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Polarized Election Season Marked by Extremist Candidates

It’s well known that in recent years, this country has seen its electoral politics polarized to an extent that has only rarely been paralleled in American history. But that polarization in many cases goes far beyond anything resembling mainstream discourse, extending to men and women who are linked to hate groups and racial, ethnic, religious, anti-gay and antigovernment extremism, or who promote extremist propaganda. Their baseless claims typically include demonizing propaganda about certain minority groups, or conspiracy theories that have the same demonizing subtext. What follows is a look at 15 political candidates, including Democrats, Republicans, independents and members of extremist political parties, who are running for office this fall or ran earlier in the year. Research on these candidates was carried out by the SPLC Task Force on Hate in the Public Sphere.

Virgil Goode Jr. (Va.)

Office sought: President of the United States

Goode got his political start in Virginia as a conservative Democrat. First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996, he switched to independent in 2000 and then Republican in 2002. He lost his seat in 2008 by just over 700 votes. In November 2010, Goode joined the executive committee of the Constitution Party, after serving as a member of the party’s larger national committee. Formed in 1991 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party by hard-line conservative and Christian Right backer Howard Phillips, the Constitution Party’s planks include opposition to hate crimes legislation; opposition to the so-called “New World Order,” a much-feared global government said to be imminent; support for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act; and support for “well regulated militias” at the state level and unorganized militias at the community and county levels. During his years in Congress, Goode also developed a reputation for his hard-line stance on immigration. In 2006, Goode claimed, in the wake of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s (D-Minn.) using the Koran to take his oath of office, that if Americans didn’t wake up to the Goode point of view on immigration, “there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.” In February 2011, he spoke on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Committee organized by Youth for Western Civilization, a now-defunct student group with ties to racist groups, calling for an end to all illegal immigration and most legal immigration, which, he warned darkly, will eventually lead to socialism. Goode also promises to defend Americans from the North American Union, a non-existent entity that conspiracy theorists claim the U.S., Canada and Mexico are secretly planning to form.

Merlin Miller (Tenn.)

Office sought: President of the United States

Miller is an independent filmmaker who is running on the white nationalist American Third Position (A3P) ticket. (The party’s chairman, William Daniel Johnson, once proposed a constitutional amendment to deport any U.S. citizen with an “ascertainable trace of Negro blood.”) In his 2012 book, co-authored with A3P board member Adrian Krieg, Miller states that “A3P stands to protect traditional White American interests, as no other political party has shown interest in doing.” Miller has also written pieces for the Holocaust-denying Barnes Review, founded by notorious anti-Semite Willis Carto, and The Occidental Observer, founded by anti-Semitic California State University psychology professor Kevin MacDonald. (The Observer focuses on white identity and white interests.) In 2011, Miller wrote an article in the Barnes Review about Walt Disney, described by Miller as a “Christian Patriot and anti-Communist” who, Miller says, built a major motion picture studio that was not controlled by Jews. In September 2012, Miller — who has addressed meetings of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that once described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity” — was interviewed by Press TV in Iran, where he was attending an international film festival. During that interview, he claimed that charges against him of racism stemmed from his criticism of Zionism and the Jewish-controlled media. He also stated that he believes 9/11 was a Mossad-orchestrated event carried out with “considerable inside help.”

Mark Clayton (D-Tenn.)

Office sought: U.S. Senate

Clayton won the Democratic primary for a Tennessee Senate seat in August 2012, after competing in a field of seven other candidates. Clayton, an anti-gay fringe conspiracy theorist who served a stint in the Army reserve and has worked a variety of odd jobs, won 26% of the vote despite raising no money. The Tennessee Democratic Party disavowed Clayton the day after the primary, but his name will remain on the ballot opposing GOP Sen. Bob Corker. Clayton’s views align more closely with those of the John Birch Society, which once called President Dwight D. Eisenhower a c ommunist, than the Democratic Party — though some of his ideas might be a little much even for JBS. He believes the government is building concentration camps to imprison Americans and that elites in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada are conspiring to form a “North American Union” (NAU) merging the three nations — both conspiracy theories common in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. When he ran for a Senate seat in 2008, Clayton accused Google of censoring his campaign website on behalf of the Chinese government. That website, which has since been taken down, thanked supporters for helping defend Tennessee against the NAU, national ID cards and “radical homosexual lobbying groups who want to get in the Boy Scouts.” Clayton also claimed that Austrian-born California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was planning to amend the Constitution so he could run for president and “fulfill Hitler’s superman scenario.” Clayton’s current site is tamer, though he wants to eliminate “secret national ID cards” from Tennessee drivers’ licenses and to stop the government from mandating that “transexual[s] and homosexuals” grab children in “stranger-danger zones” in airports.

Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Office sought: U.S. Senate

Tea Party-backed Cruz is running as the GOP candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchinson. The Harvard-educated attorney, a former solicitor general of Texas and law clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, claims that the U.N.’s 1992 non-binding resolution and general guidelines for sustainability and ending poverty is a plot led by liberal billionaire George Soros to “abolish” unsustainable environments, including golf courses and grazing pastures. He co-authored a proposal that would open a way for states to nullify federal laws. Cruz thinks the imposition of Shariah Islamic law in the U.S. is “an enormous problem” (it’s not even possible under the Constitution, let alone a big problem). In his first campaign ad in the GOP primary, he encouraged people to vote for him because he once fought to ensure the execution of an undocumented immigrant in a murder case. He’s tough on LGBT people, too. At the 2011 Values Voter Summit, hosted by the gay-bashing Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group for its defamatory and false propaganda, Cruz railed against the “gay rights agenda” and warned about new threats to “religious liberty.”

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn., incumbent)

Office sought: U.S. House of Representatives (6th District)

Since her election to Congress in 2006, Bachmann has become better known for her controversial statements than for her legislation. A staunch Christian evangelical influenced by the writings of Christian Dominionists like Francis Schaeffer, she is also known for conspiracy-laden claims about things like vaccines (they cause children to become retarded) and people like Muslims (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin is part of the Muslim Brotherhood). She claims that President Obama is somehow responsible for the swine flu outbreak in 2009. She also has said that if LGBT people get rights, everybody else will lose theirs, adding that LGBT people are “target[ing] your children.” Bachmann announced that she wouldn’t fill out her 2010 census forms completely because data from it is shared with the FBI and other groups. As proof, she claimed that census data was used by the Roosevelt administration to round up Japanese Americans in World War II (it wasn’t).

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C., incumbent)

Office sought: U.S. House of Representatives (3rd District)

Originally a Democrat, Jones switched to the Republican Party in 1994 and has won every election in his district handily since then. He has moderate views on some issues – he has sided with Democrats in the past to raise the minimum wage, for example, and is known as anti-war — but on others, like immigration, he is much further to the right. He introduced the Illegal Alien Crime Reporting Act of 2011, which would have required federal agencies to report on crimes committed by undocumented workers, earning him accolades from hard-line nativist groups like the FIRE Coalition. Another key player in the U.S. anti-immigrant network, NumbersUSA, gave Jones one of its top 10 scores for his stands on immigration enforcement. Jones, a strong supporter of Arizona’s draconian S.B. 1070 anti-immigrant legislation, has also co-sponsored legislation to end the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who are not citizens, a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. But he probably attracted the most attention when he was a guest in September 2012 on the Memphis-based radio talk show “Political Cesspool,” which is hosted by white nationalists James Edwards and Eddie Miller. Jones went on the show to talk about legislation he has co-authored that accuses President Obama of impeachable offenses regarding events in Libya. Jones later said he didn’t understand the political leanings of the show’s hosts, who have had a parade of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and others on the extreme political right as guests, despite the fact that the show’s plain-spoken mission statement is, “We represent a philosophy that is pro-White.”

U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa, incumbent)

Office sought: U.S. House of Representatives (5th District)

King has been in Iowa politics for more than 15 years now. He served as a state senator from 1996-2002 and, when a new congressional district was created in 2002, he ran for and was elected to the U.S. Congress. King has supported anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and expressed support for racial profiling in law enforcement, claiming that it’s not discriminatory. He has spoken at events with Tom Tancredo, the immigrant-bashing former Colorado congressman, and ardently defended nativist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In 2010, he opined that U.S. immigration policy should be like picking the best dogs out of a litter. Two years later, he backed U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (see above) in her baseless claim that State Department official Huma Abedin was an operative of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying Abedin’s family was “deeply entrenched” in the organization. When Obama was running for president in 2008, King said that because Obama’s middle name is Hussein, if he were elected “the al-Qaida, and the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets.” Also in 2012, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the premier annual conference for conservatives, King spoke at a panel sponsored by the nativist group ProEnglish that dealt with the purported evils of multiculturalism and how it weakens American identity. King was in interesting company: Bob Vandevoort from Chicago, who once led the white nationalist group Chicagoland Friends of the American Renaissance, a magazine whose editor has said that black people are incapable of sustaining civilization; and Peter Brimelow, founder of the racist website VDARE, which is named after Virginia Dare, the first English (read: white) child born in America. King spoke about his bill to make English the official language of the U.S. and said that Brimelow, who seeks a whiter United States, “wrote eloquently about the balkanization of America.”

