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Duncan Hunter, Charlottesville and ubiquitous white supremacy

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, third from left, stands next to Kris Wyrick flashing the “OK” sign at a Fourth of July event. (Screenshot from Hunter’s Twitter feed, via CQ Roll Call)

White supremacy is becoming publicly more ubiquitous under the reign of Donald Trump, thanks in part to the permission he gave two years ago this week to consider violent white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and white nationalists the moral equivalent of civilized demonstrators advocating for peace, for equality and human rights at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, like Trump, longtime LGBTQ-hater Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter also appears to be trying to appeal to both sides of the racist divide while leaning into xenophobia in California’s 50th Congressional District.

Around 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 12, 2017, white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his car into unaware counter-protesters on the second day of the infamous “Unite the Right” rally,  killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Fields was subsequently convicted of first degree murder and other crimes in a Virginia state court and pleaded guilty to 29 federal crimes in a deal to avoid the death penalty.

But while Fields may be gone, Trump’s amoral comments linger on. Two hours after the murder, as much of America held their collective breath—aghast at the images of a car plowing full speed into a crowd, tossing bodies in the air before retreating, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke saying the rally would help “take our country back,” tiki torch-bearing white supremacists yelling “Jews will not replace us” and Neo-Nazis violently beating counter-demonstrators— Trump said “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

After intense criticism of his anointing victimhood status on Neo Nazis, two days later, reportedly with reluctance, Trump called racism “evil’ and slammed white supremacy. After still more criticism, on Aug. 15, Trump said: “you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

This was not the first time Trump incorrectly and unabashedly espoused moral equivalency on “both sides.” Last June 18, April Ryan, White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, asked Trump if he would apologize to the Central Park Five, whom he had publicly blamed for the 1989 rape of a white jogger in a full-page pre-trial ad demanding the death penalty. Ryan’s question was tied to director Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed Netflix documentary “When They See Us” showing how police coerced confessions from one Latino and four black teenagers. Years later, a convicted rapist confessed to the crime, backed up by DNA evidence, resulting in the five being totally exonerated in 2002.

“Why do you bring that question up now? It’s an interesting time to bring it up. You have people on both sides of that,” Trump told Ryan on the White House lawn. “They admitted their guilt. If you look at [prosecutor] Linda Fairstein and you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case, so we’ll leave it at that.”

Many have become numb to Trump’s racist hutzpah. But others are trying to emulate him. Rep. Duncan Hunter, who helped launch the ban against transgender people serving in the military, has the audacity to run for reelection despite facing federal felony charges for campaign finance violations. Now he’s been caught by CQ Roll Call changing answers on a white supremacist connection he first tried to dodge.

A Hunter staffer defended a photo of the Republican member of Congress posing with a man flashing the “OK” sign symbolizing white power at a Fourth of July event, identified by The Times of San Diego as Kristopher Wyrick.

“Congressman Hunter does not know this person, or what his views may be, but to ensure there is no confusion, we are in the process of taking that particular picture off his social media pages,” district office director Michael Harrison told Roll Call in an email.

“Congressman Hunter has never supported or been accused of supporting white supremacy and if anyone were to espouse any such beliefs in a photo with Congressman Hunter they did so without his knowledge or consent, particularly a stranger in the a parade who wanted to be in a picture with Congressman Hunter,” he added.

The photo was deleted from Hunter’s official Facebook and Twitter pages. But Wyrick and his bigotry were not unknown to Hunter’s community after Wyrick appeared before the San Diego Unified School District wearing a Nazi Iron Cross tee shirt arguing against an initiative to protect Muslim students. Specifically, according to a San Diego Union Tribune article, he was blasting the renowned Council on American-Islamic Relations, which right wing extremists such as Frank Gaffney Jr. defame as “national security threats” who want to introduce Sharia law into public schools.

Like Wyrick’s diatribe, Hunter’s 2018 campaign ads against his Democratic opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is a devout Christian of Palestinian-Mexican American heritage, feature similar bigotry.

