Electoral politics in the United States are polarized in a way only rarely seen in our history, facilitating the rise of politicians with links to extremist groups, ideas and conspiracy theories. Profiles of a dozen 2014 candidates, including Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, independents and others, illustrate the phenomenon.
Election years in the United States always bring out a spate of candidates from very different ideological corners, but over the past few years, electoral politics in this country have succumbed to a level of polarization only rarely seen in our history. That situation has facilitated the emergence of would-be political leaders who have links to hate groups or engage in promoting extremism based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or antigovernment conspiracy theories. The typically baseless claims of these candidates range from demonizing propaganda about certain minority groups to the promotion of fantastic conspiracy theories about the federal government’s allegedly evil machinations. What follows are snapshots of a dozen such candidates, including Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, independents and others who are running for political office this fall or who ran earlier in the year.
Running for U.S. Senate
Tea Party-backed Greg Brannon, an anti-abortion obstetrician/gynecologist with no political experience, has pushed the falsehood, common at the extreme end of the anti-abortion movement, that abortion is linked to breast cancer. He serves as the medical director for Hand of Hope (HOH), a nonprofit that operates anti-abortion “pregnancy crisis centers.” He has described food stamps as being comparable to slavery and called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Brannon often lauds the late North Carolina senator Jesse Helms, who never renounced his support for racial segregation, as an important influence and described him as a “modern hero.” Reflecting his view that states do not have to follow federal law, Brannon spoke at a rally in favor of “nullification” — the legally groundless doctrine that states can refuse to abide by federal law that was also espoused by the defenders of slavery and segregation — which was sponsored by the neo-secessionist League of the South, a hate group that seeks a return to “Anglo-Celtic” dominance and a theocratic state. Brannon has derided public education as “Marxist,” dismissed the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in the American legal system and lambasted bipartisanship. In 2009, he launched an organization called Founder’s Truth, whose blog reposted articles steeped in antigovernment conspiracy theories from websites like InfoWars.com (the group’s website is now defunct, but Buzzfeed has screenshots). Brannon has come under fire for allegedly misleading investors in a technology company he co-founded that shut down in 2011, but he is still considered a frontrunner against incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagen.
Running for U.S. Senate
Lee Bright, currently a conspiracist, Tea Party-supported state senator, is working to unseat veteran Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch conservative who is moderate on a few issues. Bright introduced a radical bill in 2013 that would end all abortions in South Carolina and has sponsored others of similarly dubious legality, including one bill that would criminalize the Affordable Care Act and another that would exempt the state from federal gun laws. Bright is also an antigovernment advocate of nullification (the unconstitutional idea that states can refuse to enforce federal laws) who has declared that the federal government is a “scam.” At a 2012 “Day of Resistance Rally” in Greenville, he made the strange claim that the Supreme Court may agree to dissolve the states. He has said immigrants should “self-deport,” asserted that able-bodied people who rely on food stamps “shouldn’t eat,” and accused Graham of being a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood. Bright would also like to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, which he claims the Obama administration is training as “Brown Shirts” to enforce the Affordable Care Act. In speeches to supporters, he has promoted the idea of reigniting the Civil War, wisecracking at one point, “If at first you don’t secede, try again.”
Angelo John Gage
Running for U.S. House, District 7
American Freedom Party
Angelo John Gage is a former Marine who says he served two tours of duty in Iraq. An unabashed racist and anti-Semite, he has a radio show on the white nationalist multimedia website The White Voice and he posts similarly themed videos on YouTube. Gage announced his intention to run for Congress on The White Voice and his Facebook page, saying, “I think we need someone just like me out in D.C. tearing these communists apart and exposing them for what they are.” The AFP’s mission statement says “[t]he American Freedom Party is a party that represents the interests and issues of White Americans and all Americans who support our mission” and it bills itself as a nationalist party “that shares the customs and heritage of the European American people.” (The party has cynically tried to downplay its racism, but its leader once promoted an amendment to the Constitution to require the deportation of any American with an “ascertainable trace of Negro blood” and its board includes several of the nation’s leading racist activists.) In 2012, Gage wrote on the racist Web forum Stormfront that he had just recently found out about “the real Jewish question and the whole ww2 and hitler truth.” It was a shock, he said, “but EVERYTHING connects and leads back to the jews — the evil jews.” In October 2013, Gage claimed in a YouTube video that “white genocide” is under way, a result of “massive uncontrolled 3rd world immigration to white countries only.” Gage can also be found blogging at The White Voice on such topics as the evils of synthetic sweeteners, good nutrition, and why womanizing — which he claims to have been a past master at, aided by his “good looks” — is bad for you.
