Email #251: “praying for our Commonwealth”?

Charlottesville was no starting point. The Confederate flag appeared at multiple rallies during President Trump’s campaign. High school students in Silverton, Oregon displayed it at a Trump rally on Election Day, telling Hispanic classmates: “Pack your bags; you’re leaving tomorrow.” The two students were suspended, which wasn’t an option for other post-election Trump supporters who waved it in Durango, Colorado; Traverse City, Michigan’ St. Petersburg, Florida’ Hampton, Virginia; and Fort Worth, Texas.

White supremacists have been rallying around the Confederate flag for over a 150 years, but even Donald Trump supported removing it from South Carolina’s statehouse in 2015: “I think they should put it in the museum, let it go, respect whatever it is that you have to respect, because it was a point in time, and put it in a museum.” I’m not clear what there is to “respect,” but the “point in time” is called the Civil War. If you read the declarations of secession, the South began it for one reason and only one reason: to continue slavery.

President Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, which said the Confederacy was “a patriotic and idealistic cause,” and that its flag “proclaims a glorious heritage.” This was posted after the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, in which white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine people.

Now even conservative Republicans are calling on the President to remove Steve Bannon from his administration. Senator Cruz’s former campaign spokesperson Rick Tyler said yesterday: “If he doesn’t want this to consume his presidency, he needs to purge anyone involved with the alt-right. Breitbart has become a pejorative … It has been a vehicle for the alt-right. You can’t allow the Oval Office to be a vehicle for the alt-right.” Governor Kasich’s former campaign adviser John Weaver tweeted similarly: “Bannon, Miller, Gorka must go. Probably more. But I don’t want to hear this primarily staff issue. Give Kelly time my ass. Trump owns this.”

The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville literally centered around a statue of Robert E. Lee. The people of Charlottesville want to remove it; the KKK and other domestic terrorists drove into town with military weapons to preserve it, sailing Confederate and Nazi flags side-by-side. Whatever you may feel about “heritage,” the Confederate flag is irredeemably tainted by its use as a white supremacist symbol.

You said in the e-newsletter I received this morning: “We are all praying for our Commonwealth to come together and heal at this difficult time.” Private prayer is not enough. You must demonstrate where you stand on this moral issue by joining other Republicans to demand that the President remove Steve Bannon and other representatives of the alt-right from his administration. And you must acknowledge the Confederate flag as the defining icon of white nationalism and condemn its use.

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Email #250: “asked to condemn”?

My family is flying home to Virginia today. I had thought that with you and the rest of Congress on vacation, and with the President on a working vacation in New Jersey, that little would have happened while we were away. Instead we return amid the President’s threats of nuclear war with North Korea and to a Virginia that is not only on the front page of U.S. newspapers but a top story in international papers too.

Since I rarely receive even form letters from you anymore, I have to assume that your staff disregards most of my messages. I did not, for example, receive a response to my June 19 email. I wrote:

“The KKK left a flier on my lawn last August—the same month that Donald Trump received the Republican nomination. They’re not the only white supremacists who voted for him because they think he represents their opinions. Because of that identification, false or not, the GOP has an enormous obligation to counter it.

“KKK voters right here in the 6th district voted for you because you’re a Republican. That’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. You consistently win by huge margins, so your job doesn’t depend on the racist vote. Though if it did, it would still be your moral responsibility to reject it. The KKK and other white supremacist hate groups are rising in our front yards. What are you doing to stop them? What steps are you taking to address hate crimes and the role our President and your party has played in their increase?”

You of course have taken no steps. You have done nothing to stop the rise of white nationalism in Virginia. You haven’t even bothered to create a form letter because you do not respond to topics that do not interest you. The KKK and its support of the President and other GOP members wasn’t important enough in June. Two months later the rise of the KKK in Virginia is an international headline. Instead of responding to the growing crisis that I and I’m sure many others identified, you squandered that time doing nothing. I also wrote to you about the President and white supremacists on April 5:

Donald Trump is being sued for inciting violence. Three protestors were shoved and punched by his supporters at a Kentucky campaign rally last March. The assaults were recorded on video. One of the supporters later apologized, admitting that he “physically pushed a young woman down the aisle toward the exit” after “Trump kept saying ‘get them out, get them out.” Another supporter has attempted to hide the fact that he belongs to a white nationalist group and was at the rally because he believes Trump shares his views.

Trump’s lawyers say he didn’t mean for them to use force, but the judge saw more than enough evidence that the assaults were a direct result of Trump’s violence-inciting words: “It was an order, an instruction, a command.” Trump’s lawyers also tried to hide the fact that the crowd shouted racist and sexist slurs at one of the protesters. The judge said: “While the words themselves are repulsive, they are relevant to show the atmosphere in which the alleged events occurred.”

You did not respond to this letter either. Have enough of your constituents written to you now about the President and white supremacists for you to create a new form letter yet? Alternatively, you could stop pretending that your personal political agenda justifies your blind support of a bigoted President. The neo-Nazi publication The Daily Stormer was pleased by President Trump’s response to the rally and terror attack: “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

You are being asked to condemn the President, and you are walking out of the room too. But no one is blessing you for it. You should instead consider President Kennedy’s paraphrase of Dante: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

Email #249: “take our country back”?

Jason Kessler, a white supremacist co-organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, said: “We are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe.” His promise has already come true since I am reading about the bloodshed through BBC articles from my family’s rental apartment in Amsterdam. Even J. K. Rowling tweeted a rally photo of men parading Nazi and Confederate flags together yesterday. That was before a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of anti-protestors, killing one person and injuring 19 others.

