office and started placing Syrians into the community.
More than 98 percent of Syrian refugees are Sunni Muslim while about 75 percent of Iraqi refugees are either Sunni or Shiite, and they’re just now starting to show up in a small town that doesn’t have a single mosque.
On Tuesday, Louras paid a price for his role in inviting the refugees to Rutland.
City Councilor David Allaire won a four-way race for mayor, stopping Louras from gaining a sixth term.
Both Rutland and Rutland County went for Clinton in the November presidential election, with Clinton winning in a landslide in the city but more narrowly in the county with 13,635 votes to Trump’s 12,479.
Local activist Don Chioffi, an ACT for America chapter leader in Rutland, said Allaire got no help from the local media. But supporters bypassed the newspapers and TV stations by using social media, meetings and a conservative radio host to get their message out.
“The people we talk to always react positively, but you would never know that from the media coverage we get,” Chioffi told WND.
“In their sacrilegious and diabolical effort to squelch the truth, they won’t put it out there, so it’s hard to emphasize how important this victory is because the leftist media just doesn’t give you a fair shake, and we went into it expecting that. We knew we wouldn’t get a fair shake.”
Mayor Louras had negotiated an unpopular refugee deal behind closed doors with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. USCRI is one of nine exclusive contractors that get paid by the U.S. State Department for every refugee they place into U.S. cities and towns.
USCRI’s budget is funded 97 percent by federal taxpayer dollars, according to its 2014 IRS form 990.
Watch local TV coverage of Rutland’s surprise election blow-back against refugee resettlement:
Ann Corcoran, who writes the blog Refugee Resettlement Watch, said Louras’ defeat should be a “wake-up call to mayors around the country that pushing the refugee program in collusion with a paid refugee contractor and the US State Department, while trying to keep the plan secret from the public, is not a good model for success.”
Corcoran went on a fact-finding tour of cities receiving refugees last summer. She said it’s the mayors who often work quietly behind the scenes with the feds to seed their communities with refugees who will eventually become a politically active voting bloc for the Democratic Party.
“One of the things I came to see in my travels around America last summer is that mayors in many cities with refugees, or about to get refugees, seemed to be quietly (so as not to tip off citizen critics) working behind the scenes for the federal pro-refugee resettlement contractors, and/or the businesses looking for cheap migrant labor,” Corcoran wrote. “I often referred to those mayors as having been ‘captured.’”
Rutland was one of those cities with a “captured” mayor, she said, much like Sterling Heights, Michigan; Twin Falls and Boise, Idaho; Clarkston, Georgia; and many other cities.
Read about Rutland and dozens of other cities across America being transformed by refugee resettlement in the book Michele Bachmann calls the “must read of 2017” — it’s “Stealth Invasion: Muslim Conquest through Immigration and Resettlement Jihad.”
After the protests last spring, the Rutland Board of Aldermen voted 7-3 in July to send a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry saying the city did not support the resettlement plan with USCRI because it had been hidden from public view until finalized.
The letter was ignored, and USCRI opened an office in Rutland, sending the first two Syrian families to the city around the first of the year.
The mayor had won that battle. But the political fallout was yet to come.
The mayor’s race became a referendum on the refugee program, said Chioffi, a 72-year-old retired English teacher who also helps lead Rutland First, a group that worked to shed light on the program when the mayor and USCRI refused to provide answers.
Louras, like so many mayors, sees refugees as a way to boost his city’s declining, aging residential base with young, non-English speaking, low-skilled migrants who tend to be Muslim and will work for minimum wage. The hotel, meatpacking and food-processing industries are notoriously fond of refugee labor, Corcoran said.
Rutland may not have a single mosque, but those opposing the resettlements said it came down to economics and transparency in government – not religion.
“[Religion] is the flash point that gets everyone’s dander up,” Chioffi told WND. “And it takes too long. There are so many ignorant people, not stupid but ignorant, who don’t know anything about this religion. They have never read the Quran or hadiths. I don’t have any problems with people wanting to worship their gods as they see fit, I’m not Islamophobic, but teaching the whole history of Islam in 10-15 minutes is a little daunting, so I shy away from that.”
Concentrating on principles of freedom and democracy are more effective, said Chioffi.
“What won this race in Rutland is we concentrated on principles of democracies and how far we’ve strayed from those principles when a private, nonprofit agency is taking people’s rights away from them, using secrecy, getting government funding, all of the things about this refugee program that have been taken away from the people.”