Running for U.S. Senate
Phil Hudok is chairman of the West Virginia chapter of the theocratic and anti-LGBT Constitution Party and a former public school teacher with a history of Christian-based activism. In 2008, he and a handful of others successfully petitioned the Department of Motor Vehicles to delete their photos from digital databases, saying they violated their religious beliefs because digitized photos contain “the mark of the beast.” In 2012, Hudok’s daughter was banned from her high school because the family refused to comply with new vaccination requirements. Hudok went to court and the school was ordered to provide home educational services for his daughter, who also was allowed to participate in its commencement ceremony. Hudok manages the website of Call To Decision Ministries, which trafficks in 9/11 conspiracy theories, anti-vaccination myths like the idea that vaccines are used to sterilize the population, derogatory claims about immigrant “anchor babies” and “homos,” and the antigovernment “Patriot” conspiracy theory about a secret plot to form a socialistic global government known as the “New World Order.” On his site, Hudok asserts that he serves “God, family, and country in that order” and says that “The New World Order is an anathema to everything I believe in.”
Running for Williamson County Commission, District 2
Long known as a cast member of “Saturday Night Live” (1986-1992), Victoria Jackson later said she had been a Christian during those years but was apolitical until 2007, when she discovered an “underground conservative group of people” in Los Angeles. From there, she descended into the fever swamps of anti-Obama extremism and began garnering right-wing media attention that has turned her into a movement star, complete with appearances on Fox News. Since her “awakening” as a self-described Tea Party or constitutional conservative, Jackson has wondered why there isn’t a “white history month” now that the “white race is becoming a minority in America” (a statement she deleted the same day she posted it) and claimed that President Obama may dispatch a private army to kill her and other Christians. She has included Muslims in her conspiracist rhetoric, claiming that she’s afraid to say anything about Muslims because “they kill people” and they — along with progressives, communists, liberals, and globalists — want to “destroy America.” Last year, she protested a public discussion hosted by the American Muslim Advisory Council and joined an ugly fight against the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn. LGBT people don’t fare much better. Jackson has claimed against all the scientific evidence that allowing gay people to adopt children is tantamount to authorizing “pedophilia and sexual molestation,” and lambasted a kiss between two male characters on the TV show “Glee” as “sickening.”
Running for Governor
Scott Lively, head of the anti-LGBT hate group Abiding Truth Ministries, has a long history as a gay-bashing propagandist with little regard for facts. He is the author of the infamous and discredited book, The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, which claims that “masculine” gay men were responsible for the Nazi Party and thus the Holocaust, and he has traveled extensively through Eastern Europe and Africa speaking on the “dangers” of homosexuality and drumming up support for criminalizing it. Lively is currently being sued by a Ugandan LGBT rights group and the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights for his role in the formation and passage of the draconian anti-LGBT bill in Uganda that was signed into law in early 2014 and stipulates life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality.” On his candidate page, which is strangely devoid of evidence of his longtime anti-gay obsession, he opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest (“a child must never be required to pay for the sins of his father”). He also says the first thing he’ll do to prevent crime is to restore “clear-cut moral precepts to guide the citizenry,” including “restoring respect for masculinity and male authority in the home and community.”
Running for Sheriff
Pierce County, Wis.
Military veteran Bill Parks is a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a part of the “Patriot” movement that was founded by longtime antigovernment activist, hard-right darling and former sheriff Richard Mack. Mack claims that the county sheriff is the highest legitimate law enforcement in the land and has the duty to protect citizens from supposedly “unlawful” incursions by the federal government — a concept that was born in the 1970s and gained traction in the 1980s, when it was pushed by the anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus hate group. Parks also boasts of his membership in another radical organization, the conspiracy-mongering Oath Keepers, which has suggested that the government has plans to round up conservatives and throw them into concentration camps. The Oath Keepers also has called for the formation of 12-person “Civilization Preservation units” to help prepare for a societal collapse that the group sees as imminent. Parks, who says he is “100% committed” to his oath promising to be a “Constitutional Sheriff,” adds that he will require “Constitutional courses” for all deputies and will then send them to local schools to teach children about their “Constitutional oath and duties.”
Running for County Council, District 5
Anne Arundel County, Md.
