Why a white Christian lying about immigrants is so creepy

Why a white Christian lying about immigrants is so creepy March 10, 2024

So, OK, we need to talk about Katie Britt.

The Republican junior senator from Alabama was tapped with giving her party’s official “response” to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address and, basically, Katie Britt managed to creep out most of America.

She also lied. Aggressively. Katie Britt’s transparent lie was both hateful and nonsensical — a stupid story that forcefully suggests the opposite of the meaning assigned to it by Katie Britt and those she invited to be as willfully stupid, cruel, and dishonest as she was eager to be.

But let’s start with the creepiness.

As Alabama newspaper columnist John Archibald put it, “America was looking for proof of normalcy. Instead it got The Three Faces of Eve.”

The weirdly staged, grimly lit “kitchen” setting didn’t do Britt any favors. The barren kitchen showed no sign of human habitation. It didn’t look like a room that anyone you know would feel comfortable in, but more like an unfinished theater set for some low budget crime-reenactment show or maybe the kitchen where the To Catch a Predator guy was about to come out and tell some caught-red-handed perv to “take a seat.”

It looked just barely enough like a kitchen to make viewers realize that’s what it was, and then a beat later to wonder if Republicans were staging a woman in a kitchen to suggest that women belong in kitchens.

And then Britt started talking and everyone realized that, yes, that was exactly what this hideous un-kitchen was meant to suggest. Because Katie Britt started talking like Michelle Duggar. Despite being a United States senator, she spoke in a voice that says that she and all women belong only in the kitchen, serving men, obediently.

This is “Fundie Baby Voice” — the breathy, stylized, submissive, Stepford accent given that name by Jess Piper in a video that went viral last year.

Piper wrote about Britt’s use of Fundie Baby Voice here, offering a description that helps explain why this voice makes most normal people squirm:

I threw so many folks for a loop last year when I discussed the voice in a video. I used my “training” as a former Evangelical, a Southern Baptist, to describe the breathy cadence and the soft, child-like high pitch. Folks outside of Fundamentalist culture had never heard the term — they just knew the voice made them uncomfortable. …

You all know Michelle Duggar. Remember her voice? Too high pitched? Too much like a little girl? Too breathy. That’s purposeful. Michelle has to show submission to her husband in all interactions public. She stared at Jim Bob anytime he spoke. She was quiet until given a question or prompt. She was also harboring secrets and that’s something I can’t forget. Terrible secrets behind that voice.

… Some women use their fundie baby voices from habit. From years of lessons, but some have something to hide which they cover for in fundie baby voice and a good-natured temperament. From an abusive husband, to a drinking problem, to hiding a pack of cigarettes in the kitchen, it was often something.

Outsiders — people who lack the subcultural context that Piper understands as a native — may not be as well-versed in the “complementarian” white patriarchal theologies and kinks underlying this overwrought mannerism, but they still pick up on the general sense of it enough that it gives them the heebie-jeebies. “I have no idea what Katie Britt is saying,” Jeb Lund joked on BlueSky, “but I am absolutely convinced that her husband is a good man, and the allegations of those assaults are untrue …”

Many of the jokes flying around social media focused on this same unsettling aspect of Britt’s delivery. “Getting strong ‘mommy blogger who’s about to be arrested for child abuse’ vibes from this,” someone said on Xitter. Another wrote, “I am not interested in joining NXIVM but thank you for the pitch.” For those unaccustomed to seeing it performed regularly, Fundie Baby Voice is suspicious as well as off-putting — it seems to hint at some menace behind its forced, unnatural smiles.

I think that suspicion comes from realizing that behind every woman who talks like that there is a man who wants her to talk like that — a man who expects her to talk like that or maybe even makes her talk like that. That man is creepy. He creeps people out.

The only people who don’t think that man is weird and off-putting are other men just like him. To them, Katie Britt’s fundie baby voice seemed perfectly normal. She talked just the same way their wives do, just the same way they want and expect and require their wives to talk.

And that means these women have to sound child-like and baby-ish, but also breathy and submissive and quivering with emotion. As Tia Levings puts it, “They want us to sound like sexualized children.”

