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Fatwah / August 19, 2009

Family Time

How does your extended family shake out politically? Me, I come from a rabid tribe of right-wingers containing a renegade band of fulminating lefties, plus a couple of pleasant and reasonable moderates nobody listens to.

Fortunately we’re all scattered across the country, trying to make sure each relative has his or her own state in which to be an opinionated pain in the ass. This prevents family quarrels. Or at least, it did for many years. But now, with the internet and all, family harmony is steadily breaking down. Communication, that’s the problem. If you give people the means to do it, they’ll tell you what they think, and that’s when you get those mass-killings we read so much about these days.

Anyway, I recently received a dreary anti-immigrant screed from a cousin of mine who lives in Missouri. We’ll call her Sandy, because that isn’t her name. I haven’t seen or talked to Sandy in fifteen years, but through the miracle of e-mail, bammo, just like that she can resume communications with a jolt of Red State wit and wisdom.

Maybe you’ve never gotten a dreary anti-immigrant screed, but they’re just about what you’d expect. This one was an allegory suggesting we imagine that America is a house and illegal immigrants have broken into it. We the American homeowner are being asked to allow the criminal immigrants to live in our house, because at least they do all the crap housework we don’t want to do.

Here’s the finale, purporting to be the smug immigrant speaking:

‘It’s only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I’m just trying to better myself. I’m a hard-working and honest, person, except for well, you know, I did break into your house. And what a deal it is for me!!!

I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of cold, uncaring, selfish, prejudiced, and bigoted behavior.

Oh yeah, and I DEMAND that you learn MY LANGUAGE!!! so that you can communicate with me.’

Why can’t people see how ridiculous this is?! America is populated and governed by idiots.

If you agree, pass it on (in English).

If not blow it off………..along with your future Social Security funds and a lot of the former benefits of being an American Citizen.

Illustrating these points were dismally unimaginative cartoons, one featuring a righteous white American kicking a Mexican back over the border. The cartoon Mexican had an amnesty bill sticking out of his back pocket, so it would get kicked along with his ass.

Sandy’s only comment was the subject line, “ha ha.”

It’s really the “ha ha” that did it. Getting “ha ha”-ed at by somebody is always potentially insulting—just ask Nelson Muntz of The Simpsons, who uses it as an all-purpose diss—but it’s even worse when it implies chummy agreement with something stupid and badly punctuated.

I fired off a sneering Blue State reply to the effect that this is the sort of hick ignorance that gives Americans a bad name all over the world.

Sandy’s brother Dan fired back in Sandy’s defense. This was upsetting, because I always liked my cousin Dan. In fact, he was my favorite cousin, though I hadn’t seen or heard from him in fifteen years either. Fifteen wonderful years!

Dan said this:

Wow Eileen I didn’t know you were on the side of the eternal lawbreakers….[T]he cartoons may be over the top but the sentiment is right on time and in SUPPORT of the constitution which is what we will be celebrating this coming [4th of July] weekend….I’ll be attending a Tea Party….ignorant???? that is how I feel about my fellow americans that have no knowledge of the constituion [sic] or think it is somehow outdated or meanspirited for expecting people within our borders to abide by it…..If I break the law I go to jail….if those on the left’s grace list break the law it’s ok because they did it for a higher cause than the document that has bound us together for 200 years…picking fruit, roofing and housework is way more than the laws of this country…remember [our] family has been fighting this fight since 1753.Finally…when I was 18 years old I swore an oath to protect the constitution from ALL ENIMIES foriegn [sic] and domestic…I still live by that oath.

You see, this is what comes of keeping in touch with family—you find out your own cousin is a Tea-bagger.

And that he actually believes our family has been fighting a consistently noble battle for 200 years in any cause whatsoever. We come from a bunch of crazy hill-country dirt-farmers of mixed-up Celtic descent, very much inclined toward hazel eyes, black humor, and alcoholism. My favorite figures in our family tree include such luminaries as “Two-bit Kate” and an appalling backwoods clan known as “the Swamp Angels.” My grandfather was the town drunk in any town he happened to live in, and my grandmother eventually ran him off the farm swinging an axe. A judge told her it would’ve been justifiable homicide.

