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West Virginia citizens paint a dystopian picture under a Clinton presidency

Christian Tyler Randolph for The Boston Globe

The Raleigh County Courthouse (left) and County Circuit Court on Main Street in Beckley, W.Va.

By Tracy Jan Globe Staff 

BECKLEY, W.Va. — They fear her. They despise her. They reel at the very thought of her.

Here in the Republican stronghold of southern West Virginia, a distinctly dystopian picture emerges of what life would be like under, God forbid, a Hillary Clinton presidency. People here view the election as an all-out battle for the soul of America, and view Clinton’s election as the one sure way to lose it.

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One after another, fearful citizens outside the Raleigh County Courthouse in downtown Beckley, where record numbers have turned out early to vote, spoke of the United States with Clinton in charge as a lawless land primed for economic collapse.

Helpless in the face of rampant terrorism. And communism. Doomed to be overrun by Muslims and massive waves of illegal immigrants sucking America dry. A weakened nation that could be a target for the next world war.

Worst of all? Guns would be yanked from their homes, as nearly full-term babies would be from their mothers’ wombs.

It would be like hell.

“She would destroy the United States as we know it. It’s over. It’s all over. Believe me,” said Dean Pack, 70, echoing Donald Trump’s speaking style. “She’s trash. She’s a zero. A minus,” he shouted, hands waving in the air.

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A woman emerging from the courthouse with a red, white, and blue “I voted early” sticker affixed to her shirt yelled out, “I’m with you!”

Christian Tyler Randolph for The Boston Globe

“She would destroy the United States as we know it,” said Dean Pack. “It’s over.”

Here in the heart of Trump country, where a billboard on the way into town urges folks to “support coal jobs” and “vote Republican” alongside another advising people to drive sober, a deep well of animosity has swelled against Clinton and what she is perceived to represent.

The sources of the resentments are multilayered, but close to the core lies the economic devastation that has rocked the region, as coal mines have fallen into bankruptcy and tens of thousands of workers have been laid off.

The voters here squarely blame the Obama administration and onerous environmental regulations, even though economic forces, especially plentiful natural gas, loom larger in the industry’s troubles.

Many also blame Democrats for the drug addiction tearing close-knit communities apart, the shuttered businesses around town, and the ubiquitous for-sale signs in front yards. A Clinton presidency, they reckon, would only hasten West Virginia’s demise.

“What it boils down to is the American dream is going to be lost,” said John Myers, a 60-year-old independent voter who worked in construction and the coal mines.

“We’re voting for the survival of the United States,’’ he said. “It’s like a war. And we’re fighting back. This is all we can do.”

Beckley, the seat of Raleigh County, is an hour south of West Virginia’s capital city of Charleston along a winding highway slicing through the Appalachian Mountains.

As mining jobs have dropped, so has the population, now down to about 17,000 people.

The downtown appeared desolate on an unseasonably warm weekday in November, with the exception of people streaming into the stone courthouse to vote, across the street from a barber shop with a single chair.

In this reddest of red states — where the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, billionaire Jim Justice, is running ads aggressively distancing himself from Clinton and President Obama and where a felon nearly beat Obama in the 2012 Democratic primary — residents say they sometimes feel like outsiders in their own country.

Myers said he believes there’s a government conspiracy being waged against conservatives — which he said explains why Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative legal icon, is no longer alive.

“We believe he was murdered,” Myers said. (Scalia died of natural causes on a Texas ranch, although his family declined an autopsy.)

If Clinton were to appoint the next Supreme Court justice, Myers said, “She’d get rid of the Second Amendment. She’d get rid of the Constitution.”

“Don’t put nothing past that woman,” said Pack, Myers’s friend, who sported a black bleach-stained T-shirt that said “Redneck Priorities.”

Pack passed on another rumor, considered shocking if false: that the government has ordered 30,000 guillotines that Clinton, if elected, plans to use “to kill us — Christians and people who believe in the Second Amendment.”

“All you got to do is pull it up on the Internet,” Pack said.

Myers shook his head. “We’re going to become a Third World country,” he said. “And there’s going to be riots. States will secede if Hillary wins.”

Views that, for many in other parts of the country, would stand out as extreme were repeatedly — though not unanimously — echoed in interviews with two dozen voters here.

Voters said Clinton torpedoed her own candidacy when she declared in a CNN town hall during primary season: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

Clinton later told West Virginians that her statement — heavily circulated by Republicans — was taken out of context, and that she had also said she wanted to create new jobs in clean energy for coal miners.

“She will kill coal and that’s what fuels us here,” said Kat Brown, 82, whose father, husband, brother, and son had all worked in the coal mines.

Christian Tyler Randolph for The Boston Globe

Said Kat Brown (right), 82, shown alongside her niece Michelle Lackey: “She will kill coal and that’s what fuels us here.”

Adjacent to the courthouse, memorials pay homage to the more than 2,000 coal miners in Raleigh County who have perished in mine explosions, most recently in 2010 when 29 were killed.

Sheila Webb, a 63-year-old Democrat voting for Trump, threatened to move out of the country if Clinton becomes president.

“Find me an island that ain’t got nothing but monkeys on it,” she said.

Webb dragged her friend Tara Viars with her to the polls so that she could vote for the first time in her life. Viars, 43, said she’s supporting Trump because “otherwise, we’re all going under.”

Clinton is “going to let immigrants come over here,” Viars said. “We need to take care of Americans first.”

Voters here view Clinton — not Trump — as the more dangerous commander in chief; someone who should not be trusted with the nuclear codes.

“That woman, if she gets in, we’re going to have a war on our hands,” said Steven Stone, a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran, after buying a hot dog from a street vendor next to the courthouse.

Stone, a former coal miner and Pepsi-Cola salesman, is a Democrat voting for Trump, because “I’m scared, really scared” about a war coming to US soil.

Christian Tyler Randolph for The Boston Globe

“Mr. Trump, they think he’s crazy so I don’t think too many countries will mess with us,” said James Davis.

James Davis, another Democratic Trump supporter who plans to change his party affiliation to independent, said America, under Clinton, would be especially vulnerable to attack because she, as a woman, would be seen as weak.

“I’m not trying to be a male chauvinist but who can they intimidate the most — male or female? They’re going to pick female,” said the 52-year-old Davis. Whereas, he said, “Mr. Trump, they think he’s crazy so I don’t think too many countries will mess with us.”

As voters on the leaf-strewn sidewalk convulsed over the idea of a Clinton presidency, Micah Bailey, a 35-year-old law clerk, walked past the scene carrying his 5-year-old son in one arm, law papers in another.

Bailey approached a reporter and quietly confessed to voting for Clinton.

A self-proclaimed “Blue Dog Democrat,” an increasingly rare breed of moderate Democrat both in the region and in Congress, Bailey said, “I don’t have a fear of the Constitution being destroyed and people knocking down my door and taking my shotgun.’’

Nor would he be scared of a Trump presidency.

“Our system moves slow intentionally,” Bailey said. “I do not imagine any kind of radical change — no matter who wins.”

“That’s part of the sell” he said of both parties’ political rhetoric. “You play on people’s fear.”


Tracy Jan can be reached at tracy.jan@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @TracyJan.