Nazis

Susan J. Demas: Michigan Republicans Have a Bannon Problem

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Alabama Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore was supposed to win the special election this week — the Deep South state, after all, is scarlet red. And far-right strategist Steve Bannon was supposed to get all the credit.

Instead, the Heart of Dixie will have its first Democratic senator in 25 years, Doug Jones, a former prosecutor who put KKK members away for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black little girls. He fittingly won thanks to a swell of African-American support at the polls.

Moore, who Atlantic columnist Michelle Cottle charitably describes as “a bit of a loon,” was twice booted from the state Supreme Court for ethics violations and has said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress. Moore referred to Native Americans and Asian-Americans as “reds and yellows” at a September campaign rally, where he also waxed nostalgic for America under slavery because it was “great at the time when families were united.” He’s also partial to conspiracy theories that Sharia law is spreading in America and former President Obama wasn’t actually born here.

President Trump didn’t endorse his fellow birther in the primary, instead stumping for the establishment GOP pick, U.S. Sen. Luther Strange. That irked Bannon, a former Trump campaign strategist who had recently been fired from his White House senior adviser gig. When Moore handily won the primary, Bannon claimed victory and Trump quickly endorsed the winner.

Bannon has returned to running Breitbart News, whose ties to Nazism have been exposed, and has been busy stoking his reputation as an “evil genius.” He headlined a Nov. 8 Macomb County GOP “Unity” dinner, crammed with 2018 Republican hopefuls eager to see and be seen.

The day after the event, a Washington Post story broke that Moore had allegedly sexually abused teenagers, including one who was 14. A former prosecutor who worked with him at the time said it was “common knowledge” that Moore dated teenagers and the New Yorker reported he had even been banned from a mall for skeeving on girls.

If you were trying to create a horrendous Republican candidate in a lab for an elaborate social experiment on what it would take for Alabamians to finally vote for a Democrat for major office, you really couldn’t do better than Roy Moore.

But the conventional wisdom was that it’s Alabama, man. And in these polarized times, Republicans would come home.

Bannon was already being set up in coverage as the nihilistic mastermind, having convinced Trump to re-engage in the Senate race. The president held a rally in nearby Pensacola, Fla., but it was Bannon taking premature victory laps on stage at Moore’s official events. No one can ever accuse Bannon of lacking an ego. He’s griped that Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie lost his race (by 9 points, mind you) because he refused Bannon’s offer to hold a rally.

Bannon also gleefully cranked up the right-wing outrage machine against Moore’s accusers. Bloomberg News’ Josh Green, who Bannon frequently confided in about strategy during the ‘16 campaign, noted that his Moore rehabilitation playbook took page from Nazi and Soviet propagandists:

“Bannon worked to create a counter-narrative that ultimately would change many Republicans’ perception of the scandal. A former filmmaker, he’s long been captivated by the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker, and the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein for their power to shape public sentiment. Earlier this year, Bannon told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer his 2012 anti-Obama film ‘The Hope and the Change,’ had consciously mimicked Riefenstahl’s infamous, ‘Triumph of the Will.’ Her film, he added, ‘seared into me’ that unhappy voters could be influenced if they felt they were being conned.”

Let’s not gloss over this. In 2017 America, the president’s chief strategist freely admits that he appropriates tactics he admires from the most barbaric regimes of the 20th century, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

This is real. And three Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidates — Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and state Sen. Pat Colbeck (R-Canton) — made sure they were at Bannon’s Macomb soiree. Colbeck even made a public stink that he was bumped from a speaking slot in favor of Schuette. Others attending included U.S. Senate hopefuls John James and Bob Young; Secretary of State candidate Stan Grot; and House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt), who’s running for attorney general.

Not surprisingly, Democrats have widely shared photos of top Republicans at the event on social media, which is probably just a preview of 2018 ads to come.

Playing up Bannon ties may still be smart politics next year for those in tough GOP primaries and especially for SOS and AG candidates, who are nominated at party conventions.

But the moral cost of embracing someone who tried to use Nazi agitprop techniques to try to get an accused child molester elected to the U.S. Senate simply cannot be understated or overlooked.

Some days, it’s hard to believe these are the times we live in.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Michigan Politicians Should Face the Trump Test in 2018

“Why won’t the president condemn white supremacists?”

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That was the question that dominated cable news and social media after a white power rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned violent on Saturday with one of the attendees allegedly mowing down a crowd of anti-fascist protesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured.

President Trump, who’s never been one to shy away from criticizing anyone or anything — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as “Little Marco” for his lack of gravitas; actress Rosie O’Donnell for being “a pig”; and even Nordstrom’s for dropping handbags made by his daughter, Ivanka — issued some vague, underwhelming tweets.

Then in his first public remarks, he condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” Now it’s quite fashionable in D.C. journalism to blame both sides — it’s a well-paying schtick, no doubt — but even some of the top purveyors of that brand of conventional wisdom like David Gergen and Chris Cillizza tore into Trump on a CNN panel for “both-sidesing” Nazism.

