The anger surrounding the midterm elections and, in particular, illegal immigration poured into Northern Virginia on Tuesday evening when Republican Senate candidate Corey A. Stewart held a rally outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Fairfax County to voice his outrage over an unlikely effort to abolish the federal agency.
Less than 50 feet from Stewart and his nearly 40 supporters, counterprotesters banged pots and pans while playing Latin American music over a loudspeaker in hopes of drowning them out.
“I want to thank the people in the back for providing tonight’s entertainment,” Stewart, who is seeking to unseat Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) joked, before listing names of victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. “They have good music.”
The often carnivalesque faceoff — with a row of Homeland Security officers standing between the two shouting groups — demonstrated the extremes in the country’s ongoing debate over illegal immigration.
Stewart, who is trailing Kaine by nearly 20 points in some polls, is seeking to gain ground by tapping into anger among conservatives over calls from some progressive to abolish ICE following the Trump administration’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the border.
Most Democrats in Congress, including Kaine, have not joined the effort to dismantle the agency, while Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have expressed their support.
Still, Stewart falsely accused Kaine of wanting to abolish ICE and tried to cast the race as a battle to protect the agency and to fight human trafficking and other crimes.
“Those goofballs in the back don’t want to talk about that, ” Stewart said, referring to the protesters, which included members of the La ColectiVA social justice collaborative in Northern Virginia and Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America.
A Kaine spokesman declined to comment.
The counterprotesters, who numbered about 30, said ICE should be abolished as part of a drastic overhaul of federal immigration policies. They want the Trump administration to address the roots of illegal immigration by helping to stabilize countries overwhelmed by violence and extreme poverty.
“The United States has had a lot to do with creating the displacement that occurs in different countries,” said Danny Cendejas, an organizer of Tuesday’s event, referring to U.S. policies in Latin America that fomented civil war during the 1970s and ’80s and helped create “banana republics.”
The enforcement-heavy approach of the United States has fueled a vicious cycle of gang violence in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador by deporting thousands of young men into communities without jobs to support them, Cendejas said.
“We’re really tired of politicians pushing out these exploitative lies by criminalizing all immigrants,” Cendejas said.
At his “Support ICE” rally Stewart launched into a well-worn speech about the dangers of the MS-13 international gang, but his few dozen supporters were barely listening.
Instead, they and the counterprotesters tried outshouting one another with a flurry of chants.
“Corey! Corey!” his supporters shouted, some to the rhythm laid out by a counterprotester banging a pot.
“Shame! Shame!” the other group yelled.
At different times, each side chanted “USA!”
In between, a Homeland Security officer pleaded for everyone to “step at least three feet away from the police officers. Give the officers space.”
In an especially surreal moment, a Caucasian man wearing a Trump campaign shirt shouted “Black lives matter!” at an African American protester. His point: Undocumented immigrants are taking blue-collar jobs from U.S. citizens.
The dueling events ended peacefully, with no injuries or arrests.
Stewart laughed at the spectacle, calling it democracy in action.
“I think it’s great,” he said, beaming as the music continued and some crowd members on both sides kept on with their insults.