You see, I’m proud of my heritage. We come from a gene pool of real, undiluted American Crazy.

My cousin Dan was a wonderful boy, an anomaly in our clan. He was white-blonde, for one thing, and we didn’t countenance blondes as a rule. You could be dark-haired or auburn-haired, those were your choices. But his blondeness was like his sunny temperament sprouting outwards, another anomaly in a tribe full of choleric depressives. He was so generous he didn’t even mind sharing his childhood birthday parties with me, since we were close in age.

As a teenager Dan was heartbreakingly beautiful, in that unassuming way working-class young people sometimes are for a short time before heavy drinking and bad diet lays waste to them. He had a perfect swimmer’s body—I can remember him mowing the lawn in his swim trunks, a Hicksville Adonis—and later joined the Navy, and later still moved down South and became a commercial diver.

By then, of course, I’d moved to a coastal state, and only saw an occasional photo charting the wreckage of his hard partying, and heard the anecdotes about his wild life. He and Sandy and their immediate family were so red-blonde and raucous, such uncontrollable rowdies, they were like Viking stock. I and my siblings always seemed like a group of dark, bookish monks and nuns by comparison. It’s hard to reconcile my memories of them to their claims of reverence for the law.

But sure enough, Sandy soon e-mailed me back, also testifying to her determination to live and die defending our beloved CONSTITOOOOTION against marauding aliens.

I assume this isn’t just happening in my family, these embarrassing Culture War outbreaks. If the news is any indication, we’ve got this going on all over the country, a lame Uncivil War, featuring Tourette’s Syndrome-like bursts of inflammatory rhetoric larded over with pompous high-minded justifications. None of us are bigots or snobs; we’re all constitutional scholars now, and crusaders against ignorance.

I e-mailed Dan that I was finding our exchange pretty depressing. And he wrote back with a burst of generosity that was like the boy-Dan I remembered:

Don’t be depressed Eileen, I know it seems like I’m being mean but I’m not….there is no malice in my responses to you only the sarcasms of [our family]…I enjoy these types of exchanges–the true irony is that I’m usually having these types of back-n-forth with my sister [Sandy], who started all this, we disagree on most everything.

So we patched it up and commenced another fifteen years of beautiful familial silence.

This article first appeared in the Buffalo Beast.

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Add your own

  • 1. weldon rumproast  |  August 19th, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    i totally understand… i get these idiotic emails from my cop-wannabe Dad all the time…

  • 2. Zipperfish  |  August 19th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I get these emials too, occasionally. I’m not particularly inclined at either end of the left-right dichotomy, so I find the far left screeds as annoying as the far right one.

    I never reply with my opinion, but sometimes I do want to reply adn point out black-letter factual errors. But then I’m reminded of the Penguins of Madagascar (the popular movie and cartoon).

    Other Penguins: Shouldn’t we tell them that the boat is out of gas?

    Boss Penguin. Nah. Just smile and wave, boys…smile and wave.

    Works every time. “Hey Left-Wing Lucy / Right-Wing Reggie, got your “Obama is a Muslim” / “Bush is a Nazi” email. How are things with you anyways? Been too long. Anyways gotta fly.”

    Smile and wave, boys.

  • 3. LIExpressway  |  August 19th, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    My 70 year old co worker who is an ad agency veteran(ran one or two of the famous ones), gets these crazy right wing emails from his friends and forwards them to me. He calls himself a republican and he voted for McCain, and we fight over things like prostitution and legalizing drugs all the time. But he’s basically a hedonistic New York bastard who’s sinned his way through life. He’s also a great man by the way. Guys like him are not the problem unfortunately.

  • 4. jonny.m  |  August 19th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    I think everyone has a few right-wing idiots in their family. They tend to always live far away from the non-righties, too. There’s probably a good reason for that.