Levings wrote about this imposed, unnatural mannerism last year, referencing Piper’s video in the title of her post, “Why Kelly Johnson Sounds Like Michelle Duggar“:

Why do so many Christian women think it’s a good thing to sound like a little girl? The breathy gasps, whisper voices, and baby-high pitch are on purpose. But what would make a grown woman think it’s attractive to modulate her voice that way?

While the long answer might include cultural norms, southern manners, Baby Doll nighties, Marilyn Monroe to Paris Hilton, and social media, the short answer is quick and to the point: we’re taught.

Levings points to a once-popular, still influential book, Helen Andelin’s 1963 best-seller Fascinating Womanhood, which explicitly instructed women to act and speak in child-like ways to help their men feel manlier, more like the big, protective, decisive adults in the room.*

The underlying idea there, again, is irreducibly creepy. It’s that same idea of men wanting women to be sexualized children — the idea that men are threatened by adult women and thus can only be attracted to those who are child-like or baby-ish.

And so here we are, again, in that kitchen set from To Catch a Predator.

“I believe there’s a correlation to sexual abuse in religious environments where women behave like children, and children are prematurely told they’re women,” Levings says. How could there not be?

But all of this became more explicit once viewers realized that the centerpiece of Britt’s speech was a horrifying, real story about the exploitation of sexualized children.

Britt presented this story as somehow an indictment of President Biden’s policies on “the border.” America’s Southern border, Britt said, was in “crisis” because of Joe Biden, who created this crisis when he took office in 2021. And because of this Biden-created border crisis, children were being forced to perform sex work. Britt told the story of a woman she had met who recounted being forced to work in a brothel when she was only 12 years old:

We know that President Biden didn’t just create this border crisis. He invited it with 94 executive actions in his first 100 days. When I took office, I took a different approach: I traveled to the Del Rio sector of Texas. That’s where I spoke to a woman who shared her story with me. She had been sex trafficked by the cartels starting at the age of 12. She told me not just that she was raped every day, but how many times a day she was raped. The cartels put her on a mattress in a shoebox of a room, and they sent men through that door over and over again for hours and hours on end. We wouldn’t be okay with this happening in a Third World country. This is the United States of America, and it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it. President Biden’s border policies are a disgrace.

Do you see the problem there? Do you notice the impossibility of Britt’s arithmetic?

If Joe Biden’s policies resulted in a 12-year-old being forced to work in a brothel then how could that 12-year-old now be an adult woman when Biden has only been in office for a little over three years?

Journalist Jonathan Katz wondered about that:

I was watching live, and this anecdote immediately struck me as odd. … Who was this trafficking victim? What side of the border did these crimes happen on? When did they happen? And how did an Anglophone Republican senator get an apparent migrant victim of horrific trauma to share such a deeply personal story? Also—and not for nothing—wouldn’t a victim of such horrific abuse be a good candidate for immigration protection, if not asylum?

I’d like to say that it took hours of exhaustive, painstaking research to answer all those questions. The reality is it took about twenty minutes. … It also turned out that Britt had been telling—and usually misrepresenting—this story over and over again, for more than a year, with no one calling her out on it.

What I found was that, in January 2023, Senator Britt indeed traveled to the Del Rio sector of the U.S.-Mexico border, with her fellow Republicans Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi. During that trip, they held a press conference — a “roundtable,” as they called it in a press release — with Fox News contributor Sarah Carter, a former Mexican legislator, and a woman named Karla Jacinto Romero. Jacinto’s story—which the senators conveniently linked to in the press release—fit Britt’s description almost exactly: She was sexually trafficked from the ages of 12 to 16, a period in which she says she was subjected to multiple rapes every day.

But contrary to Britt’s implication, those crimes did not take place in the U.S., nor even near the border. (The abuse seems to have happened mostly in Guadalajara and Mexico City.) Nor in her testimony does Jacinto mention a drug cartel as having been part of it; she describes her abuser as a “professional pimp.” In fact, Jacinto says that many of the men she was forced to sleep with were “foreigners visiting my city looking to have sexual interactions with minors like me.” As it happens American men make up a large percentage of sex tourists in Mexico — including in the child sex trade. So if there was a border aspect to this story it was ex-pats moving the other way.

