For the better part of the last four years, one thing has become as certain as death and taxes on most weekends–an unhinged Twitter screed from Donald Trump. By now, most of you know that on Sunday, Trump went on one of his most unhinged Twitter tantrums yet. He launched a staggeringly racist attack on four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color who have been among his biggest tormentors this year.
Trump suggested that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar–better known as “The Squad”–ought to “go back” and help fix their home countries if they didn’t like his policies. Never mind that Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley were all born in this country. And never mind that “go back where you came from” is one of the oldest racist tropes in the book. This wasn’t just a dog whistle. This was a yacht horn.
Apparently Trump must have known he’d kicked over a hornet’s nest with this latest weekend screed. How’s that? Well, after throwing this series of 280-character grenades at The Squad, he spent much of the morning merrily retweeting messages related to a social media-driven campaign to get Democrats to cross over to the GOP. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The last 48 hours have seen Trump getting sliced, diced and julienned for this blatant racism.
But it’s probably just as well that this apparent attempt to deflect from this staggeringly racist screed fell flat. After all, it’s based on a lie.
Last summer, Brandon Straka, an openly gay man and former Democrat from New York, posted a video announcing he had walked away from his liberal roots in large part because he felt liberals no longer represented him. He urged viewers to join him and “#WalkAway” from the Democrats. The video caught fire in conservative circles, and Straka used it to launch the “#WalkAway campaign,”.
However, long before the “blue wave” that November, there was little evidence that as many people were following Straka’s lead as it may have seemed. Indeed, all indications are that the campaign was hijacked by Russian bots. For instance, at one point in the fall of 2018, the Alliance for Securing Democracy found the #WalkAway hashtag was the seventh-most used hashtag by Twitter accounts linked to Kremlin influence campaigns. Additionally, a number of #WalkAway memes actually used stock photos, though Straka adamantly denies they were in any way linked to the official campaign.
But whether Straka knows or not that he is being played by the Kremlin, one thing is clear–he has few qualms about spewing alternative facts. On Friday, he took to YouTube for what he claimed was the first in a series of videos attacking liberal media bias. Watch here.
Straka revealed that he started drifting rightward not long after Trump’s upset victory, when he lamented at how it was possible for Trump to win even after he was caught mocking a disabled person. For those who don’t remember, back in 2015, veteran journalist Serge Kovaleski accused Trump of misquoting an article he wrote in The Washington Post about North Jersey Muslims hailing the collapse of the World Trade Center. Trump frequently said that thousands of people were hauled in by immigration authorities who saw them celebrating–but Kovaleski actually said “a number of people.”
Trump responded by waving his arms around wildly at a rally in Myrtle Beach. Watch here.
As infantile as this was, it was even worse considering that Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, a congenital disorder that severely limits joint movement. Moreover, he covered Trump fairly often while writing for the (New York) Daily News from 1987 to 1993. For instance, Kovaleski covered the maiden voyage of the Trump Shuttle after he bought it from ailing Eastern Air Lines. Indeed, when Kovaleski wrote that the first flight ran over 10 minutes late, Trump personally called him to curse him out. So Trump almost certainly knew about Kovaleski’s disability.
Fast forward to last weekend. Straka claims that one of his conservative friends sent him a video that showed Trump waving his arms around in a similar manner on other occasions. To Straka’s mind, this was proof that the media was out to get Trump at all costs.
But even if you accept that this arm-waving was just a standard part of Trump’s campaign schtick, there is at least one documented instance where Trump repeated the gesture. In May 2016, he sat down for an interview with The Post, and the conversation soon turned to Kovaleski. While claiming that he would never even dream of mocking a disabled person, he waved and jerked his arms in the same manner that he did a few months earlier–all while saying he was just imitating “a person who grovels.”
So while knowing he was under fire for supposedly mocking a disabled person, he made the same gesture that caused the firestorm. And he did it with no possible innocent explanation for doing so. Seen in this light, one has to wonder–did Straka know about this second incident before going on his latest YouTube screed? Given that he claims this is what started his turn to the right, it’s a very fair question.
But that hasn’t stopped Straka’s latest from going viral in the conservative world. It reached all the way to the White House.
Remember, when you are president, a retweet is an endorsement. So with this retweet, Trump was effectively saying that any attempt to attack him for mocking the disabled was “FAKE NEWS!” No, Mr. Trump. Any serious analysis shows this is very real.
Trump should count himself very lucky that this attempt to deflect from his racist screed didn’t work. After all, any serious analysis shows that he did indeed mock Kovaleski’s disability. And that same analysis shows that, with apologies to Politifact, any claim that the media was using this to get him is Pants on Fire wrong.
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