“Given that Hunter has a history of Islamophobia, including the way he shared his deadly actions in Iraq that claimed civilian lives, I think it’s clear this individual is making a white supremacist hand sign in the presence of a congressman, who shared it proudly,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s communications director,  says of the July Fourth photo.

But sharing an anti-Muslim ideology doesn’t mean the two men posing together knew each other – until a 2017 video surfaced indicating that they do.

“I know him personally. And I know his family personally. And he’s a great man,” Wyrick says in the video.

Wyrick also expresses pride in his white identity. “People can call me a white supremacist all they want, I wear that label as soon as I wake up in the morning,” he says in the video.

Roll Call confronted Harrison with the video and Hunter’s deputy chief of staff backtracked, saying the Republican member of Congress had seen Wyrick at some local community events.

“Alpine is a small community. It’s not unusual for the congressman to frequent different places around his district,” Harrison said in July. “Congressman Hunter is not friends with this individual and does not socialize with him.”

However, “Harrison conceded that Hunter’s father and predecessor in Congress, former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, ‘has mentioned [Wyrick] a couple of times,’” Roll Call reported.

Before Campa Najjar, a young businessman and former Obama administration official, mounted a serious challenge in 2018, losing only by four points in the ruby red Orange County congressional district, Hunter expected an easy reelection in the seat he and his father have held the seat since 1981.

 

However, Hunter now faces several primary challengers, including gay Republican Carl DeMaio, and the indicted congressman may need supporters like Wyrick, as indicated by his resurrecting his ugly, inflammatory 2018 attacks on Campa-Najjar for the 2020 race.

“At this point, it’s pretty clear that Congressman Hunter has lost all ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. It’s one scandal after another, one embarrassing news story after another, one potential crime after another, one courtroom appearance after another,” Campa-Najjar said about the July Fourth photo.

Carlos Algara, a political scientist at the University of California, Davis, thinks xenophobia and racism will play a “vital role” in the race for the 50th CD.

“Our research suggests that Hunter is laying the groundwork in a campaign filled with blatant appeals at mobilizing whites with high degrees of racial resentment to rescue his bid,” Algara told Roll Call in an email.

In a July 8 interview with CBS 8 San Diego, Wyrick creates his own “both sides” argument—confirming he made the “OK” sign but calling it a “giant joke against the left.”

“It is just the OK symbol,” Wyrick says, denying he’s a white supremacist. “It means nothing else.”

But another photo posted to Facebook in 2018 shows Wyrick wearing the logo of the American Guard, which the Anti-Defamation League calls “hardcore white supremacists.”

There are other photos suggesting Wyrick jokes around with that “OK” sign often. One photo provided by progressive activist William Johnson, shows Wyrick and several others posing with the “OK” salute in an undated photo on the United Patriot National Front Facebook page. Also in the photo is Antonio Foreman, who Johnson says participated in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Other photos show Wyrick “pummeling” protesters.

In an interview with freelance reporter Alexander Zaitchik for his 2016 book “The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald Trump’s America,”  Wyrick describes Hunter as a friend and a customer at his Alpine ATV and motorcycle repair shop.

“It was clear it was more than just a handshake kind of thing,” says Zaitchik.

Wyrick tells Zaitchik that his decision to move to Alpine was “because the majority of people out here are white people. … There wasn’t many of us in the neighborhoods where we grew up, around Santa Ana or Anaheim.”

Wyrick echoes another old racist sentiment Trump recently revived when he told three US-born and one naturalized congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries.

“Why don’t you go back to Mexico and make it great? Don’t bring a s—hole over here,” Zaitchik quotes Wyrick as saying, noting that the repairman also patrols the Mexican border as a civilian.

Though Facebook deleted the United Patriot National Front page, there is no indication that the group—or any of the other hate groups with which Wyrick has apparently been associated—has dissipated.

Between Hunter’s renewed inflammatory attacks on Campa-Najjar and Trump’s habit of stoking hatred, racism and lies—on August 12, the Washington Post calculated Trump has made 12,019 false or misleading claims over 928 days— the reelection races of these two white supremacist Republicans could get very, very ugly.

