Matthew Teague: TUPELO, Miss. — Federal agents of all sorts invaded northeast Mississippi several days ago, on a mission: Find the man who sent a poison-laced letter to the president. But the United States government quickly found itself entangled, once again, in a misunderstood land dominated by squabbling tribes and petty vengeances.
Agents first arrested an Elvis impersonator, released him, then on Saturday arrested his nemesis, a karate instructor. Gradually investigators concluded that what they had descended upon was probably less about the president — or the U.S. senator and retired state judge who also received letters — than a serious case of indigenous bickering.
That shocks no one here. “Tupelo is a kaleidoscope,” said sociologist Mark Franks, who grew up in nearby Booneville. There are true geniuses walking the streets of Tupelo, he said, and incredibly wealthy, generous people. But also, “every wall-eyed uncle and ‘yard cousin’ — just referencing the local pejorative — makes it into Tupelo, Miss. It creates a peculiar culture.”