'Normalization of hate:' White nationalist language of America First Caucus sets off new alarms on racism
WASHINGTON – Calling for respect of the county's "uniquely Anglo-Saxon traditions." Saying the nation's infrastructure should express the "progeny of European architecture." Decrying the influence of domestic and international "globalist" forces.
The language used in the would-be Republican congressional America First Caucus's platform has alarmed many lawmakers and civil rights advocates who say its white nationalist message shows the growing clout of extremism in the right wing of the Republican Party.
Reports of the new faction in Congress first broke last Friday, when Punchbowl News shared a seven-page document outlining the group's call to continue former President Donald Trump's agenda.
"It is the firm belief of this caucus that American policy-making needs to get back to first principles, restore a long-term time horizon amongst our nation’s leaders, and instill a greatly internalized sense of service to the American people on part of our elected leaders," the document said.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., acknowledged her office held "staff-level" discussions about the document and last weekend praised America First principles as a way to save the country from "self-destruction."
But after GOP leaders distanced themselves from the document's white nationalist themes, Greene backpedaled, telling USA TODAY on Monday that she was "not interested in another caucus."
"There's nothing that's innocuous about saying this is a country based on European heritage because we know historically the contributions of people from a lot of different backgrounds have built the United States," said Carolyn Holmes, a political science professor at Mississippi State University.
Marilyn Mayo, a senior researcher at the Anti-Defamation League, said the combination of the caucus's platform and its association with lawmakers who've been embroiled in controversies over race since taking office are a troubling signal.
"To say you want to promote Anglo-Saxon values already indicates a certain kind of ideology, and that certainly is a dog whistle to white supremacy and white nationalism," she said.
The platform of the America First Caucus became public just days before a guilty verdict was reached in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder for suffocating George Floyd, a Black man, by pinning a knee on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Civil rights advocates welcomed the verdict as a watershed moment of accountability for police violence against Black people that could galvanize efforts to combat racism. Floyd's death spurred worldwide demonstrations last year in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
But some scholars said Greene's ascendance and the emergence of the America First document were part of a backlash against the social justice movement that parallels the resistance in the 1950s and '60s to the civil rights movement.
"I would describe Marjorie Taylor Greene and her cohorts as ideological reactionaries," said Marvin King, a professor of political science at the University of Mississippi.
"The more threatened they feel, the more they will lash out at people who, to them, are purveyors of progressivism because they feel like they are the last gasp effort at saving, quote unquote, their way of life."
During her congressional campaign, Greene made headlines for Islamophobic and anti-Semitic comments, as well as for claims that Black people aren't discriminated against.
Greene has dismissed the idea that Black Americans face discrimination.
"Guess what? Slavery is over," she said. "Black people have equal rights." She has called the progressive billionaire activist George Soros, who is Jewish, a "Nazi."
Greene has also attacked the Black Lives Matter, calling it a "radical Marxist group" and "domestic terrorists."
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Mayo, who studies far-right extremism in the U.S. and Europe, said she took note of how the America First document at least four times mentions "globalist" forces influencing U.S. policy at home and abroad.
The term can often have a multiple meanings across various conspiracies, she said, and is often used as a wink and a nod to those who hold anti-Semitic views.
"When people say 'globalist,' it's not always referring to the Jewish community," she said. "But there's been a conspiracy for over a century that uses this same language to espouse about a group of Jews plotting to take over the world or running world events."
What the would-be caucus' platform said
The caucus's platform says members will follow "Trump’s footsteps" on a number of policy fronts, and much of it reads like the former president's wish list.
Among the top targets are big tech companies, which the pamphlet argues have committed an “egregious offense” against free speech rights. Trump was banned from multiple social media platforms in January for inflammatory posts after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
But where the document is most inflammatory, critics say, is the section on immigration, the issue that launched Trump to the presidency. The document warns of how "societal trust and political unity" are threatened when immigrants are "imported en-masse into a country" without being properly assimilated.
The U.S., the document says, has long been "strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions."
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Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group in the fifth century most commonly associated with early adoption of Christianity, and who inhabited modern-day England after migrating to the island from the North Sea coastlands of mainland Europe.
