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Column By John Murray
How low can we go?
I opened an e-mail Sunday morning from Gary Koniz, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 4th Congressional District of Florida, and he’d attached a letter he’d sent to Donald Trump that began, “Dear President Trump: We need your leadership at this time to put an end to the Black Negro Slave War ongoing against us, the White European Faith of mankind.”
Koniz, a lawyer and a Vietnam veteran, ended his racist scree by imploring Trump to “stop the Black Negro population in their plot to get even with their White race conquerors.”
Koniz has no place in the public arena in America, but he is not alone in spewing hatred. On Saturday, Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene flew into Connecticut to attend an “America First” rally in Plainfield (pictured above). Greene is a controversial figure who has promoted white supremacy, embraced QAnon, questioned the Sandy Hook massacre, promoted the execution of Democrat leaders, equated the Democrat Party with Nazis, and described mask mandates during the COVID pandemic as persecution, and compared it to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.
How was her message received by voters? In 2020 she won 75% of the votes cast in northwest Georgia.
But Greene wasn’t in rural Georgia this past weekend, she was in the heart of Connecticut, the Land of Steady Habits, and she drew thousands of people – almost all white – to listen to her lunacy. After the rally she tweeted a thank you to Connecticut for “having her back”, and Sunday morning she returned to Twitter with this gem, “It’s time to pass my #FireFauci Act. Funding the creation of a bioweapon that has killed millions of people and cruel experiments that torture puppies are the things only a monster could do. What else has this psychopath done? Fauci must be fired, investigated, and arrested.”
To say I’m repulsed is insufficient. We have always had people on the far left or far right saying despicable things. For hundreds of years the public has turned their collective backs on hate speech. Not anymore. What is most alarming about this moment in our history is the mass embracement of hate speech, and it is spreading across America as effectively, and destructively, as COVID-19.
Why do it? Simple, the message fires up their base. White America is threatened by a loss of power, a theme that Donald Trump tapped into to win the presidency in 2016.
It worked for Trump, and still does, and the playbook has spread to Connecticut.
Republican State Representative Anne Dauphinais, of Killingly, recently compared Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont to Adolf Hitler for mandating COVID vaccines for all state employees. A ludicrous statement from a largely unknown and uninspiring elected official drew widespread condemnation, a rebuke from from leaders on both sides of the aisle in the State Legislature, and garnered headlines across Connecticut, and stories in the New York Post and Newsweek Magazine.
State Senator Joan Hartley and State Representative Ron Napoli Jr. both represent Waterbury, a city with a vibrant Jewish community, and they issued a joint statement condemning Dauphinais’s comments.
State SEnator Joan Hartley
Their statement read, in part, “These comments are particularly disrespectful to the families of the millions of victims of the Holocaust. Disregard for historical reality and disrespect for those who deal with that reality will not be tolerated in Waterbury.”
Dauphinais refused to apologize, and when she doubled down on her reprehensible comment, she got another round of headlines and stories. The town of Killingly is 96% white and heavily Republican. Whether the voters embrace or reject Dauphanais and her message will be determined in November 2022, but for now she appears to be delighted with the attention.
And in Wolcott, the rural town that borders Waterbury to the northeast, State Representative Gale Mastrofrancesco, a Republican, drew ire when she used George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe” to oppose Governor Lamont’s mask mandate for public school students.
State Representative Gale Mastrofrancesco of Wolcott.
Several members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus (BPRC) in the State Legislature immediately pushed back on Mastrofrancesco’s comment. State Representative Geraldo Reyes Jr. of the South End of Waterbury is the chairman of the BPRC and said, “Let’s not confuse the murder of an innocent man with an inconvenience that could potentially save your life.”
State Representative Geraldo Reyes Jr.
Not to be outdone, Mastrofrancesco’s collegue in Wolcott, State Senator Rob Sampson, who also represents a small slice of Waterbury’s East End, compared vaccination requirements to slavery as the Senate took up the debate over extending Governor Ned Lamont’s executive powers.
State Senator Rob Sampson of Wolcott.
“If you don’t have bodily autonomy, if you don’t own your own body and are not free to make your own decisions on how to treat it,” Sampson said. “Then you are a slave.”
Sampson’s inflammatory comment is both ridiculous and self-serving, and like Gary Koniz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Anne Dauphinais and Gale Mastrofrancesco, they are following the Trump playbook to be politically incorrect and offensive.
A New York Times article in December 2015 dissected Trump’s public comments and described his campaign, “as an operation trafficking in hate. It’s a campaign making intentional use of so-called “politically incorrect” commentary to arouse white voters’ anxieties and frustrations for political gain.”
Political debate is essential to democracy, and Republicans and Democrats and Independents have clashed over ideology for more than 200 years. What’s taking place now is not a clash of ideas, but a rash of copy-cat politicians following the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump. If it worked for him, it can work for us.
Michael Waltman is the author of “The Communication of Hate,” and his research focuses on the way that hate can be an effective tool when used to pursue a variety of social and personal goals.
“Hate speech is protected speech,” Waltman wrote, “and it should be. The answer to hate speech is more speech. Clumsy as it might be, the answer to hate speech is anti-hate speech.”
We need to clap back louder.