 

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Anti-LGBTQ Colorado baker loses Trans birthday cake court case

Phillips violated Colorado’s ant-discrimination law citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression

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Screenshot via CBSN Denver

DENVER – A Colorado State District Court Judge ruled against the baker who had previously refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and won at the U.S. Supreme Court a partial narrow victory in that case in 2018.

CBSN Denver reported that Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones order that Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s anti discrimination law Tuesday citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression.

In court documents, Jones said that Phillips refusal to make the plantiff, Autumn Scardina a cake made with blue icing on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status but without a written message, was in violation of the law. Phillips was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Jones noted in his ruling that Phillips testified during a trial in March that ‘he did not think someone could change their gender’ and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”

“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘” the judge wrote.

The Scottsdale, Arizona based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has been place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for spreading propaganda and lies about LGBTQ people, told CBSN that the group would appeal Jones’ ruling.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” ADF’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a media statement.

The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.

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Supreme Court rules for religious agency rejecting LGBTQ families

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city

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Blade file photo by Michael Key

WASHINGTON – In a ruling released Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decided in favor of a religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes, determining the City of Philadelphia’s enforcement of a contract with non-discrimination provisions violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

In a surprise twist, the ruling was unanimous with nine justices on the court agreeing to the result in favor of Catholic Social Services, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the opinion. As noted by SCOTUSblog, the court seemed much more divided in oral arguments, although inclined to rule for the foster care agency.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts writes.

Although Catholic Social Services had also contended a freedom of speech right under the First Amendment to reject same-sex couples, Roberts adds the court didn’t reach a conclusion on that part of the argument.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBTQ group DignityUSA, condemned the decision in a statement immediately after it was handed down.

“Today, the well-being of our country’s most vulnerable children has been sacrificed to preserve tax-payer funded discrimination for a powerful group of religious institutions,” Duddy-Burke said. “The Supreme Court just decreased the number of homes available to our youth in foster care, making what was already a crisis worse. Same-sex couples are seven times more likely than straight couples to adopt or be foster parents and are more likely to have trans-racial families. This ruling means tens of thousands of children may never have a family to love and support them.”

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded decision of the U.S. Third Circuit of Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with Catholic Social Services. Both the appeals courts and the lower trial court had come to the opposite conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city allowing for discretion on enforcement, which he says means the measure isn’t generally applicable measure.

“Section 3.21 of the contract requires an agency to provide services defined in the contract to prospective foster parents without regard to their sexual orientation,” Roberts writes. “But section 3.21 also permits exceptions to this requirement at the ‘sole discretion’ of the Commissioner. This inclusion of a mechanism for entirely discretionary exceptions renders the non-discrimination provision not generally applicable.”

David Flugman, a lawyer at the New York-based Selendy & Gay PLLC whose practice includes LGBTQ rights, said in a statement the technical nature of the Fulton is “sure to invite even more litigation.

“Today the Supreme Court held, on narrow, technical grounds, that the City of Philadelphia’s attempt to ensure that Catholic Charities abide by the same non-discrimination provisions applicable to all other city contractors could not withstand Catholic Charities’ religious right to refuse to screen loving same-sex couples to act as foster parents,” Flugman writes. “The Court did not take up Catholic Charities’ invitation to scuttle the 30 year-old test for free exercise claims that was announced in Smith v. Employment Division, which held that a neutral law of general applicability could survive even if it burdens religious practice.”

Notably, although the City of Philadelphia in addition to the contract it struck with Catholic Social Services has in a place LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, the Supreme Court determines that measure doesn’t apply in the context of foster care services because it’s limited to the services “made available to the public.”

“Certification is not ‘made available to the public’ in the usual sense of the words,” Roberts writes. “Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public; the process involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement the decision from the Supreme Court is a harmful loss to the children in the foster care system in Philadelphia as well as the countless LGBTQ parents.”

