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Rep. Judy Chu: I am a target of the right’s new McCarthyism

My loyalty to the U.S. was recently questioned by Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, and right-wing media personalities including Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

I was born in Los Angeles to Chinese American parents. My father was a World War II veteran, and my mother was an immigrant. I graduated from UCLA, spent my professional career teaching psychology in community colleges and have served in elected office for 37 years — going from the City Council to Congress.

And so it might surprise many that my loyalty to the U.S. — and with it my American identity — was recently questioned by Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, on a Fox News show hosted by Jesse Watters. Rep. Gooden, who tried to nullify the 2020 presidential election results, stated unequivocally that I should no longer have a security clearance or access to classified information. Despite criticism, he restated those views last week.

I wasn’t surprised.

My loyalty to the U.S. — and with it my American identity —was recently questioned by Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, on a Fox News show.

His ugly and false accusations build on the centuries-long stereotype that Chinese Americans and Asian Americans more broadly are forever foreigners in their own land — no matter whether they just arrived, they are naturalized American citizens or they have been here for generations.

Rep. Gooden and his colleagues used false evidence to attack both me and Dominic Ng — a respected business leader whom President Biden appointed as chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council. I wasn’t going to let this malicious, xenophobic attack silence me in any way. And so, I have called these comments out for what they are: outrageous, disgusting and absolutely racist.

We would be mistaken if we think, however, that these kinds of attacks will end with us. Before the attacks made it onto Fox News prime time, they were being leveled against us by an extreme, far-right outlet known for spreading disinformation.

The outlet’s co-founder, Tucker Carlson, now spends his daily hour on Fox News prime time regularly promoting the racist “great replacement” theory, and he amplified the smears against me last Thursday. Another co-founder, Neil Patel, last week penned a McCarthy-esque editorial also questioning my loyalty and asserting China is “infiltrating” America’s political system.

Other extreme voices amplified these lies. Steve Bannon, a former top Trump strategist-turned-podcast host, had a guest on his program last week who absurdly called me a Communist Chinese Party governor for Southern California and ended the interview by saying 140 members of Congress are compromised by national security threats. He even encouraged viewers to pressure Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., the chair of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, to identify and prosecute traitors. A recent Brookings Institution report identified Bannon’s program as the top peddler of false, misleading and unsubstantiated statements among political podcasts.

This newfangled McCarthyism combines “red scare” tactics, racism and xenophobia.

Mr. Ng and I are easy targets for the toxic far right because of our Chinese descent. This newfangled McCarthyism combines “red scare” tactics, racism and xenophobia. The allegations — which won’t stop with Ng and me — are downright dangerous. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are still reeling from the significant increase of hate crimes and incidents over the past three years — fueled by Donald Trump and other Republican leaders using phrases like “kung flu” or “China virus” during the coronavirus pandemic. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by a staggering 339% from 2020 to 2021. Since March 2020, over 11,500 hate incidents targeting Asian communities have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate

What is even more disturbing is that history could repeat itself. 

Let’s not forget that the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II didn’t happen overnight. Japanese American community leaders were targeted first. And then — after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 — information gathered by the U.S. government was immediately used to locate and move thousands of Japanese American leaders to prison camps where they were isolated from their communities. A few months later, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 more Japanese Americans, who lost everything they had. This decision was justified by accusations of espionage by Japanese Americans, though not a single case was ever found.

This isn’t ancient history. One of those incarcerated Japanese Americans, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., serves with me in Congress.

After the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, and during subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Muslim, Middle Eastern, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities were subjected to swift backlash that included government surveillance, xenophobia, civil rights violations and violence.

Just four days after Sept. 11, Balbir Singh Sodhi — a Sikh father, husband and brother — was shot planting flowers outside his Arizona gas station, becoming the first victim to be killed in a post-9/11 hate crime. His death was only the beginning. Before 9/11, the FBI reported 20 to 30 anti-Muslim hate crimes a year. In 2001, that number was nearly 500. From 2002 to 2015, the numbers hovered between 100 and 150. Then, as Trump rose to national prominence and trafficked in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, the numbers again surged, to 257 in 2015 and 307 in 2016.

Today, the Chinese government, its decisions and its relations with the U.S. will stay in the news — that is clear. But in addressing issues of national security and economic competition between the two countries, the government of the People’s Republic of China should be our focus, not the people of China or people of Chinese descent. 

The consequences are far too dangerous if we don’t get it right. A tone of hostility and aggression can make conflict between the countries seem inevitable, and increasingly prevalent anti-Asian rhetoric will continue to endanger Asian American communities across the nation. Simply put, our community’s safety is on the line.