In the upcoming midterm elections, voters in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District will have the choice of Dan Lipinski, the Democratic incumbent, or Republican candidate Art Jones, a white supremacist Holocaust denier who, by way of self-endorsement, claims he hasn’t been a card-carrying member of any Nazi groups since 1980. If voters find that choice unappealing, there’s also Justin Hanson, a young lawyer who’s mounted a write-in candidacy as an independent based on the premise that nobody should vote for a Nazi.
“It’s a strange climate we have in this country right now,” Hanson understatedly told Splinter recently. “These kinds of people seem to feel really emboldened.”
Hanson is 35 and an attorney in La Grange, a suburb of Chicago. His campaign website promises he’s running “the hardest working, most motivated, and sincerest write-in campaign ever launched for a seat in the United States House of Representatives.” While that might not be a measurable claim, he definitely has the only write-in campaign against an elderly racist running for Congress in Illinois.
The 70-year-old Jones famously got on the ballot because no other Republicans bothered to run in the heavily Democratic district. Jones has been a perennial candidate for office, and ran for Congress a previous seven times, but he’s never been the only person on the primary ballot before. Upon winning his primary— in that no one else was around— he exulted to Politico that he’d “snookered” the local Republican establishment.
While Jones claims not to be a current Nazi, his racist bona fides are hardly in question. His campaign website, which hasn’t been updated since his 2015 run and which we’re not going to bother linking to, has a section that questions the Holocaust, referring to it in sneer quotes and as a “racket.” (Separately, it refers to the Confederate flag as “a symbol of White pride and White resistance.”) According to the Anti Defamation League, Jones is the founder and possibly sole member, besides his wife, of the “America First Committee,” which has operated as part of a racist alliance called the Nationalist Front. The last time I saw him speak was in Pikeville, KY, at a Nationalist Front conference where he fulminated about Jews, gay people, and pretty much every other subject you’d expect, at startling volumes and for a truly astounding length of time.
Jones further celebrated his primary win by challenging Lipinski to a debate, via a cantankerous interview with a Chicago Tribune columnist. Lipinski’s campaign responded that while they hadn’t actually heard from Jones directly, they didn’t intend to give him that kind of attention:
“I would hope that no legitimate organization would want to give Art Jones another platform to try to spread his anti-Semitic and bigoted views,” Lipinski said in a statement.
“He has been promoting these hateful views for decades but his reach has been small and voters have rejected him time and time again when he’s appeared on the ballot.
“But now he is winning the biggest victory he could have ever hoped for — national media attention. I’m hopeful Art Jones will not be handed any more megaphones to spew his hate.”
Illinois Republicans, meanwhile, seemed to struggle with how to respond to Jones: in July, Governor Bruce Rauner denounced his views but refused to suggest that anyone should vote for Lipinski instead. The National Republican Congressional Committee has said it won’t endorse Jones, and the state Republican party issued a statement saying that both the party and the country have “no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones,” adding, “We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office, including the 3rd Congressional District.”
For Hanson, though, that wasn’t quite enough. He maintains that the state party did voters a serious disservice by not mounting an aggressive campaign against Jones during the primary process. He was dismayed to see that Jones got over 20,000 votes, many of them presumably from people voting a straight Republican ticket.
“There is such a danger in too much assumption in politics,” he told Splinter. “Would you not have assumed that either major political party would not knowingly allow a guy like Art Jones to run unopposed on a ballot? If you threw $10,000 and a garbage can in a primary you’d beat him. But the Republican party just didn’t and nearly 21,000 people unknowingly voted for a bad guy. They let those people down.”
Hanson, who describes himself as “center-left” on most issues, is also uninspired by Lipinski, who has held his seat since 2005. Hanson speculates that Lipinksi has mainly held on so long because his father held the seat before him. (Lipinski is best known as being a conservative, anti-abortion Democrat and narrowly won his own primary over Marie Newman, a businesswoman.)
“I’m not kidding when I say the choices here are just poor choices,” Hanson said. “Literally having a Nazi whose name is on the ballot on one side and an ineffective guy on the other. I don’t want to use Art Jones’ name any more than I have to. I just want to let people know you have a bad choice here. I want to transition this to a race about issues and focusing on what the district needs.” The district, he pointed out, has a sizeable black and Latinx population, as well as at least one Holocaust survivor, Stella Dorna, who was understandably unhappy to learn about Jones’ campaign. “We owe better to these people,” he said.
That’s why Hanson, in consultation with his wife Lindsay, decided to take a leave from his job and mount a write-in campaign. (Lindsay became his campaign manager; when we spoke in early September, they were the only two people working full-time on his campaign. “We’re spread a little thin,” Hanson said.)
For his trouble, Hanson received an in-person visit from Jones: when he announced his candidacy at an event at his home, Jones showed up to yell from the sidewalk, then briefly made an incursion into Hanson’s backyard. Hanson knew Jones was coming thanks to members of the press who gave him a heads up. “They know I have kids and they didn’t know if he’d be bringing people with him,” he said.
Hanson called the police as a precaution, though it turned out to be fairly uneventful: “He came into my backyard. I wasn’t allowing it. He called me a coward because I wouldn’t debate the Holocaust.” Hanson told Jones to leave, and added, referring to the American flag hat Jones was wearing that day, “I told him he didn’t deserve to wear a hat with the flag on it.” Upon departing, Jones left some literature with Hanson, which Hanson gently described as “kooky stuff” about how women shouldn’t play in the NFL.
Jones didn’t respond to a request for comment from Splinter about whether he’ll hold any actual campaign events. Hanson, meanwhile, is still pressuring the Illinois Republican Party to consider publicizing the fact that people shouldn’t vote for him. “They said they’re not going to be participating in this race,” he said. “I’ve asked them point blank if they’d be investing resources, whether it was money or people or mailers, to let voters know they shouldn’t vote for Jones, and they said ‘No, not at this time.’ I think they’re writing this district off as a lost cause.”
Reached for comment, though, Travis Sterling, the party’s executive director, said, “While we have been encouraging of Justin, we’ve not been able to commit to specifics, in terms of candidate support. However, the 3rd CD is a priority, and we anticipate reaching out to voters in the district in some fashion, whether it be by digital ads, robocalls, mail, or other means to tell them to avoid voting for Nazi Arthur Jones.”
Hanson said he was cheered to learn that. “I don’t care about getting their support or that they tell their voters about my campaign as an alternative, because I’m independent and I want voters to be clear on that,” he told Splinter in an email. “They know that all I genuinely want from them is that they reach the voters they can reach to inform them about Jones and to vote for someone else. I hope they do something and follow through on that.”
Consider this a further public service announcement to vote for anyone but Art Jones.