Holmes said those sections are an overt appeal to a doctrine known as "Great Replacement Theory," which plays on anxiety among white Americans about the country's demographic shifts.
"What's striking is the continual idea of, 'Make America Great Again' which raises the question of when was America great," she said. "The document returns to the idea of recapturing something that has been lost. The critical question is, to what are we returning in this imagination?"
In another section, for instance, dealing with infrastructure, the document says the United States should work toward building an aesthetic value that "befits the progeny of European architecture."
Mayo said the phrasing around the group's infrastructure plans is significant because it mirrors what many modern-day white supremacists are saying. She said it is meant to slowly recruit nonracist people into their thinking.
"One of the common themes is that it's whites who built up this country, as well as Europe, that they created a great culture, amazing architecture and this idea of a multicultural society takes away from that," Mayo said.
The document also repeats Trump's false assertions about last year's presidential race by pledging to launch, "substantive investigations into mass voter fraud perpetrated during the 2020 election."
Under the section on voter fraud, the group says the recent election results "demonstrate a compromised integrity" of U.S. elections. The document calls for an end to mail-in voting and the creation of a national voter ID.
"Across the country federal elections have been undermined by using voting machines that are readily compromised and illegally accessed whereby results appear manipulated, voters are disenfranchised, and faith in our system eroded," the caucus's platform said.
Former Attorney General William Barr has said there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the election. More than 50 lawsuits filed to challenge the election failed, including cases rejected by the Supreme Court.
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Holmes said the section on elections seemed aimed at signaling to white conservatives that their votes are not as powerful as they once were.
"The white nationalist language in this document is pervasive," she said. "It's not just in the explicit references to European heritage. It's woven through the warp and weft of the entire document."
Swift condemnation for caucus
House GOP members this week dismissed reporters' questions about the America First Caucus.
But the plan drew swift commendation from Democrats.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, told reporters Tuesday that he was "very disturbed" by the America First Caucus.
"The GOP base is becoming more and more nativist, more white supremacist in its character," he continued, and urged GOP leaders to reject it "out of hand."
"There's no place for that kind of rhetoric in the United States Congress," Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock, of Georgia, told USA TODAY on Monday.
Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., who has an extensive background in national security from both the CIA and the Department of Defense, told USA TODAY that the document "just shows the normalization of hate and of white supremacy, and that you can wrap it in whatever language you want, but the fact that the same terms, the same concepts, were used 60 years ago, literally by groups like the KKK, demonstrate how mainstream this has become.
"That frightens me, disturbs me, and it should disturb all of us," she continued.
Republican leadership appeared to tweet about the issue over the weekend but did not name Greene or the caucus.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tweeted: "America is built on the idea that we are all created equal and success is earned through honest, hard work. It isn’t built on identity, race, or religion.”
"The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans – not nativist dog whistles."
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the No. 3-ranking Republican in the House, echoed that sentiment, saying, "Republicans believe in equal opportunity, freedom, and justice for all. We teach our children the values of tolerance, decency and moral courage.”
"Racism, nativism, and anti-Semitism are evil. History teaches we all have an obligation to confront & reject such malicious hate."
Cheney went a step further on Tuesday, telling reporters that she has been "very clear to the extent of which the America First Caucus as they proposed it; any form of nativism or racism or anti-Semitism, those things are evil."
"Whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, (we) have an obligation every day to do as much as possible. So I think when you look at the attack on Jan. 6 and you look at the symbols of anti-Semitism and racism that were part of the attack, we have a particular obligation to make clear at all times that we’re the party of Lincoln and that’s what we believe in and that’s what we stand for.
"That's got to be very clear, and we've got to be willing, as Americans, to call that out," she said, and continued that McCarthy has also been "very, very clear in condemning immediately the America First Caucus proposal."
USA TODAY has reached out to McCarthy's office seeking more information about leadership's response to the caucus.
McCarthy's reticence contrasted with the House Republican reaction two years ago when a nearly unanimous resolution passed condemning then-Republican Rep. Steve King, of Iowa for questioning why phrases such as "white supremacist" are offensive.
