Don’t condemn white nationalists, Veterans Affairs’ diversity chief was told after Charlottesville, emails show

A top White House appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs sought to silence the agency’s chief diversity officer, who — in the aftermath of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville — pushed for a forceful condemnation that was at odds with President Trump’s response, newly disclosed emails show.

The tense exchange between Georgia Coffey, a nationally recognized expert in workplace diversity and race relations, and John Ullyot, who remains VA’s chief communications official, occurred during a low point in Trump’s presidency: when he blamed “many sides” for the deadly clash in Charlottesville without singling out the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who rallied there.

One woman was killed and dozens were injured in the August 2017 protest, which began over the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park and ended when a car plowed into a crowd of anti-racism protesters.

VA’s secretary at the time, David Shulkin, made headlines that week when he appeared to break with Trump, telling reporters the violence in Charlottesville “outraged” him. Coffey, a career senior executive at VA, pressed the agency’s leaders to issue a statement making it clear that VA stood against such a “repugnant display of hate and bigotry by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the emails.

The emails were provided to The Washington Post by the nonprofit watchdog group American Oversight, which obtained them via the Freedom of Information Act. The correspondence sheds new light on the politically delicate decisions federal agencies faced as officials sought to balance the need to address employee concerns with a desire not to upset the White House.

A statement from VA leaders was necessary, Coffey wrote in one email to Ullyot, because the agency’s workforce was unsettled by the uproar caused by the Charlottesville violence. Minorities make up more than 40 percent of VA’s 380,000 employees, the federal government’s second-largest agency.

Ullyot told Coffey to stand down, the emails show. A person familiar with their dispute, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Post that Ullyot was enforcing a directive from the White House, where officials were scrambling to contain the fallout from Trump’s comments, and they did not want government officials to call further attention to the controversy.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the agency received no such guidance from the White House.

Coffey, who declined to comment, retired from VA shortly after the dust-up, frustrated with what she felt was a lack of support from the Trump administration, according to her former colleagues. She now works as senior manager for diversity and inclusion at Lockheed Martin.

Ullyot, a seasoned media professional who worked on Trump’s campaign, is VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs. His exchange with Coffey was respectful, and he noted that he was acting at Shulkin’s direction, according to his emails. Shulkin, whom Trump forced out of the Cabinet post in March, and other officials were copied on the messages.

At VA, the fallout from Charlottesville remains a sensitive subject. In response to a request seeking comment for this report, VA’s current secretary, Robert Wilkie, issued a statement affirming that “John Ullyot is on the VA team because he is committed to veterans and has spent a lifetime of exceptional service as a Marine and public servant.”

Ullyot referred questions to VA’s public affairs office.

On Aug. 17, days after the Charlottesville violence, Coffey — then deputy assistant secretary for diversity and inclusion — emailed public affairs. She shared a draft of her statement and accompanying remarks, and requested help disseminating it to employees and the public.

Her remarks said the incident served “as a tragic reminder that our work in civil rights and inclusion is not finished.” She called on VA employees to be mindful of federal anti-discrimination policies and the agency’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The response from a staffer in public affairs said, “John Ullyot does not want to post the message, as the Secretary previously made statements in the news media on this topic earlier this week.”

In an emotional statement the day before, at Trump’s private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Shulkin said he gave “my personal opinions as an American and as a Jewish American. . . . And for me in particular, I think in learning history, that we know that staying silent on these issues is simply not acceptable.”

Other top administration officials echoed his sentiments.

Coffey urged expediency, telling Ullyot that she had sent the statement to Shulkin and his chief of staff for their review, according to their email exchange.

Ullyot then indicated that after consulting with Shulkin, the secretary said that “we should all feel free to share our own personal views on the recent events . . . as he did.’’ Ullyot wanted to remove the statement’s more incendiary language but told Coffey she could keep the part that reminded employees of VA’s “strong commitment” to equal employment opportunity and diversity, their emails show.

Coffey told Ullyot that she worried his edits would “dilute my message and fail to convey the sense of condemnation that I hope we all feel,” the emails show. She offered to remove Shulkin’s name from the statement, but Ullyot told her that he and Shulkin had agreed not to use it.

Shulkin said in an interview that he does not recall his conversations with Ullyot about how VA should respond to the incident. “I’ve been pretty public about my opinions on the Charlottesville events . . . and of course I think all Americans should express their views,” he said.