“Weakening the government’s ability to protect their civil rights is hardly in their best interest, and we’re committed to ensuring this loophole is not stretched to further justify hatred or prejudice,” Graves added. “We must protect the right of every person to live without fear of discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and we must hold that value particularly close when it comes to the best interest of LGBTQ youth and the families who love them.” 

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U.S. Senate to consider apology for past anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Report shows 70-year history of gov’t persecution, purges of ‘sex deviates’

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Pioneering activist Frank Kameny, who was fired from his government job for being gay, received an apology from the government decades later, but that apology did not extend to the thousands of other LGBT Americans persecuted by their government. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are preparing to introduce a first-ever resolution calling on the Senate to acknowledge and apologize for the federal government’s discrimination against LGBTQ federal workers and members of the military over a period of at least 70 years.

The two senators have agreed to introduce the proposed resolution at the request of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBTQ group that specializes in archival research into the federal government’s decades-long policy of banning LGBTQ people from working in federal jobs and serving in the U.S. military and purging them when found to be in those positions.

The Mattachine Society, in partnership with the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, prepared a 28-page white paper reporting in extensive detail the U.S. government’s history of what it calls discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ federal workers and LGBTQ military service members.
The white paper is entitled, “America’s Promise of Reconciliation and Redemption: The Need for an Official Acknowledgement and Apology for the Historic Government Assault on LGBT Federal Employees and Military Personnel.”

In a statement, the Mattachine Society says the paper is the product of a two-year research project involving a team of five attorneys with the McDermott Will & Emery firm and Mattachine Society.

“Over many decades, the United States government, led by teams within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and nearly every agency and branch of government, began the process of investigating, harassing, interrogating, court-martialing, terminating, hospitalizing, and, in some cases, criminally prosecuting LGBT Americans for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender expression,” the paper says.

“This wholesale purging left tens of thousands in financial ruin, without jobs, with personal lives destroyed, and, in many cases, completely estranged from their own families,” the paper states.

“A straightforward acknowledgement of the mistreatment of these military and civilian employees and an official apology is overdue,” the paper continues. “Both the Congress and the Executive Branch were complicit in this pervasive mistreatment of LGBT citizens.”

The paper points out that over the past 30 years Congress has officially acknowledged and apologized on six different occasions for U.S. mistreatment of other marginalized groups.

Among the subject areas of those apologies were the enslavement of African Americans, the failure to enforce anti-lynching laws to protect African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the mistreatment of Native Hawaiians, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and government polices of exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

The paper says the time has come for the federal government to issue its own “acknowledgement and apology” to the LGBT community by following the precedent established by Congress with respect to apologies to the other marginalized groups.

Jeff Trammell, a Mattachine Society board member who led the project to prepare the white paper, said Baldwin and Kaine were in the process of lining up other senators to sign on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Baldwin is the Senate’s only out lesbian member. Kaine is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.
Trammell said Mattachine of Washington considers the Senate resolution the first step in an ongoing effort to obtain a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives and a possible similar statement of acknowledgement and apology from the executive branch, including the Biden administration.

He said he and the resolution’s supporters were hopeful that most senators, including Republicans, would view it as non-controversial and as a nonpartisan measure because it seeks only the acknowledgement of historical facts. Trammell noted that unlike other resolutions of apology pertaining to other minorities approved by Congress in the past, the LGBT apology resolution does not call for any financial reparations.

The eight-page proposed resolution addresses that question by stating, “Nothing in this resolution…authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

Trammell noted that under the Obama administration, John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued an official government apology for the firing of D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny from his government job in the late 1950s. But Trammell said the apology to Kameny, which was considered important and groundbreaking, did not extend to the thousands of other LGBTQ employees fired or harassed in the years before and after Kameny’s firing.

The white paper also points out that at least seven U.S. allied nations have issued apologies for past mistreatment of their own LGBTQ citizens. Among them are Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

“We believe the time has come to understand and acknowledge the historical animus that LGBT federal employees and military personnel faced for generations from their own government to ensure it can never happen again,” Trammell said.

The white paper can be accessed here.

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