"The House Republicans denounce his language," McCarthy said at the time. "We do not believe in his language, and we’ve decided that he will not serve on any" committees.
Denver Riggleman, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, told USA TODAY that it scares him that not every GOP lawmaker spoke out, but he was not surprised.
He said the document “reeked of amateurism, racism and ignorance.” The immigration section, in particular, left him “gobsmacked.”
“It speaks to the fact there is a portion of the party that holds views that aren’t in line with America today, and America heading into the future,” he said.
What Greene is saying
News of the caucus broke April 16, and the platform document outlining the group's agenda began circulating. Nick Dyer, Greene's spokesperson, told CNN in an email Friday that the America First Caucus platform would be announced "very soon."
Soon after, key GOP lawmakers started denying their involvement, including Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who denied Saturday that he was behind any plans for the caucus.
Punchbowl had reported that Greene and Gosar had been distributing materials about the caucus. The news organization also said an email invitation they obtained indicated that Reps. Barry Moore, R-Ala., and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, had agreed to join.
On Saturday, Greene downplayed the document, saying it was “a staff level draft proposal from an outside group." But on Sunday, she tweeted support for America First policies, saying they are "the way to save America from self-destruction."
"The #HateAmerica media and #AmericaLast Democrats don’t get to define what America First means," she wrote. "They don’t even get it. But the people do. I’ll never stop fighting for the people and #AmericaFirst."
America First policies are the way to save America from self-destruction.— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) April 18, 2021
The #HateAmerica media and #AmericaLast Democrats don’t get to define what America First means.
They don’t even get it.
But the people do.
I’ll never stop fighting for the people and #AmericaFirst 🇺🇸
She told USA TODAY on Monday that she wasn't interested in a caucus.
The reaction in Greene's home state
But the fallout of the caucus's rhetoric escaped the Beltway and tunneled back to Greene's home state of Georgia, where political players were absorbing its meaning.
"It's clear this new caucus is a white supremacist organization with a white supremacist view," Atlanta NAACP President Richard Rose told USA TODAY.
As someone who lived through the civil rights movement, Rose said the language recalled segregationist propaganda. He compared the America First caucus's document to the White Citizens' Councils, which were formed to oppose racial integration after the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that segregated public schools were unconstitutional.
The White Citizens Councils sought to broaden the appeal of white nationalism to businesspeople and middle-class Southerners.
When teaching about the civil rights era in his classes, King, the political science professor at the University of Mississippi, describes the White Citizens Councils as a "white-collar Ku Klux Klan."
"It was the same purpose and the same intent. They just use economic intimidation," King said. "They didn't want integration."
The America First Caucus' emphasis on ending mail-in voting and creating a national voter ID will be seen as dog whistles to most residents on either side of the debate, Rose noted.
"They did a good job of laying out the case for who should be entitled, who should be in charge (and) who should be," he said.
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Marci McCarthy, chairwoman of the Republican Party in DeKalb County, Georgia, said she initially was alarmed with the document's excerpt about Anglo-Saxon traditions when reports first surfaced.
She referred to it as "a catcall to the KKK" in a text message to a USA TODAY reporter on Saturday.
But during a telephone interview Monday, McCarthy defended the America First Caucus document and Greene, saying the freshmen member is a lightning rod for national liberals, much like Trump is.
"Shame on all of us," McCarthy said. "So many people did not read the Georgia election law of 2021 but were very quick to comment and call it 'Jim Crow' laws and voter suppression."
Marci McCarthy, who was elected to her position this weekend, said outsiders are misreading the potential new caucus's words, much like Georgia's new election law, which has ignited boycotts from national brands and companies.
She said that after reading the entire set of principles, she found nothing racist or offensive about the caucus or its goals. She added that diversity and inclusion will be incredibly important to building the Georgia Republican Party of the future, as it seeks to defend the governor's office and other seats in 2022.
"At the end of the day, it's putting America first overall instead of America last as the Biden administration has chosen to do over the last 100 days," Marci McCarthy said.
Contributing: Caren Bohan