Coffey’s staff worried that she would get in trouble if she disregarded Ullyot’s guidance, according to other emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that first publicized the episode last year. The staff suggested that she should tone down her remarks, but Coffey declined. She posted the full remarks under her name in the monthly newsletter posted online by VA’s diversity office. Agency officials removed it and reprimanded her. She retired soon after.

Cashour said Shulkin had “dictated explicitly to John how he wanted this particular issue handled.” The secretary, Cashour said, was “adamant that VA employees keep their personal views on the Charlottesville issue out of official VA communications, as Shulkin had done himself in public comments two days beforehand. John was simply ensuring that Coffey understood and followed Shulkin’s guidance.”

The agency has grappled with issues surrounding race in recent years.

VA has long had an Office on Diversity and Inclusion to help improve race relations internally, and during the Obama administration appointed a senior official to travel around the country to set up conversations on race. The official, John Fuller, retired last year, citing a lack of support from the Trump administration.

In October, a senior official in VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization was forced to remove a portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard, from his office in Washington after offending employees. The official said he was unaware of Forrest’s affiliation with the hate group.

The same month, VA took down a placard outside a conference room in the same office that employees had named for Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general. Cashour said officials were unaware the room had been named for Jackson and blamed a contractor employed by VA and the contractor’s supervisor. The contractor was instructed to take down the placard but had failed to do so, Cashour said.

[Washington Post]

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted a doctored video of the Jim Acosta mic-grab that was shared hours earlier by the far-right site Infowars

The White House is accused of using a video of CNN’s Jim Acosta doctored by the conspiracy-theory outlet Infowars as justification for suspending the journalist’s press pass on Wednesday.

Acosta, the chief White House correspondent for CNN, was engaged in a tense exchange with President Donald Trump during a press conference at the White House when a White House intern walked up and tried to take the microphone away from him. Acosta held on to the microphone and kept trying to question Trump.

Acosta was holding the microphone in his right hand. At one point, the intern reached under Acosta’s left arm to try to grab the microphone, and he appeared to gently block her with his arm. Here is the moment as broadcast live on NBC:

A video shared on Twitter by the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, however, makes Acosta’s movement appear more violent.

What appears to be the same video was shared two hours earlier by Paul Joseph Watson, the editor-at-large of Infowars.com, a far-right conspiracy outlet whose content has been barred from almost every major tech content distributor, including Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube, generally for violating their policies on hate speech.

The CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter asked Sanders for the source of the video. “Surely you don’t trust InfoWars…?” he said on Twitter.

Other Twitter users showed Sanders’ video side-by-side with the original broadcast to argue the one she posted had been doctored.

The White House suspended Acosta’s press credentials after the press conference, limiting his access to the White House grounds. Sanders said on Twitter that the White House would “never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern,” though no video evidence has so far supported that claim.

[Business Insider]

Trump Posts Breitbart Story on Media ‘Smearing His Supporters’ After Bomb Scare

President Donald Trump is doubling down on defiance in the face of critics who suggested he tone down his anti-media rhetoric after a man sent pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and the CNN headquarters in New York.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted out a story from right-wing website Breitbart — “Donald Trump Thunders at Media for Trying to Smear His Supporters after Bomb Scares” — that detailed his attacks on the media at a rally Friday night.

Per the Breitbart story Trump linked to:

Trump condemned political violence and called for an end to the politics of personal destruction, especially from the media.

“Political violence must never ever be allowed in America and I’ll do everything in my power to stop it,” he said. “The media has a major role to play, whether they want to or not.”

The president paused as his supporters continued to chant “CNN SUCKS!”

“They have a major role to play as far as tone, as far as everything,” Trump said. “The media’s constant unfair coverage, deep hostility, and negative attacks only serve to drive people apart and to undermine healthy debate.”

The man suspected of sending the pipe bombs to the president’s critics was arrested on Friday. He appears to be a fanatical supporter of Trump, and his white van was plastered with decals of the president — as well as one saying “CNN SUCKS.”

[Mediaite]

Trump embraces ‘nationalist’ title at Texas rally

President Donald Trump declared himself a “nationalist” during his rally here on Monday night, officially tagging himself with the label that has long defined his populist rhetoric and protectionist policies.

“A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly not caring about the country so much. You know, we can’t have that,” Trump said, prompting boos from the crowd.