Most damningly for Britt’s political purposes, Jacinto’s trafficking happened from 2004 until 2008, when George W. Bush, a Republican, was president. …

In other words, Britt took a story she heard at a press conference near the border last year — but which actually took place over six hundred miles away in central Mexico twenty years ago, when a Republican was president, and didn’t concern international human trafficking at all — and dressed it up as evidence she had personally collected that “President Biden’s border policies are a disgrace.”

It was an audacious, bald-faced lie — one that involved further exploiting a woman who was horribly exploited as a child.

But it is also a lie that makes no sense. Britt worked hard to create a general vibe that would appeal to xenophobic white voters, stretching and straining to create an association between Joe Biden, sex trafficking, and Scary Mexicans just by mentioning all of those things in one short period of time.

But anyone outside of Britt’s bubble — anyone who didn’t already associate all of those things because they had already actively chosen the white nationalism Britt was selling — would hear such a story and think: That poor child! Did anyone help her? We should help her!

That’s how normal people hear this story. As Katz wrote: “Wouldn’t a victim of such horrific abuse be a good candidate for immigration protection, if not asylum?”

Katie Britt traveled to Del Rio, Texas, near the border, and heard Karla Jacinto Romero’s testimony of fleeing horrific abuse and violence. But rather than resolving to do more — or to do anything — to help those like Jacinto, Britt has repeatedly stolen that story and turned it into a weapon to deny asylum to Jacinto and to everyone like her.

What is Katie Britt actually arguing should be done with human trafficking victims fleeing rape and abuse in Mexico? Katie Britt wants to see them rounded up and deported — sent back to the very place they fled.

Britt’s cruelty is, like her dishonesty, difficult to overstate.

Both of those registered with viewers during Britt’s SOTU response — even before any of them watched Katz’s video or read any of the later reports debunking her cruel lie.

And I think that cruelty and dishonesty — more than Britt’s painful overacting or the strangeness of her fundie baby voice — was what skeeved people out even if they couldn’t articulate what it was about this senator that was making their skin crawl.

Brazen dishonesty and gleeful cruelty make us angry. But if you start with those two things and you add in that dangling cross and that extravagant, smug performed piety then our reaction shifts from straightforward anger to also having the creeps. This woman, whose disconcerting smile stops before it reaches her eyes, is telling transparent lies about innocent victims in order to further harm those victims … and all along she’s condescendingly suggesting that she is our moral superior?

As Levings wrote:

To anyone who’s been on the inside, we recognize the signs. The fundamentalist world is all about knowing how right you are, how wrong everyone else is, and how if they’d only listen to you, you could lead them to the light. We’re astonished when someone disagrees with us. That soft voice sounds so patronizing because it is.

And, as usual, the prideful righteousness of this white fundamentalism is fundamentally wrong about right and wrong. Britt “knows” she is right and everyone else is wrong, and “if they’d only listen to her, she could lead them to the light.”

And that “light,” not for the first time, turns out to be Herrenvolk privilege and white nationalism.

The smugness is a pose, a pretense, and a defense mechanism that functions to distract others — but primarily to distract oneself — from the morally indefensible position one is advocating.

It muddies the waters enough so that instead of walking away thinking “That pretty lady in the green shirt is a vicious racist” they walk away thinking “That pretty lady in the green shirt gives me the willies.”


* Jess Piper and Tia Levings were both born and raised in the white fundamentalist Christian world described here. Cheryl Rofer was not. Rofer is a nuclear research scientist retired after a long career at Los Alamos, but she was fascinated by “Britt’s highly gendered performance” and how it provided a window into “Worlds in Collision“:

The folks I follow on social media were aware of a separate culture of evangelical Christians, Southerners, MAGAs. We had read articles about their culture from those who had ventured forth anthropologically or escaped. Hmm interesting, but reading about and actually seeing are two different things. We had been in a bubble.

Conversely, a United States Senator who presents herself with a dipping blouse neckline showing a gleaming stone-encrusted cross, speaking in a breathy childlike voice from a darkened and apparently unused kitchen was in a bubble of her own, along with a Republican Party that thought this would be appealing. …

 

 

 

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