  • 5. Dammerung  |  August 19th, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    This is such a hard issue to navigate. I consider myself a “tea-bagger”: taxes are too damn high and I get very little in return for my investment. Stupidity and violence in Washington is totally non-Partisan, and Obama has only expanded the wars and gaffes draining our blood and treasure. We need to stop this stupid left v. right bullshit and concentrate on what matters: taxes are too high, too much bureaucracy, end the wars, guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens are good, immigration law should be reformed and immigrants should be both subject to our laws and protected by our rights. Instead, the tv news has us lose sight of our core values in an effort to get us to strangle on another.

  • 6. Homer Erotic  |  August 19th, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    As a teenager Dan was heartbreakingly beautiful, in that unassuming way working-class young people sometimes are for a short time before heavy drinking and bad diet lays waste to them.

    Not the main thrust of your polemic, but I can totally relate. I live in a working-class neighborhood but don’t share the natives’ love of hard drinking and heavy cigarette-smoking. In particular, I can’t help but think of one young guy who used to work in the grocery store where I still work who was a beautiful eighteen year old. Now he’s 25 and looks like he’s 33. At least.

  • 7. Jon Ezell  |  August 19th, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    I know the feeling all too well. A good clearinghouse of right-wing email forwards can be found here:

    It includes a keyword index, with such gems as:

  • 8. Josh  |  August 19th, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    I get these emails from relatives also, but more from the right wing than the left wing. In my case I have to laugh, because I’m Canadian, and so are most of my relatives, but they send me messages obviously written by Americans, for Americans, about American issues, and some right-wing Canadian has gone through the message and changed every instance of “America” to “Canada”. They’re even occasionally creative enough to change some of the American iconography to its Canadian equivalent. But alas, they always miss a few.

  • 9. JayTell  |  August 20th, 2009 at 12:43 am

    My entire family is Repubs. I keep up the Web dialogue though. And I collect their wingnut friends and neighbors’ e-mail addresses like exotic specimens of stupidity. I dialogue with them too. It takes up too much of my time, but I feel like I know everything “their side” is thinking — which is usually something angry, frightened, and mean. Occassionally something pops up I have a hard time rebutting, then I know I need to do my homework, or, Allah forbid, admit they’re right. Liberals agreeing with each other by e-mail and on blogs is boring. Sticking a rhetorical spear in a Repub’s eye and then twisting it (turning all their jargon and myths against them) is fun.
    One thing I wish the BB or Exiled would explore: why do conservatives love poltical fables so much? Is it their love of the Bible? Or just that they need reality boiled down into simplistic terms? I get these forwards all the time. They send them like, “Hah! Gotcha!” and I’m like, “This is a made-up tale of a rabbitt, a beetle and some flowers… What the hell does this have to do with Obama or welfare?” “But you gotta admit, it’s sooo true!” they come back. Total incomprehension.

  • 10. chickenbutt  |  August 20th, 2009 at 4:22 am

    Hey why just pick on the mexicans! Kick out all the illegal Armenians! Oh god they need to shave! Dont forget the Chinese! They need to stop making us good white folk compete for college spots! Obamas aunt is an illegal Kenyan! KICK EM ALL OUT! The only people we need in this country are indians!!! FROM INDIA! They will be able to mold America into a great techno society with call centers in every city with many many cows!

  • 11. jimbo  |  August 20th, 2009 at 6:23 am

    allowing illegal immigration to flood America is just another way the government fucks its citzens. It’s all about importing Mexican poverty to make poor Americans even poorer. If you’re at a socio-economic level where immigration doesn’t degrade your living standards then you’re a hypocrite for critising those who are simply struggling for their own survival in opposing amnesty for illegals.

  • 12. Mark  |  August 20th, 2009 at 9:41 am

    I used to get emails like that until I made it viciously clear to all senders that I was in no fucking mood to read their illiterate garbage. I must’ve made the point, because I haven’t gotten one of those damned emails in awhile.

    I broke away from my hometown conservative state after college about 12 years ago and haven’t looked back since. Been living abroad and in NYC, while pretty much the whole extended family is still back in that little worthless conservative state.

  • 13. Nestor  |  August 20th, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Has the exiled staff seen this yet? Manning’s unique brand of crazy deserves an article or two.

