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From “We’ll Hide You” to “We’ll Turn You In”: Sowing Hatred and Division in the “United” States

I’ve had a valid U.S. passport for forty years. When enhanced driver’s licenses became available, I paid extra for one. As a gay man who’d lost a friend to gay bashing, as someone who worshiped alongside a Holocaust survivor, I always knew there might come a time when I had to flee. I was going to be ready.

It’s disappointing to realize now that I’m not making it out. I’ve grown old, gained weight, have diabetes, trouble with my knees. I’m all too aware I can’t even run if I participate in a rally and the police start indiscriminately attacking non-violent protesters. A similarly worried friend told me he’s making methodical plans to emigrate overseas in the next three years.

I think he’s too late.

If my husband and I make it through the next three or four months, maybe we have a chance. I encouraged my friend to continue with his careful plans but to understand that “moving” or “emigrating” might not be options. His only choice might be escaping as a refugee.

I don’t have that option.

I write lots of leftist political essays. I write “radical” stories of LGBTQ ex-Mormons. I’m a secular humanist. I’m poor.

I’m not getting out.

When Obama won the U.S. presidency back in 2008, Whoopi Goldberg said something like, “All my life I’ve had my suitcase packed.” She understood she wasn’t safe in America. But after Obama won, she said, “I feel I can finally put my suitcase down.”

I’ve watched as things grew more and more tense, as the risk of roundups or “vigilante” mass killings grew stronger.

Even then, my first thought was, “Well, I don’t feel like that.”

After my excommunication from the Mormon Church, I converted to Judaism. But before my rabbi would approve my conversion, he asked one last question. “Are you ready to face another Holocaust if it comes to that?”

“Anyone coming for you,” I answered, “will be coming for me, anyway, but yes, I’m ready.”

He then smiled and brushed away my comment like he was swatting a fly. “This is America. It won’t happen here.”

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 I remember thinking, “Does this guy understand human nature at all?” He was (and is) a great guy, but I’ve long understood the absolute worst could happen here.

Because for many, many people, it already has.

I volunteered two years of my life as a Mormon missionary in Rome, and I’ve made sure over the past forty years to keep my Italian in workable shape. I studied Spanish and French, even Russian and Hebrew. I watched European shows on MHz to help me understand other cultures and practice my language skills.

The Year of Impending Doom

I was determined to be ready if I ever needed to get out. And I’ve studied enough Holocaust literature to understand that one can’t wait ‘til the very last second.

As the scientist played by Ian Holm in The Day After Tomorrow says, “I’m afraid that time has come and gone, my friend.”

It’s hard to move even across town or to a different state, much less to another country. Getting a decent job in the best of times is a challenge. So even though I’ve wanted to leave for several years now, it simply wasn’t feasible. I’ve watched as things grew more and more tense, as the risk of roundups or “vigilante” mass killings grew stronger. Still, my refugee bag was ready to grab at a moment’s notice if necessary.

But I waited too long.

I listen to my Mormon friends and family say the most horrific things about gays, about Blacks, about Democrats, about—gasp!—Democratic Socialists. Years ago, two extended family members assured me that if the government ever came for “the gays,” they’d hide me.

Reading their posts now, I realize they’d be among the first to turn people like me in. I really don’t know, of course. They no longer speak to me.

As a teenager, I asked my father, a contractor, if one day he’d build a house for me with a hidden room so I could hide Jews if I needed to.

But now I need a haven of my own.

I hope enough rational, decent people vote Trump out in November that I’ll still have a fighting chance at life and liberty in my native country. I hope that the insurrection Roger Stone and other Trump supporters are calling for if Trump loses doesn’t happen.

I hope that after the election, refugees at our southern border are released from their cages and prisons, that we stop mass incarceration of our own citizens. I hope that Americans get the healthcare and education they deserve. But so many Democratic leaders are against these things as well.

Johnny Townsend

Still, I hope, and I write, and I rally, and I vote…while I can. Because I’m here to stay, whether those who hate me like it or not. And, really, whether I like it or not, either.

Johnny Townsend