GOP Lawmaker: Civil Rights Protesters as “Disgusting” as White Supremacists

Rep Sean Duffy compared civil rights protests to white supremacists saying both are disgusting

During a CNN interview yesterday, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) argued civil rights protesters and Black Lives Matter members are as “disgusting” as the white supremacists (and Nazis) Trump took entirely too long to denounce following his election two weeks ago. The exchange between Duffy and The Lead guest host Jim Sciutto ventured into historically tone deaf false equivalency when Duffy attempted to pin the blame for Trump’s lack of actions on President Obama.

During the segment Sciutto pressed Duffy for an explanation as to why Trump waited so long to personally denounce the hate groups celebrating his victory as hate crimes have surged across the country. The exchange began by focusing on the NPI conference held over the weekend that featured overt displays of racism and neo-Nazism.

“Why did it take him so long to condemn this really disgusting hate group?” Sciutto asked noting Trump took more decided and immediate action against other perceived slights such as the cast of Hamilton and Saturday Night Live.

Duffy responded:

He did condemn them and that’s a good thing. And someone who says, ‘they maybe endorse me, but I don’t endorse their viewpoint of the world.’ Again, I think it’s important that a leader step forward and make the right move, which is what he did. My concern is that Barack Obama, when he had a chance, didn’t condemn the riots across America that were in protest of Donald Trump’s victory in the election or didn’t condemn ‘Black Lives Matter.’ It might have taken him time in your viewpoint or in another’s viewpoint, but he did the right thing.

Before we get to the obvious deflection, it’s important to fact-check Duffy’s remark. The overwhelming majority of protests following Trump’s election were peaceful. In fact, only a handful of incidents occurred in the hundreds of rallies, demonstrations and marches in cities across the country. To characterize the response to Trump’s election as ‘riots’ only furthers a false narrative.

Sciutto left that lie on the table as he interrupted Duffy to strike at the larger problem in the conservative lawmaker’s narrative. “You’re equating Americans protesting a politician with outright hate and bigotry from a group that was using the Hitler salute to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory and are nothing more than white supremacists? I mean, that’s not a fair comparison,” he said.

“No no no,” Duffy began. “What I’m saying…Both are disgusting, for different ways.” [Emphasis Mine]

“You’re putting them on equal footing? You’re putting political protests on a footing with white supremacists?” Sciutto asked, offering Duffy a chance to backtrack on his comparison.

Rather than take that opportunity to clarify he wasn’t trying to compare civil rights activists to neo-Nazis and racists, Duffy responded:

Let me explain. So…I think this is a horrible group, don’t share their values or their viewpoint. But you have people taking to the streets and damaging property, pulling people out of cars and beating them up, little girls getting beaten up in schools for supporting Donald Trump. This was violence on American streets. So they’re different kind of activity by each group, but both groups need to be condemned.

It’s one thing if you stand on the sidewalk and hold a sign in protest. That’s the American First Amendment right to protest. But when you get violent and you damage property and you hurt people, that’s something completely different.

In order for Duffy’s argument to hold water, you have to refer back to what we first fact-checked above: there were no mass riots across the United States in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. On the contrary, the majority of the hundreds of protests, rallies and marches featured people holding signs and chanting – the very same ‘American First Amendment’ people he lauded but discounted as being the people who were on the streets for several days following the election.

While he couched his statements in the caveat that he’s not comparing one group to the other, he literally is by calling a majority of peaceful protesters violent and destructive and on the same level as white supremacists.

But more to the point, the majority of violence, harassment and property damage inflicted on persons and property following the election has actually been by hate groups supporting Donald Trump. As of November 16, 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked over 700 hate-based incidents across the nation in mere a one week period.

Of those incidents, only 27 incidents were recorded as being anti-Trump.

Additionally, as Duffy complains about a handful of mostly non-violent crimes against Trump supporters, black teen James Means was just murdered by a white man who the teen bumped into as his offense. According to the criminal complaint, the man shot the teen and then “proceeded to go home, eat dinner, then go hang out at a friend’s house.” When asked about the murder, he said, “The way I look at it, that’s another piece of trash off the street.”

This is the reality of Trump’s emboldened America.

Fact-checking aside, Duffy’s comparison ignores the history of racism, nationalism and nativism in the United States. It ignores the violence against and the harassment of minorities by white supremacists throughout American history. A history where white men feel that the lives of minorities literally mean less – which is the entire point of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As minorities fear for their lives under a Trump administration, privileged conservative white male lawmakers like Rep. Duffy smugly compare the violent, racist scum of the nation to those standing up for basic human rights.

This is the emboldened America we live in now.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he's worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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