Chioffi said his group’s requests for public-record documents were rejected by USCRI, which claimed the information was proprietary, even though it was doing the government’s work as a contractor.
“We said we have questions and we want answers,” he said.
The group’s big break came when the USCRI director of the state resettlement program stumbled in trying to answer a question about why the refugee plan for Rutland was so secretive.
In an April 14 email to Mayor Louras, USCRI Director Amila Merdzanovic wrote in an email “if we open it up to anybody and everybody, all sorts of people will come out of the woodwork, anti-immigrant … anti-anything.”
“When they came out and said they don’t’ think this should be made public because ‘too many people would come out of the woodwork,’ we just pummeled her and branded her,” Chioffi said.
Chioffi said Rutland is a microcosm for what happened nationally on Nov. 8 with the election of Donald Trump.
“We the people spoke, and we were sick and tired of being dictated to and people making decisions on our behalf. And we’re certainly sick of being dictated to by a private, nonprofit agency,” he said. “Since when do you turn over your local government to a 501c3 private contractor, which then denies you public information? So the lack of transparency was the focus of our campaign against this mayor.”
Rutland is the type of all-American small-town that the Obama administration was actively trying to transform through refugee resettlement, bringing in up to 100 Syrians a year and possibly more from other countries, said James Simpson, author of the “Red-Green Axis” who made two trips to Rutland to advise local townspeople on how to oppose the resettlements.
He noted that Tim Cook, another candidate who ran on a “Rutland First” platform, won a seat on the local board of alderman.
“It was an overwhelming victory,” Simpson said. “I was thrilled to see this unscrupulous mayor go down to defeat.”
Mayor Louras was quoted from the start in local media last year saying that those protesting the resettlement of Syrians were but a small minority and “did not represent Rutland” in its overall welcoming attitude toward refugees.
NPR and other national media ran reports on Rutland, casting protesters as outside the mainstream when, in fact, they were every-day patriotic Americans, Simpson said.
“This election shows you just what the true sentiments were in that town. As part of their whole Astroturf campaign, the Rutland pro-refugee advocates started a Facebook site called Rutland Welcomes. It claimed a thousand members, but the Rutland First people examined it and found that only 100 or so were actually Rutland residents. The rest were just activists who hit the Facebook site and tried to make themselves bigger than they were.”
As soon as Rutland First confronted the mayor and his federal contractor, USCRI, the group was met with “disdain, derision and with hateful comments,” said Chioffi.
“We were received with the same Saul Alinsky tactics that are used all across this country. But we’ve developed a model here,” he said. “The fact is that Rutland, Vermont, should be used as a template for the whole country, because what happened here in Rutland, it already has a drug problem that’s pervasive and growing, unemployment is up, population in decline, and this was foisted upon us behind our backs by politicians against every principle of democracy I learned growing up. And we defeated this, and it should be used as a template for the rest of country.
“We’re in serious trouble, because if it can happen in Rutland, Vermont, it can happen in anywhere USA,” Chioffi added. “The government can come in under the guise of a nonprofit contractor and use dirty tricks, classic fascist tactics to transform your community behind your back. You can’t deal with this as a flamethrower. You have to go into it calmly and rationally and being a teacher helped me with that.”
Like Chioffi, Simpson sees the election outcome in Rutland as a template for other towns being run by mayors whose idea of “inclusiveness” is to invite the Third World into their towns and worry about the problems later. He said the mayors of Sterling Heights, Michigan; Twin Falls, Idaho; and other places where the refugee issue has boiled over should take notice.
“I am thrilled at the results in Rutland and gratified to have had at least some small impact on the ultimate outcome that saw this very unethical, unscrupulous mayor roundly defeated,” he said. “And perhaps this election is an object lesson in what is happening all over the country where Americans are fed up with dishonest, self-serving politicians and the results of that is being seen in the election outcomes.”
Allaire will take over as mayor March 15. He told the Burlington Free Press a change in leadership is needed to heal the city that has been divided by Louras’ plans to bring up to 100 Syrian refugees per year to the community.
“What I’ve been telling people is one of the first things I want to do is open up the doors to city hall and the mayor’s office and make sure that they feel comfortable and they know that the mayor is going to be acting out in the open,” Allaire said.