“You know what I am, I’m a nationalist,” he added, as the crowd erupted in “USA! USA!” chants. “Use that word.”

The comment marked the first time Trump has directly associated himself with the political ideology, which has long defined his outlook and the protectionist trade policies he has implemented in an effort to boost domestic manufacturing.

The remark came during a nearly hour-and-a-half-long rally in the arena that is home to the Houston Rockets, where the President rallied his base in this deeply red state 15 days before the midterms, stoking fears about illegal immigration, painting Democrats as criminal accomplices and basking in the glory of his accomplishments.

With his visit ostensibly aimed at boosting Sen. Ted Cruz’s re-election bid, the President took the stage after an introduction from his former political nemesis by addressing the elephant in the room.

“You know, we had our little difficulties,” Trump said to laughter from the nearly full house at the 18,000-capacity Toyota Center in downtown Houston.

He and Cruz, Trump said, had begun the 2016 presidential campaign as allies, rallying conservatives together in Washington early in the campaign. But eventually, Trump said, the two men decided it was “time” to begin hitting each other.

“And it got nasty,” Trump said.

But since he was elected, Trump said, Cruz has been one of his top allies in Congress.

“And then it ended and I’ll tell you what, nobody has helped me more with your tax cuts, with your regulation, with all of the things … including military and our vets, than Sen. Ted Cruz,” Trump said as he predicted that “in just 15 days the people of Texas are going to re-elect a man who has become a really good friend of mine.”

[CNN]

Reality

Donald Trump actually came out and said it, he labeled himself a “nationalist.”

Conservatives will bend over backwards to explain away how this has to do with a nationalist vs. globalist ideological context, but keep in mind this is the same week Trump is stoking racial fears of immigrants from countries he himself once labeled as “shitholes,” while wanting more European white immigrants.

This is the same week Trump pushed an anti-Jewish conspiracy theory and
echoed the Protocols of Zion, a faked document that white supremacists use as their “proof” that wealthy Jewish elites are puppetmasters “pulling the strings” to subvert democracy, by claiming without evidence that Jewish billionaire George Soros was secretly pulling the strings by paying migrants to come to American to illegally vote for Democrats, subverting democracy.

This is the same Trump who hired alt-right white nationalists, such as Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, who ran the white supremacist site Breitbart, a website that frequently used nationalist to mean “white nationalist” and frequently used “Jew” as a slur.

This is the same Trump who called Nazis “very fine people,” after one murdered and inured protesters by driving his car through a crowd.

This is the same Trump who kept retweeting known white supremacists, even after being told they were white supremacists.

This is the same Trump who said a judge, born in the United States, couldn’t be impartial because of his Hispanic heritage.

The Alt-Right, who Trump is again embracing, use “nationalist” to mean “a nation of white people” and “globalist” interchangeably with “elite cabal of Jewish puppetmasters.”

We’ve crossed a Rubicon here in America. Trump and the Republicans keep pushing themselves slowly towards white supremacy.

You should be alarmed.

QAnon Conspiracy Theorist Got a Photo with Trump in the Oval Office

By now you’re probably heard about the conspiracy theory “QAnon,” particularly after a Trump rally last month featured some very noticeable Q signs, shirts, etc. from the rallygoers.

Well, one QAnon conspiracy theorist actually got a photo with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office this week.

According to The Daily Beast, Lionel Lebron said he didn’t ask Trump directly about the issue, but believes Trump knows all about it already.

And White House officials didn’t really have a good answer for this:

All four White House officials the Beast did speak with about how Trump, the leader of the free world, ended up in a smiling photo op at the Resolute Desk with a prominent QAnon conspiracy theorist, pleaded ignorance about when this occurred, and why. Two of these West Wing officials audibly could not contain their laughter.

The Washington Post confirmed that White House officials had no idea how this happened:

[Mediaite]

Trump Bemoans ‘Persecuted White Farmers’ in South Africa

President Trump says he has instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to look into alleged violence against white farmers in South Africa and the government’s alleged seizure of their land after watching a Fox News report on the subject. Citing Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s statement that the “South African government is now seizing land from white farmers,” Trump tweeted that he’s asked Pompeo to “closely study” the matter, which he said involves the “large scale killing of farmers.” The comments, which appear to fuel claims by right-wing groups that the South African government is waging war against whites, seemed to be an abrupt change of subject from perhaps the biggest blow to Trump’s White House so far: the conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the plea deal by his longtime fixer Michael Cohen earlier this week. The State Department has yet to comment on Trump’s tweet, but in a statement cited in the same Fox News report Trump was referencing, the State Department noted that South Africa’s land redistributions are being carried out through “an open process including public hearings, broad-based consultations, and active civic society engagement.” Most of South Africa’s land belongs to a white minority two decades after apartheid ended.