On Monday, Trump issued a half-hearted statement finally calling out the KKK and white supremacists, but no one was buying it. So on Tuesday, Trump lost it at his infrastructure-themed press conference and said there were some “very fine people” at the white power rally. And he told us more about what he really thought:

“What about the alt-left? You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”

Nope. Nope. Nope. No Nazis were killed in the protest.

White supremacists showed up in paramilitary garb, waving Nazi and confederate flags. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe described in disturbing detail how the police were outnumbered and outgunned by the white power forces.

And then James Alex Fields, 20, allegedly rammed his car into anti-racist protesters, which Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, says meets the legal definition of terrorism.

There doesn’t seem to be much mystery about what Fields believed or was trying to do. His high school teacher describes him as idolizing Nazis (he “thought they were pretty cool guys.”) While at the Dachau death camp during a post-graduation trip to Europe, Fields allegedly said, “This is where the magic happened,” according to two classmates.

Trump’s disgusting remarks did get rave reviews from the likes of David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK and wannabe GOP politician, who tweeted his thanks for the president’s “honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM [Black Lives Matter]/Antifa[cist].”

In other words, we have our answer as to why Trump wouldn’t denounce white supremacists. He didn’t want to. And he’s willing to defend them, even when one of their own allegedly killed a woman in cold blood.

Elected officials, however — Democrats and Republicans alike — have been blasting Trump and the neo-Nazi movement. It’s important to have politicians on the record about this.

I would go further, however. During the course of the 2016 campaign, Trump said dozens of outrageous things — calling Mexicans “rapists”; insulting gold star father Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq; urging people to check out the sex tape of a Miss Universe he had called “Miss Piggy” and more.

Reporters asked many Republican officeholders and candidates about these statements and often got pushback that it was unfair and “biased” to even ask. Now that Trump is president, he’s still tweeting attacks and blasting enemies at his rallies.

But reporters don’t ask Republican officials much about this anymore. Unhinged rants by the leader of the free world are just the new normal. And besides, he won the election (even if 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton), so that means the American people have endorsed this, right?

Well, with all due respect to my colleagues, that’s crap. But here’s something I think is far more important to ask Democrats and Republicans running for Congress, statewide office and leadership positions in 2018: Where do you stand on Trump’s policies, which will certainly impact Michigan?

Given where Trump stands on white supremacists, his proposal to drastically limit legal immigration, build a wall with Mexico, call for police to be “rough” with suspects and his Muslim ban have to be viewed through that lens. Those who want to hold key offices in Michigan deserve to be questioned about these policies and more.

And if these candidates whine that the “fake news” media are being mean, well, then they’re probably not up to the job.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Pick a Side: There Is No Neutrality When it Comes to Nazis

“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. It has no place in America.” — President Donald Trump on Saturday after a white power rally in Charlottesville, Va., left three dead.

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During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump called Mexicans “rapists,” offered a Muslim ban, backed a wall with Mexico, disparaged the father of a slain Muslim soldier, declared a female journalist had “blood coming out of her wherever,” said a Mexican-American judge couldn’t be fair in a case against him, encouraged violence at his rallies, bragged about sexual assault on tape; and called his opponent, Hillary Clinton, a “nasty woman” at a nationally televised debate. This is not a complete list; it’s just off the top of my head at 5 a.m.

Long story short, it’s not difficult to see why Trump was endorsed by the KKK. So when beltway pundits and some on the left moaned about having to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” some of us with an understanding of history and who have encountered extremism in our own lives were frustrated. The choice was between someone you may not have particularly liked for whatever reason — her voice, her husband’s record on crime, her neoliberalism (whatever that is) — and a dude endorsed by the KKK. Pick a side.

After Trump narrowly won the election, pundits kept waiting for the pivot to presidential behavior. Instead, to put a fine point on his campaign courting of white supremacists, he put three well-known figures in the White House: Steve Bannon who bragged about his publication, Breitbart, being a platform for the “alt-right”; Stephen Miller, known for his anti-immigrant screeds; and Seb Gorka, who has ties to Nazi-allied groups in Hungary.

White supremacists are emboldened. This weekend, they marched in Charlottesville, Va., a flashpoint because a confederate statue is slated to be removed. On Saturday, James Alex Fields, 20, allegedly plowed his car through anti-fascist protesters, killing one and leaving 19 injured. Two police officers were also killed in a helicopter crash.

The president went on TV after the tragedy and pundits expected him to condemn white supremacist violence. He didn’t. Instead, he blamed bigotry and violence “on many sides,” and weirdly brought up former President Obama. Needless to say, the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, was elated and announced Trump was on their side (“He loves us all.”)

If Trump had done the bare minimum and briefly condemned white supremacists for the tragic violence, he would have enjoyed media accolades for days, perhaps weeks. His team knows this. There is no benefit of the doubt here. This was a calculated move and a chilling one.

I am so sick of beltway pundits fetishizing a warped concept of objectivity when this is where we’re at today. Desmond Tutu perhaps put it best: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

My grandfather put off having a family and enlisted at age 32 to fight Nazis. He got his back shot up and lived with incredible pain until he passed away at 97. My daughter’s Jewish family was murdered by Nazis in Europe. And now Nazis are emboldened right here, prepping for a race war they believe has the blessing of the president of the United States. “Many sides,” my ass.

Pick a side.