Michael Peroutka, a home-schooling advocate and attorney who believes that the teaching of law has been “perverted” away from its original design, has been a regular speaker for years at events staged by the League of the South (LOS), a neo-Confederate hate group of which he is a member. The LOS, whose board Peroutka joined last year, calls for a second Southern secession and the formation of a Christian theocratic state run by “Anglo-Celtic” (i.e., white) elites. In 2004, he ran for president on the ticket of the Constitution Party, a far-right theocratic party that is virulently anti-gay. Peroutka is also co-founder of the Institute on the Constitution, an arm of his law firm of Peroutka and Peroutka that pushes false claims about the Christianity of the founding fathers and their supposed intention to build a nation on biblical principles. Peroutka’s institute offers a course on “The Sheriff and the Citizen” that provides “constitutional training for deputies.” Like many right-wing historical revisionists, Peroutka attempts to re-write the past. Earlier this year, for instance, he claimed that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t support “civil rights,” because all rights come from God. Instead, Peroutka said that King’s modern-day followers had “perverted” his legacy and that King was actually calling on the government to merely give “us the same defense of our rights that you’ve given others.” (In fact, King frequently referred to “civil rights.”) Last year, he claimed that the gay rights movement will lead to “forced homosexuality,” and went on to call on local officials to prosecute women who have abortions for murder.
Running for State House of Representatives, District 5
Karen Schoen, a former teacher, is best-known as a co-founder of AgEnders, a loose consortium of people who have bought into a conspiracy theory about Agenda 21, an obscure United Nations sustainability plan that came out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil. The plan, which has no enforcement mechanisms and is not a legally binding document, offers a set of principles to help countries deal with pollution, resource depletion, poverty, and overpopulation. But to the AgEnders, the plan will somehow destroy private property rights and implement a socialistic “New World Order” — just one of the conspiracy theories that Schoen has been trumpeting for more than 10 years. Schoen sees the UN in all local politics, along with a variety of other nefarious forces. The AgEnder newsletters are thick with screeds against local green initiatives that are described as UN land grabs. They also have carried allegations such as the claim that the Obama administration is bringing in jihadists through refugee resettlement programs, and, at least once, that there is a mind control plan operating at policy meetings open to citizens. On her campaign website, Schoen claims that climate change is a lie perpetrated by the government so that it can collect taxes and legitimize itself. She also recommends on the same site getting rid of computers and returning to basics in order to improve education.
Running for Governor
A former U.S. congressman, Tom Tancredo has long been a fixture on the political scene and has built a reputation as being tough on immigration, which has made him a darling of the hard right. In reality, he has gone beyond toughness to demonize Latino immigrants as “gangsters” and “jihadists” and flirted with white nationalists. Over the years, Tancredo has called for a complete moratorium on immigration, recommended the bombing of Mecca, and complained that President Obama was elected, in part, because there isn’t a literacy test for voting. He has also claimed that people who are not white only really become American by adopting “white Anglo-Saxon culture.” Tancredo was honorary chair of the now-defunct Youth for Western Civilization, a student group with racist leanings. In 2012, he was scheduled to speak on “Multiculturalism — The Death of America” at the annual conference of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a hate group descended from the White Citizens Councils that battled desegregation in the 1960s. (After the planned talk was publicized, he denied involvement and his name was removed from the program.) Even Dick Armey, the conservative former House Majority leader and one-time head of FreedomWorks, has called Tancredo’s immigration stances “harsh and mean-spirited.” Despite his 2007 call for political candidates to use only English, Tancredo includes a “Viva Tancredo” section on his website with a Spanish translation.
Running for County Council, District 5
Anne Arundel County, Md.
David Whitney ran unsuccessfully for Maryland State Assembly in 2006 on the ticket of the theocratic, virulently anti-LGBT and anti-abortion Constitution Party. As pastor of the Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Pasadena, Md., Whitney’s sermons include theocratic and antigovernment ideas. In 2010, he addressed a Tea Party rally and declared that we have “the God-given right to secede.” Whitney also is an active member of the neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS), which calls for a second Southern secession and opposes racial intermarriage, among other things, and serves as chaplain for its Maryland chapter. In the past year, Whitney has exhorted his church members to buy but not register guns, claimed that citizen militias will help keep government tyranny at bay, and appeared to argue that vigilante violence is an acceptable response to legal abortion. (He argued in a 2013 sermon that “there is such a thing as Biblically justifiable homicide,” according to veteran researcher Frederick Clarkson. Although he later claimed he wasn’t referring to abortion, extremists have argued that killing physicians who provide abortion is “justifiable homicide,” and many signed a statement to that effect.) Whitney is also affiliated with the Institute for the Constitution, an outfit co-founded by Michael Peroutka that falsely claims America was founded as a Christian republic. Peroutka, who is also an LOS member and is a member of Whitney’s church congregation, is running for the same County Council seat as Whitney, but as a Republican.