[The Daily Beast]

Reality

How does a specific white genocide conspiracy theory about white farmers being murdered in South Africa pushed by the white supremacist groups AfriForum and Identity Evropa, where the white supremacist podcasts White Rabbit Radio and Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance both had episodes dedicated to, end up being tweeted out by Donald Trump?

Oh he watched it on white supremacist Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.

The reality is, as with the vast majority of conspiracy theories, it is simply not true.

Yes there are farmers being murdered in South Africa and each one is sad and tragic, but since Trump is talking about the data then we have to look at the data. Murder rates among African farmers have drastically declined over the past decades and there are no stats that say they happened for racial reasons.

The last time there was large scale tracking in South Africa of murders of farmers by race, 33% of victims were black.

Also, South Africa’s has a high murder rate, of 34.1 per 100,000 people, that number is far lower in the rural areas.

 

Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow hosted publisher of white nationalists

Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, hosted the publisher of a website that features white nationalist content at his Connecticut home last weekend, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. Peter Brimelow attended Kudlow’s birthday party a day after a White House speechwriter was fired after it was discovered he had spoken alongside Brimelow at a 2016 conference attended by white nationalists, the Post reported. Brimelow, a former conservative columnist for Dow Jones, founded the anti-immigration website Vdare.com in 1999, which he has acknowledged publishes white-nationalist writers, the Post said. Kudlow told the Post that they have been friends for years and he was unaware of Brimelow’s white-nationalist ties.

[Marketwatch]

Trump Speechwriter With White Nationalist Ties Exits the White House

Darren Beattie, a speechwriter for President Donald Trump, has left the White House after reporters uncovered that he had spoken at a conference of white nationalists.

CNN reports that it reached out about Beattie after finding out that he was listed as a speaker at the 2016 H.L. Mencken Club Conference.

Other speakers at 2016’s conference included John Derbyshire and Robert Weissberg, two National Review writers who were fired from the magazine in 2012 after expressing racist viewpoints.

Beattie confirmed that he was at the conference, telling CNN in an email Saturday: “In 2016 I attended the Mencken conference in question and delivered a stand-alone, academic talk titled ‘The Intelligentsia and the Right.’ I said nothing objectionable and stand by my remarks completely.”

“It was the honor of my life to serve in the Trump Administration. I love President Trump, who is a fearless American hero, and continue to support him one hundred percent,” he added. “I have no further comment.”

The White House asked CNN to hold off on the story for several days last week and then did not disclose when exactly Beattie had left. CNN reports that Beattie’s White House email worked until late Friday evening but was deactivated by Saturday.

“Mr. Beattie no longer works at the White House,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told CNN simply Friday night. “We don’t comment on personnel matters.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Whose Case Inspired Wildlife Refuge Takeover

President Trump on Tuesday pardoned a pair of Oregon cattle ranchers who had been serving out five-year sentences for arson on federal land — punishments that inspired the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in 2016 and brought widespread attention to anger over federal land management in the Western United States.

The case against the ranchers — Dwight L. Hammond, now 76, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 49 — became a cause célèbre for an antigovernment group’s weekslong standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The occupation, led by the Bundy family, drew hordes of militia members who commandeered government buildings and vehicles in tactical gear and long guns, promising to defend the family.

During his campaign, Mr. Trump played to that sense of Western grievance, and the pardon of the Hammonds was a signal to conservatives that he was sympathetic. His pardon in August of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., was another such sign.

The Hammond pardons were the result of a monthslong push by agricultural groups like the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had been among the ranchers’ strongest supporters, according to the association’s executive director, Jerome Rosa.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement on Tuesday that the Obama administration had been “overzealous” in pursuing the Hammonds. “This was unjust,” she said.

The pardons drew immediate criticism from environmental groups and their allies, who said they would imperil the rule of law on public lands.

“This is so very wrong,” Joan Anzelmo, a former superintendent of Colorado National Monument, said in a message on Twitter. “No one is safe from from felons with friends in high places. Terrible. Dangerous. Wrong.”