U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla., incumbent)

Office sought: U.S. House of Representatives (18th District)

Backed by the Tea Party, the anti-Muslim and anti-gay West has made a name for himself with controversial statements and actions. He first ran for office in 2008 (he was not elected) after retiring from the U.S. military in 2004 as a lieutenant colonel. Prior to his retirement, he was fined $5,000 and relieved of his command without a court martial in connection with his interrogation of an Iraqi police officer. West was unrepentant and was supported by various far-right groups, including David Horowitz’s Muslim-bashing, online FrontPage Magazine, which named him 2003 “Man of the Year.” In 2007, West wrote monthly columns for Pam Geller’s anti-Muslim hate blog, Atlas Shrugs, while he was in Afghanistan doing military contracting. Finally elected to Congress in 2010, he attempted to hire Joyce Kaufman, an immigrant-bashing radio host, as his chief-of-staff. But Kaufman resigned amidst a major controversy generated by her nativist comments. During his two years in Congress, West has claimed that women who support Planned Parenthood are “neutering American men”; said that the Congressional Progressive Caucus is made up of secret members of the Communist Party; described people with pro-Obama bumper stickers as a threat to the gene pool; and demanded that President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, all top Democrats, “get the hell out” of America.

Harry Lyon (D-Ala.)

Office sought: Chief Justice, Alabama Supreme Court (ejected)

Lyon was running for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court but was removed from the ballot in August 2012 by the state Democratic Party for “increasingly erratic behavior” and statements he made regarding LGBT people and his opponent, who he had claimed engaged in “devil worship.” Lyon was also quoted in the Montgomery Advertiser suggesting that it might be a good idea to publicly execute a few undocumented immigrants as a warning to the rest. He posted anti-gay statements on his Facebook page, including the claim that “only sick and perverted persons believe in homosexuality or lesbianism, though there are a lot of them.” Inflammatory statements aren’t his only problem. Lyon has been suspended by the Alabama Bar Association twice and reprimanded once for violation of ethical principles. The Democratic Party also pulled him off the ballot once before; in 1994, he was removed from the gubernatorial race for violating party rules. The irony is that, although the Democratic Party replaced Lyon as its chief justice candidate with a local circuit judge, the much-favored Republican candidate, Roy Moore, is himself marked by history as an extremist. Moore won election as chief justice earlier, starting his term in 2001, and soon drew attention with an opinion that said, citing the Bible, that the state could impose penalties up to and including execution to protect children from gay people. Moore later sneaked a two-ton Ten Commandments monument into the Supreme Court building. After he disobeyed a federal court’s order to remove the monument in 2002, he was stripped of his judgeship by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. He is now trying to reclaim that seat.

Harry Bertram (W.V.)

Office sought: West Virginia House of Delegates

Bertram is trying once again for the state House of Delegates, after three previously unsuccessful campaigns and a losing bid for governor in 2011. He is running as a candidate of the American Third Position (A3P), a political party originally founded by racist skinheads in southern California in 2009 whose goals include deporting immigrants and placing the U.S. under white rule. The group’s mission statement claims that the U.S. government discriminates against white Americans and warns that whites will soon become a minority. In 2010, the group’s chairman, William Daniel Johnson, told the white nationalist “Political Cesspool” radio show that the foundation of the party is the “racial nationalist movement.” Nevertheless, Bertram dismisses the idea that the A3P is a racist party, insisting instead that it is merely “nationalist.” That’s a noteworthy claim, given that Bertram is listed as a “senior moderator” on WhiteNewsNow, a website run by Jamie Kelso, a longtime racist activist and former member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. In addition, during his run for governor, Bertram released a television campaign ad in which he called himself “the voice for white American issues.” A3P chief Johnson’s proposed radio ad for Bertram — the text of which included, racist websites reported, “Vote Harry Bertram for Governor because we must secure a future for White America and our children” — was rejected by the West Virginia station he approached.

Daniel Johnson (Mich.)

Office Sought: Michigan House of Representatives

William Daniel Johnson is a longtime white supremacist running under a name he does not normally use — dropping his first name in favor of his middle name —on the ticket of a party other than the racist one he leads. In California, where he lived recently, Johnson was known as the chairman of the white supremacist American Third Position (A3P; see also above profiles of Merlin Miller and Harry Bertram) and the person who once called for the permanent deportation of all American citizens with an “ascertainable trace of Negro blood.” But in Michigan, he is running on the ticket of the Natural Law Party, not an obvious choice given that party’s planks of seeking to reduce racial prejudice and revitalizing inner cities via a strategy that includes using transcendental meditation to relieve social stress. Johnson makes no overt references to his A3P affiliation on his campaign website, but clicking the Facebook or Twitter links there will take you to the A3P pages for each. He does say that he seeks to preserve the environment, help businesses to provide a living wage, and protect civil liberties – particularly of white European Americans. He also wants to promote eugenic policies, meaning policies that favor “good” genes over “bad” ones in human reproduction. Calling his campaign phone line produces a recorded voice saying that “the white race is dying out in America and Europe,” because the policies of Democrats and Republicans alike have “caused whites worldwide to be ashamed of their race and history.” In 1985, Johnson, a corporate attorney, wrote a book under the pseudonym James O. Pace, calling for a constitutional amendment to limit citizenship to whites and deport all black people. He already has run unsuccessfully for two congressional seats, in Wyoming and Arizona, as well as a judgeship in California. He used a 19-year-old Klansman as his campaign manager in Wyoming and brought in a nativist extremist with a felony conviction for grand theft to work on his Arizona campaign.

