Four protesters stood outside Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan’s Virginia home for a little under an hour Thursday night, projecting images of three asylum-seekers who’ve died in CBP custody this year onto his garage and demanding his resignation.
The skeleton crew, put together by the progressive activist group and phone service provider Credo, huddled beneath umbrellas and wrestled with technical issues brought on by a persistent light rain from approximately 7:15 p.m. to shortly after 8:10 p.m.
They did not bring the voice amplifiers or handmade signs that others have employed in direction actions in opposition to Trump administration policies this year outside private homes and in public restaurants. Instead, they wheeled a cart holding a camera, laptop, projector, and small power generator across the street from their car. Melissa Byrne, an activist with Credo, then narrated the protest action quietly into a microphone for viewers of the organization’s livestream.
McAleenan was not home. But his wife arrived home by car about 20 minutes after the group had started livestreaming and 30 minutes after they’d first started setting up. She opted to walk down the driveway and speak with the people standing in the gutter to one side of her driveway.
The brief interaction was calm and, initially, almost friendly in tone. A protester asked the woman if she worked for the McAleenans, and she informed them he’s her husband. She expressed discomfort with their choice of tactics, but sounded more dismissive and derisive than angry.
“Are you, like, the resistance’s response? ‘Cause if it is, you’re fucked– we’re fucked,” Corina McAleenan said.
What exactly she intended to convey by the use of the word “we” was inscrutable.
One male protester decided she meant to include herself in that most amorphous and extremely online of concepts, “the resistance,” and lambasted her accordingly.
“Don’t use ‘we,’ you live in a very nice house because of your husband’s [work],” he said, after initially having mistaken McAleenan’s spouse for an employee of the household.
“You guys, this is wrong. This is my private house. My kids are in the house. You don’t know us,” she responded.
Byrne, the protest’s leader, jumped in at that point to refocus the conversation.
“Jakelin is dead,” she said, referring to seven-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died in CBP custody in early December. McAleenan has said he did not tell Congress about her death for fear of “politicizing the death of a child.” Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen — McAleenan’s boss and another Trump official to be visited by protesters at her home this year — has repeatedly wielded the girl’s death as an argument for the administration’s vigorous crackdown on asylum-seekers who attempt to come in via legal ports of entry.
Direct actions at the private homes of figures associated with Trump’s immigration crackdown and other right-wing crusades of the current political era have been divisive among both pundits and workaday citizens who spend time on social media. ThinkProgress was again the only news media present at Thursday’s projector-and-whispers action in McAleenan’s cul-de-sac paradise, as was the case for the noisier November protest outside the Washington, D.C. home of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. (Carlson has since become the target of a broad and growing sponsor boycott effort led by a man Carlson’s former news site helped to doxx.)
The tenor of Thursday’s action was markedly different from the protest outside Carlson’s home, which openly sought to strike an intimidating tone. Even before their brief, diffident interaction with McAleenan’s wife, the protesters in Virginia Thursday had intentionally set a quite different tone. They were organized by a mainstream non-profit group, and took care not to make the location of the protest clear on their livestream in accordance with what Byrne told ThinkProgress is an internal Credo policy against doxxing. They spoke quietly for viewers online, rather than seeking the attention of anyone inside the house. When Mrs. McAleenan decided to engage with them, they sought a substantive (if ungainly) back and forth about her husband’s agency’s role in the deaths of multiple desperate young women who’d come to the U.S. seeking safety.
Here is the full transcript of their conversation at the foot of the driveway:
MELISSA BYRNE: Do you want to look at the people that died?
CORINA MCALEENAN: He’s not responsible for their deaths.
MALE PROTESTER 1: They were in his custody, so yeah he is.
CM: No. You guys—
MB: Are you related to him?
CM: Are you, like, the resistance’s response? Cause if it is you’re fucked. We’re fucked!
MP1: You think you’re the resistance?
MP1: You work for him and you think you’re the resistance?
CM: I’m his wife.
MP1: And you think you’re the resistance?
CM: No, I’m, I’m saying, this is wrong, guys.
MP1: I mean don’t use ‘we.’ Don’t use ‘we.’ You live in a very nice house because your husband’s—
CM: You guys, this is wrong. This is my private house. My kids are in the house. You don’t know us.
MB: Jakelin is dead.
CM: You don’t know us!
MB: Jakelin is seven years old and she’s dead.
CM: You don’t know us.
MP1: You don’t know those families either.
CM: This is wrong you guys.
MB: What are you doing — what is he doing to stop the deaths? What is his response to Jakelin being —
CM: He’s doing a lot! I wish you guys would actually, like, learn and see all the stuff that he is doing to help. Honestly.
MP1: Can he come out and talk to us?
CM: He’s not home, he’s working.
MB: Children are still dying in custody.
CM: He’s working. Because he cares about everyone.
MB: I mean, he’s working for an administration that is killing children at the border.
CM: Just—Just think about it, a little bit more, you know? We’re people.
MP1: They’re people too.
MM: Yes! Of course! Of course!
MP: They had families.
MB: That’s Roxanna. Look at Roxanna. [to projector operator, aside: Show Jakelin. Show Jakelin.] That is Roxanna Hernandez. Can you say her name?
At that point, McAleenan’s wife had walked back up her driveway and disengaged with the protesters.
They ran through their slides of the three dead women one more time, the projector again glitching out from the rain, before deciding to pack it in.
As they rolled their cart back across the street to their car, a Fairfax County police vehicle arrived. The young male cop who got out asked for their identification, and the group declined to provide it. He encouraged them to be careful to not go onto anyone’s property — which they had not — and let them drive away.
Three other Fairfax County law enforcement vehicles arrived in quick succession. None of the officers would say when a 911 call had been placed or by whom, referring questions to the department’s public information team as is standard for uniformed law enforcement personnel.
A concerned neighbor had by then arrived, telling the officers one of the McAleenan kids had called him and he’d rushed over to check on them. But the man only glowered silently and shook his head when I offered him my business card and asked what he thought of the projected images or the protesters’ tactics. As he spoke with the responding officers near their cars, a black SUV with Department of Homeland Security plates — but not marked as part of DHS’s Federal Protective Service that provides security details to many federal officials such as McAleenan — also arrived.
One of the officers briefly mistook me for a protester. After I explained that I am a reporter who covers protests, she said that she wasn’t sure what would happen next but that shining a bright light into someone’s home or standing on their property could potentially violate Virginia law.