It didn’t take long for Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on the rising threat of white nationalism to devolve into a complete farce, thanks to a pair of ultra-conservative witnesses and a trove of Republican congressmen eager to appease them while paying lip-service to condemning hate.
Joining representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, Equal Justice Society, and the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—as well as officials from tech giants Facebook and Google—were Zionist Organization of America President Mort Klein, a noted Islamophobic bigot, and Turning Point USA spokeswoman Candace Owens, who recently had to walk back comments in which she seemed to praise, um, Adolf Hitler. Right off the bat, it was clear neither had much interest in discussing the rise of white nationalism, instead choosing to use the hearing as a platform to voice their own grievances with Muslims, the media, and Democrats.
During his opening remarks—delivered just moments after Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha brought members of Congress to tears testifying about the religiously motivated murders of his daughter and son-in-law—Klein launched into a screed dismissing any right-wing or white nationalist animus behind both the anti-Semitic massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh or the mass murder of Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“The Tree of Life synagogue massacre perpetrator was a neo-Nazi who hated President Trump for not being anti-Semitic, called Jews in the Trump administration a ‘kike infestation,’ and also hated anti-Trump Jews,” Klein said.
He added: “The New Zealand mosque murderer was actually a left-wing, self-described ‘eco-fascist’ who also published a manifesto praising Communist China as ‘the nation with the closest political and social values to my own.’”
Klein conveniently neglected to mention that the Tree of Life shooter frequently echoed Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiments—and was frustrated that, he felt, Jews were holding him back. The Christchurch murderer specifically named Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” in his manifesto.
After Klein came Owens, who kicked off her introduction by portraying herself as a victim of the media, called the GOP’s racist “Southern Strategy” to attract white voters in the late 1960s a “myth,” insisted that Antifa are the real racists, and concluded by claiming that any suggestion that white nationalism is on the rise is an electoral strategy spun by Democrats.
It only got worse from there.
While congressional Democrats wisely ignored Klein and Owens, choosing instead to focus on the panel of expert witnesses who were actually there to discuss white nationalism and hate, Republicans eagerly lapped up the pair’s brand of bullshit, offering them multiple opportunities to spout right-wing talking points.
At one point, Colorado GOP Rep. Ken Buck gleefully told Owens, “I think you’ve caused my friends on the left to go to their safe spaces,” and later invited her to go shooting with him the next time she visited his state.
Klein, meanwhile, defended Trump’s insistence that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville, VA, neo-Nazi rally, claiming the president was simply referring to those who wanted to keep a Confederate monument on the University of Virginia campus.
This isn’t to say both Klein and Owens escaped entirely unscathed. At one point during his opening remarks, Klein was booed by members of the hearing audience, while Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu forced Owens to sit uncomfortably while he played back a recording of her comments about Hitler.
While all this was going on, YouTube—whose parent company Google was on hand to testify about the work it claims to be doing to cut down on racist content—was forced to shut down comments on its stream of the hearing, after the chat was flooded with, you guessed it, racist content. (As multiple reporters flagged, a white nationalist YouTube channel was also able to make money off the stream.)
When Democratic committee chair Rep. Jerry Nadler noted during the hearing that the company’s decision “just illustrates the problem we’re dealing with,” Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert—a man whose blatant anti-Semitism once forced Fox Business Channel to apologize on his behalf—quickly interrupted to ask if the comments could simply have been “another hate hoax?”
Good LORD, this sucks.