Loy Mauch (R-Ark., incumbent)

Office sought: Arkansas House of Representatives

Mauch, who was first elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in November 2010, is known for a series of extreme pro-Confederate statements over the years, many published as letters to the editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He has repeatedly excoriated Abraham Lincoln (“this Northern neurotic war criminal”), comparing him and Northern Civil War generals to “Wehrmacht leaders.” He defends the Confederacy, saying that the Confederate battle flag is “a symbol of Christian liberty.” In 2010, Mauch claimed that the 14th Amendment — which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S., notably including the freed slaves — was never legally ratified and is “essentially a Karl Marx concept.” In 2009, repeating a point he first made in 2003, Mauch asked in one letter to the editor of the Arkansas paper, “If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861?” In 2004, Mauch organized a conference in Hot Springs, featuring a keynote speech entitled “Homage to John Wilkes Booth,” that called for the removal of an Abraham Lincoln statue. In his last run for re-election, in 2010, the Arkansas Times reported that Mauch was then a member of the League of the South, a neo-secessionist group that wants to create a theocratic society legally dominated by white “European Americans.”

State Rep. Matt Shea (R-Wash., incumbent)

Office sought: Washington House of Representatives

First elected in 2008, Shea serves as the minority floor leader for the Washington House of Representatives. Shea has distinguished himself by appearing in 2009 on the conspiracist “Alex Jones Show,” where he claimed he knew about the existence of concentration camps built by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to imprison Americans. “And most particularly disturbing about that,” Shea said, parroting conspiracy theories popular in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, “is that they’re gonna be on former military bases.” He went on to say that there were “some very eerie similarities between using pastors to pacify people now as happened in Nazi Germany.” Later in the interview, after Jones claimed that the Wall Street Journal had “called for a world government,” Shea said, “It’s shocking. … This is looking too much like the precursor to Nazi Germany and communist Russia.” Discussing federal measures to combat climate change and identify animals, Shea said, “Their goal, again, I think, is about control. I don’t think it has anything to do with them protecting the environment or preventing diseases among animals.” In 2010, among other proposed state “sovereignty” laws that would allow “nullification” of some federal mandates, Shea sponsored the so-called “Sheriff First Act,” which would require federal law enforcement agents to get the permission of local sheriffs before operating in their counties. Even with that permission, the bill would allow the federal agents only to arrest people on federal lands in the state.

Frank Szabo (R-N.H.)

Office Sought: Hillsborough County Sheriff (defeated)

Szabo, a former businessman who moved from Pennsylvania to become an organic farmer, ran as “a constitutional sheriff” who would protect citizens against “rogue agencies” and “rogue bureaucrats” but lost by huge margins in the September 2012 Republican primary. (The idea of a constitutional sheriff is rooted in groups like the violently anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus, although it also has been adopted by many hardline antigovernment “Patriot” groups more recently.) Earlier, in 1994, Szabo ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Pennsylvania as an independent. Szabo is a member of the Oath Keepers, a Patriot group given to conspiracy theories about secret government plans to impose martial law and various other perfidies. He made headlines in August 2012, during his campaign, when he suggested that deadly force should be used to prevent legal abortions. “Just because a law is on the books doesn’t make it lawful,” he said, adding, “[W]hy would anyone object to the use of deadly force to prevent the murder of an unborn human?” He retracted those comments under pressure, but still stated, in a press release, that abortion is “murder” and that, if elected, he would arrest anyone involved in the murder of a county citizen.

Shaun Winkler (R-Idaho)

Office sought: Bonner County Sheriff (defeated)

Winkler has a long history of white supremacist activity, from his days as a young racist skinhead in Pennsylvania to his later work as a staffer for the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, where he was a trusted aide to the group’s late leader, Richard Butler. He also joined a faction of the Ku Klux Klan. Earlier this year, he decided to run for sheriff of Bonner County despite all that baggage and more. Winkler has publicly derided African Americans and Jews. In May 2012, he held a cross-burning on his recently acquired Idaho property; questioned about it, he claimed that it was “more of a religious symbol” than a racist ceremony. “Most people don’t know that we don’t just oppose the Jews and the Negroes,” he told the Bonner County Daily Bee. “We also oppose sexual predators and drugs of any kind.” In the end, Winkler got 182 votes, coming in a distant third in a three-way race.

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