Talking Up a Storm

Radio host Joyce Kaufman wins fans by flaying a new enemy: undocumented immigrants

Joyce Kaufman is on her tippy-toes, hands lifted high above her head. She's clapping louder than pretty much anybody in the nearby pews. A guitar and tambourine join in, and the volume of the music slowly rises over several minutes. "Amen," Kaufman says. "Hallelujah!" She bends her arms upward at 45-degree angles and pumps both fists. Her eyes are closed, chin tilted toward the ceiling.

The music quickens and builds to a crescendo. Then it abruptly stops. Sporadic praises escape from the mouths of several parishioners, breaking the silence.

"This is just an outward expression of the way I feel tonight," Smith says.

Joyce Kaufman, on the air, live and local.
Joyce Kaufman, on the air, live and local.
Supporters of amnesty for illegal immigrants protest in Los Angeles in August.
UPI Photo/Jim Ruymen/Newscom
Supporters of amnesty for illegal immigrants protest in Los Angeles in August.

Kaufman murmurs, "Yes, it is." Then: "Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord."

Earlier that day, on the radio, Kaufman was drumming up opposition to the DREAM Act, which would give permanent residency status to alien minors who want to join the military or attend college. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, had attached the DREAM Act to the 2008 defense appropriations bill. The indication was that the Democrats would approve money for the Iraq War if the Republicans passed the DREAM Act.

Kaufman was peeved. "These creeps use your future as a bargaining tool," she said on the air. Then she urged her listeners to call the senators who hadn't declared which way they'd vote. "Tell them to say 'No to the bad DREAM Act,' " she said. Then she broadcast the Senate hotline number.

It's talk radio activism, but is it Christian to punish teenagers because their parents broke the law? Is it compassionate?

During the program, a woman named Yolanda, from Hollywood, called to thank Kaufman for the information. Yolanda said she was getting all her friends to call senators and urge them to vote for the DREAM Act. That way, once the children got U.S. citizenship, they could sponsor their undocumented parents.

"Now I'm really mad," Kaufman said.

Off the air, in her free time, Kaufman visits lawbreakers every week as part of Hopewell's prison outreach ministry. Forgiveness is out there, for U.S. citizens.

At church on Wednesday night, a woman in the congregation asks everyone to pray for the six black teenagers in Jena, Louisiana, who had been charged with attempted second-degree murder for beating a white student unconscious. The beating followed months of racial tension and fights in Jena after white students hung nooses from a tree at the local high school.

The next day, the "Jena 6" is a topic on the Joyce Kaufman Show. Kaufman's talking points are: A schoolyard beating is just that — not attempted murder; and, any kid who hangs a noose from a tree to intimidate black students deserves to be beat up.

If given the choice of waking up tomorrow white or black, she suggests, most people would prefer to be white. If any listeners disagree, she'd like them to call in and tell her why.

Oh boy. What follows are calls from a bunch of aspiring comedians. One guy says he'd like to be black because he thinks he'd have an easier time getting food stamps. Kaufman rages: "You bigot! You racist! You guys, you've got the wrong radio show!" The next caller says he'd like to wake up black because he'd "get" affirmative action. Kaufman flushes him, adding, "You'd also get me to beat you up." Another caller suggests that hanging a noose from a tree is protected under the First Amendment — it's free speech.

Something isn't gelling. Maybe it's the topic?

The next day, Kaufman decides to read an e-mail from a listener during her opening monologue. "I apparently upset many of you [yesterday]," she says, "as I generally seem to do when I talk about anything except illegal immigration."

Deep exhale.

"This is from Chris in Parkland: 'PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE' — three pleases, with capital letters — 'No O.J. No Andrew Meyer being Tased. No Jena 6 today. There are things that are going on that will impact our lives more than any of the above. If ever there was a time when we needed our allies in the media to hammer on the fact that we need to be on the phones with the Senate, it is now.' Yes, it is now."

But Kaufman has already played a sound bite of George W. Bush stumbling over his words. She's called him stupid and invited listeners to defend him. The phone is ringing.

Cecilio in Greenacres takes her to task for disrespecting the president, but his English is heavily accented and difficult to understand. She calls Cecilio a moron and hangs up.

Then the program gets interrupted by a breaking news story about a small plane that crashed near the shoulder of the southbound lane of Interstate 95. The flow of Kaufman's show is broken. She storms out of the studio and starts to pace the halls barefoot. The station's morning news anchor, Ron Hersey, slides into her place to handle the plane coverage.

Producer Brennan Forsyth has several callers to the Joyce Kaufman Show on hold, but they start to drop off as snippet after snippet comes in about the downed plane.

Suddenly, the phone lights up again. It's a woman who thinks the station switched to news so Kaufman could hunt down Cecilio in Greenacres and beat him up. As he hangs up the phone, Forsyth mutters, "Boy, they're crawling out of the woodwork today. The crazies."

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