I can’t count the number of times my family and I have strolled down that same block of the Charlottesville walking mall. I assume you have been there many times yourself too. The President responded to this act of domestic terrorism by emphasizing that the violence was displayed on “many sides” and did not begin during his administration: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time.”

Rather than correcting the statement, a White House spokesperson reiterated the President’s refusal to condemn the white supremacists specifically: “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter-protesters today.”

But just two weeks ago, the President was bragging how he was willing to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” He mentioned you in the same sentence: “We’re also working with Chairman Bob Goodlatte on a series of enforcement measures — and he’s a terrific guy — to keep our country safe from crime and terrorism — and in particular, radical Islamic terrorism. A term never uttered by the past administration. Never uttered. Did anybody ever hear that term? I don’t think so. But you heard it from me.”

So why isn’t the President using the terms “white supremacist” and “domestic terrorism” now? Why isn’t he calling the attack in Charlottesville “radical Christian terrorism”? His tweets sound more like Hillary Clinton campaign slogans: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!” His “one” includes the KKK. Former imperial wizard David Duke said the Unite the Right rally was “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” and “take our country back.” Many carried Trump campaign signs. Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer rightly said of the President: “I do hope that he looks himself in the mirror and thinks very deeply about who he consorted with during his campaign.”

It’s a question you should ask yourself too. According to the statement you released yesterday, you are “deeply saddened and revolted by the hate and violence taking place in Charlottesville,” feel that the “racist and anti-Semitic views embraced by white supremacists have no place in our nation,” and “strongly condemn such detestable views against fellow human beings.” I agree and thank you for being far more direct than the President. But you and other GOP leaders must acknowledge that these white supremacists are core Trump supporters and their detestable views are growing with him in the White House. If they have no place in our nation, then what does that say about a President who needs their support?

 

Email #194: “Trump’s gonna getcha”

Yesterday the body of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen was found dumped in a pond in northern Virginia. The young woman was attacked as she was leaving her Dulles-area mosque early Sunday morning and killed with what detectives reportedly told her mother was a metal bat to her head. The suspected killer has been arrested, but the crime has not yet been officialy categorized as a hate crime.

The death of Ms. Hassanen continues a horrific pattern. On May 21st, “Alt-Reich Nation” member Sean Urbanski killed Richard Collins, an African American and U.S. Army lieutenant. On May 26th, white supremacist Jeremy Christian killed two and severely injured a third train passenger who attempted to stop him from attacking two Muslim women. Both incidents are being prosecuted as hate crimes.

The pattern did not begin there. Days after the election, President-elect Trump said he was “surprised to hear” his supporters were using racial slurs and threatening African Americans, Latinos, and gays. The President was still living in New York then, so he must also have been surprised to hear Police Commissioner James O’Neill report that hate crimes were

“up 31% from last year. We had at this time last year 250; this year we have 328. Specifically against the Muslim population in New York City, we went up from 12 to 25. And anti-Semitic is up, too, by 9% from 102 to 111.”

When asked why, O’Neil said:

“you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in the country over the last year or so and the rhetoric has increased, and I think that might have something to do with it.”

The Commissioner was referring to President Trump and his divisive campaign rhetoric.

The FBI also documented a 6% increase in hate crimes last year, especially against Muslims, and in the month following the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented over a thousand “bias-related harassment and intimidation” crimes across the country. The Anti-Defamation League found 1,266 cases of anti-Semitic harassment in 2016, compared to 941 and 912 in the two previous years. They’ve already found almost twice as many incidents so far this year as compared to this point in 2016.

The Southern Poverty Law Center website includes a recording left on a church’s answering machine:

“I think this is the gay church, that help gays that get kicked out of the country along with all the fricken Mexicans that are illegal that you guys are hiding illegally. I hope Trump gets ya. Trump Trump Trump. Trump Trump Trump. Trump’s gonna get your asses out of here and throw you over the wall. You dirty rotten scumbags. Hillary is a scumbag bitch. Too bad waaa waaa. Hillary lost. Hillary lost. Trump’s gonna getcha and throw you over the wall.”

37% of these criminals “directly referenced either President-elect Donald Trump, his campaign slogans, or his infamous remarks about sexual assault.”

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you have been especially vigilant about publicizing crimes committed by immigrants. But given your committee’s focus on crime and immigration policy, shouldn’t you be equally vigilant about crimes committed against immigrants and other minorities?

The KKK left a flier on my lawn last August—the same month that Donald Trump received the Republican nomination. They’re not the only white supremacists who voted for him because they think he represents their opinions. Because of that identification, false or not, the GOP has an enormous obligation to counter it.

KKK voters right here in the 6th district voted for you because you’re a Republican. That’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility. You consistently win by huge margins, so your job doesn’t depend on the racist vote. Though if it did, it would still be your moral responsibility to reject it. The KKK and other white supremacist hate groups are rising in our front yards. What are you doing to stop them? What steps are you taking to address hate crimes and the role our President and your party has played in their increase?

At least your colleague Rep. Comstock visited Nabra’s mosque yesterday before releasing a statement:

“We are heartbroken and horrified by the news of the brutal murder of a beautiful 17-year old girl. We know there is no greater pain for any parent and Chip and I extend our prayers to her family and loved ones at this difficult time and the entire ADAMS Center community. We commend the Fairfax County Police Department and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office for their diligent work in apprehending the perpetrator. This case should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

I assume we will be hearing your statement later today.