    (At lease I hope it’s unique)

  • 14. mikey  |  August 20th, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    In the back of my mind, I knew that my in-laws were a nest of Nazis, but when my mother-in-law posted one of the anti Obama sites on Facebook, it was all in black and white and no longer open to conjecture. Hope I never see them again.

  • 15. Anonymous  |  August 20th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Oh God yes. I’ve had this problem ever since I was able to use email, and the general pattern of families bitterly arguing politics is eternal.

  • 16. Jackass in NJ  |  August 21st, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    I have a very simple way of dealing with wingnut e-mails.

    I “reply to all” with an embedded jpeg.

  • 17. Concerned Citizen  |  August 22nd, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Really, only in America could this combination of hilarity/insanity occur. Opposition to universal health care runs rampant, while dumb-hicks continue to throw tax dollars to the bloated military-industrial complex so Eric Prince can buy a new yacht while our modern-day proconsuls are protected by some sloppy SERB employee of Xe while our military is abroad and securing commodities for the wealthy.

    I love this country.

  • 18. gary  |  August 22nd, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    seems that all rite wingers are all rednecks..not really , i live next door to two very smart doctors and was shocked when they told me that they loved bush junior and were happy about the war in iraq…go figure

  • 19. Allen  |  August 24th, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    I get these right-wing E-mails, or rather got them, from family. Now family wonders why I never seem to receive their actual communications.

    Because I have blocked every last one of them.

    Weirdly enough I recall that my Mother’s side were all sort of easy going but almost obnoxiously reflexive Liberals — a disposition which I have never cared for overmuch despite my left sympathies. Over the years, though, it seems they have grown more tightly wound, meaner, and stupider, and consequently into a bunch of reflexively right wing quasi-holy roller douchebags.

    What was really annoying about those little chain-letter communications, though, was not the political message they expressed so much as the grotesque air of unjustified smugness. Overbearing sweaty attempts at humor; bad, bad, fucking terrible, allegories; and often the ubiquitous false attributions of said shit to random famous media personalities, all that I could take. But that these things had the massive gall to actually claim to contain “WISDOM” or so called “COMMON SENSE AT LAST”? (Instead of tired, lazy, hackneyed tripe?) That someone sent this shit to me instead of themselves deleting it immediately? That was simply too much to bear.

  • 20. Bill  |  August 28th, 2009 at 11:30 am

    I hate to say this, but I am kind of in the anti-illegal immigration camp. I live in Seattle and work with lots of talented legal immigrants from Europe and Asia. To hear the stories of what they had to go through to get a green card is ridiculous. In the meantime, I’m supposed to feel sorry for the folks who come in and ditch in front of my neighbors and co-workers who’ve come here legally.

    Actually, I think we should adopt the laws they have in Mexico: if they catch you in the country illegally, you go to prison. In fact, part of the challenge for those from south of Mexico (like El Salvador and Honduras), is making it through Mexico in one piece and not getting caught by the authorities.

    What we need is sensible immigration reform. Personally, I think we need more people coming in, particularly if you are educated or have some special job skills. Most of our Ph.D. students are foreign nationals, and very little is done to retain them after graduation. I can also see a need for low skilled workers in areas like agriculture.

    If you want to feel sorry for folks who sneak across the border, fine. Just change the law to make what they do legal.

    Just sayin.

  • 21. Sin Froneres  |  August 28th, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    @20 It is not about feeling sorry for anyone. It’s about recognizing who shares the same class interest, and who are your potential allies. The members of the techno managerial class will have will have to choose sides wisely.

    I am going with the machetes.

    Fuck the kleptocracy and their legal process.

  • 22. Vlad  |  September 24th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    My extended family has a strict “no politics/religion at the dinner table” policy. It’s a necessity.

    I’m glad they haven’t really picked up on emails yet.

  • 23. Angry Socialist  |  December 18th, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Wow, reading your comments and you are a bunch of angry, cry babys. You hate your familys? Never want to see them agian? You anti American sissys will have your day. We are on to you and Comrade Hussien Hopenchange.

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