From AM radio to YouTube, the Republican infotainment machine has been clear over the past two weeks – something needs to be done about Colony Ridge. No one is quite able to describe what Colony Ridge is. No one seems to know what’s actually happening there, why it’s a problem, or what anyone should do about it. That hasn’t stopped national commentators from spinning this bizarre fairy tale into a racist panic.
As always, Republican leaders are sprinting to catch up to their voters. Ron Desantis called out ‘weak spineless leaders’ for allowing Colony Ridge to exist, whatever it might be. Those leaders responded last week with tough words. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick flew over the subdivision in a helicopter hunting for whatever terrorists, narcos, chupacabras or bandidos might be lurking there. Texas Governor Greg Abbott promised a special legislative session to do all the things about whatever the thing is.
How do you begin to explain the Colony Ridge panic? The Texas Tribune summed up the challenge, stating “the precise issues are unclear.”
Republican claims about Colony Ridge are pretty confusing, but the heart of the story seems to be that a greedy developer is building an illegal immigrant colony on the edge of Houston. All accounts diverge from that point.
One Maganaut might tell you that Colony Ridge is an elite gated community filled with wealthy narco-traffickers with connections to pedophile rings. Another may claim that Colony Ridge is a seething “colonia” of ramshackle hovels, stuffed with disease-ridden illegals from the Mexican countries.
Allen West, professional nutjob and current Chairman of the Texas Republican Party, tried to clarify the narrative around the panic this week on Facebook:
If you haven’t heard about the illegal immigrant sanctuary city, Colony Ridge, being built here in Texas, read this article. I am tired of folks believing that Greg Abbott is some great stalwart in the fight on illegal immigration. His bussing of illegals only aids and abets human trafficking. Those orange floaties, well, that’s just 1,000ft along a 1,249 mile border. And now we have definitive evidence that he is implicated in the development of a narco-criminal terrorist sanctuary base north of Houston, along with several other Republican elected officials. All this proves is that America, Texas, will be sold to the highest political contributor. If Biden is guilty of treason and unconstitutional actions, so is Greg Abbott. Pay no attention to what he says, but observe what he does, or doesn’t do to secure our border. Abbott is good at empty rhetoric and optics, but the invasion continues.
For what it’s worth, there is a real place called Colony Ridge, a patch of poorly developed land at the outer edge of Houston’s exurbs in New Caney, in Liberty County, Texas. Carved out of the pine swamps feeding into the Trinity River, it’s been subdivided and marketed with little regard for flooding, traffic, infrastructure, environmental impact or any other consideration common to places with reasonable zoning. It has also been a magnet for Hispanic residents. In other words, it’s indistinguishable from almost any of the neighborhoods hastily constructed around Houston for generations.
The land developer is William ‘Trey’ Harris, who is as surprised as anyone else that his low-rent money-making scheme has become a racist meme. Like virtually every other real estate developer in Texas, Harris is a hefty Republican donor. He’s more than a little unsatisfied about the service he’s getting from the politicians he bought.
A decade or more ago, Harris purchased the cheap, largely useless land, which is a little too far from Houston to be attractive as a suburban housing development. He bulldozed it and put in basic utilities, then sold off the undeveloped lots instead of taking on the speculative burden of building homes. Buyers at Colony Ridge assume the responsibility of constructing whatever they want. Some sections have been developed as an organized neighborhood, complete with homeowners associations. Others are trailer parks. As someone who grew up in an East Texas swampland subdivision just like this one, I can tell you this is how most of Liberty County and Southeast Texas is built.
Nothing in any of the Republican accounts about Colony Ridge would distinguish it from its neighbors.
Scan the Republican fake news articles on Colony Ridge and you’ll find few factual claims at all and no first-person stories. When this hysteria makes it onto the edges of real news, the coverage is breathless and empty. Fox covered the story by inviting a “fellow” to explain that “he’s heard” that drug cartels are operating there. Even worse, he says the developer is selling real estate there without checking that people are US citizens, as if he’s Donald Trump selling condos in Trump Tower.
To be clear, neither Harris nor Trump would be breaking any laws if they sold real estate to foreigners. It isn’t a crime nor should it be. Filtering through the various branches of this rightwing panic, it isn’t easy to understand what they’re upset about or why this ever made the news.
I’ve been to, or I should say through, New Caney. There’s little reason to stop unless you’re running out of gas. Or meth. It’s an unfortunate little trailer park town, too far from Houston to borrow its glow and not quite far enough away to retain the inbred oblivion of the Piney Woods. If any of the stories about Colony Ridge are true then the developer has only improved the place.
Why are Republicans upset about Colony Ridge? I can’t figure it out. Yes, there are brown people there, but they were there last year and ten years ago. They aren’t new. Sure, it’s poorly constructed and it’ll probably float away in the next hurricane, just like nearby towns full of white Republicans. There’s no there there. No policy change to enact. No crimes to punish. No policy failure anyone cares about.
How did Colony Ridge become a story? Why did anyone care? It’s impossible to tell. Colony Ridge makes no sense even if you take the Republican stories about it at face value.
What sets Colony Ridge apart from other white panics like Jade Helm or Benghazi is the absence of any narrative core. Back in the old days, conspiracy theorists at least had cool stories. Those stories were about something. Those stories weren’t true, but they had a structure that included claims which were disprovable. Colony Ridge makes no sense. Republican leaders themselves are struggling to figure out what they’re supposed to be saying or doing about this nonsense.
The Republican Party has devolved into a white racist cult. Ghost stories like Colony Ridge aren’t about persuasion or policy, they serve to cordon cult members off from the wider world of non-believers. Colony Ridge is a kind of code-word, a mark of the faithful, an inside joke setting us off from them. You’re either a believer or you’re not. You either endorse and support the latest panic you heard about on Facebook, or you’re an unwashed heathen. It’s non-negotiable.
What happens to a democracy when a plurality of its citizens abandon the push and pull of persuasion for partisanship based on a cult identity? They’re either defeated, or they drag that system into Fascism.
Brace yourselves. If you still talk with your Republican relatives, this is going to be a Thanksgiving from a Lewis Carroll novel.