The federal government owns about half the acres in the West, and Obama administration policies there often angered ranchers and others who work and live on those lands. His administration blocked new coal leases, imposed moratoriums on uranium drilling near the Grand Canyon, and placed an unprecedented amount of land and sea under heightened federal protection.

Mr. Trump, in contrast, has struck a far more favorable tone toward those who want to loosen regulation on public land, and he has been aided by Mr. Zinke. In December, the president sharply reduced the size of two conservation areas in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. It was the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.

The Hammonds were prosecuted under a 1996 terrorism statute, passed after the Oklahoma City bombing, that imposed five-year mandatory minimum sentences for arson on federal property. Critics called the sentences too harsh.

“The Hammonds are multigeneration cattle ranchers in Oregon imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land,” Ms. Sanders said. “The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.”

In a pointed criticism of the Obama administration, she added, “The previous administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison.”

Dwight and Steven Hammond — who own about 13,000 acres of land in Eastern Oregon and once ran cattle on 26,000 acres of public land — have a history of conflict with federal officials, which indirectly led to the showdown in Oregon.

Both were convicted for a 2001 fire that burned more than 100 acres of federal land. While the Hammonds said it was devised to control invasive species, witnesses at their trial testified that it occurred after Steven Hammond and a hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer. The jury was told that Steven Hammond handed out matches and told allies to “light up the whole country on fire.”

He was also convicted of setting a second fire, in 2006, which he said was meant to manage the spread of other wildfires, a common practice.

The pair was convicted in 2012 and served a short time in prison. But a federal appeals court ruled in 2015 that they had been improperly sentenced and ordered them to return to prison.

Word of this second imprisonment soon reached the Bundy family, a sprawling ranching clan based in Bunkerville, Nev., that in recent years had emerged as a symbol of the most extreme version of the push against federal land control.

Angered by the Hammond case, two of the Bundy brothers, Ryan and Ammon, traveled to Oregon and stormed the Malheur wildlife refuge in what turned into a standoff with federal officials.

Many of those who joined the protest were members of unofficial militias who carried long guns and pistols and dressed as if at war. The occupation resulted in the death of a rancher from Arizona.

The Hammonds, however, never asked for the help of the Bundys or the militia members, and amid it all, quietly headed to prison.

The pardons will shave some time off the Hammonds’ sentences — Dwight Hammond has served three years and Steven Hammond has served four.

Ryan Bundy, one of the occupation leaders, hailed the president’s announcement of the pardons as a victory, the latest in a string of wins for his family. Mr. Bundy was ultimately acquitted for his role in the takeover, and is now running for governor of Nevada.

“Awesome, awesome, awesome,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s been a long time coming. That is good news.”

The move also drew praise from the cattlemen’s association.

“I had the opportunity to have a private meeting with him,” Mr. Rosa, the group’s executive director, said of Mr. Zinke. “I mentioned to him the Hammond situation. He was well aware of it, agreed that the Hammonds were good people, and said he would talk to the president and give his blessing to release the Hammonds from prison.”

Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, also lobbied aggressively for the pair’s release.

But some conservation groups strongly opposed the decision.

“Pardoning the Hammonds sends a dangerous message to America’s park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers and public lands managers,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. “President Trump, at the urging of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans.”

The Hammonds are the sixth and seventh people to receive pardons from Mr. Trump. In all his pardons, Mr. Trump bypassed the typical process (a five-year waiting period is required for requests to be made to the Justice Department) and passed over the more than 10,000 pardon and clemency applications. The president has the power to pardon anyone sentenced for a federal offense.

[The New York Times]

Trump embraces pro-Confederate anti-immigrant Senate nominee Corey Stewart

Trump tweeted about another GOP primary in a way that is sure to give Republicans heartburn.

While national Republicans are likely to distance themselves from Corey Stewart — the GOP nominee in Virginia’s Senate race who has embraced Confederate symbols and neo-Nazi figures — Trump congratulated Stewart on his win.

“Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof. Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”

Trump’s praise of Stewart is far different from other Republicans, who lament the fact that Stewart won and have condemned Stewart’s embrace of Confederate symbols.

“I am extremely disappointed that a candidate like Corey Stewart could win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate,” Bill Bolling, a Republican and former lieutenant governor of Virginia, tweetedTuesday night. “This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.”

[Mic]

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