If Stephen Miller’s far-right organization, America First Legal, hoped to generate attention by airing offensive ads accusing Democrats of “racism against white people,” the strategy was effective. The ugly messages came to the attention of the NAACP, for example, which has called on stations to stop airing the commercials.
The America First Legal spots have been running in and around Georgia — home to two highly competitive statewide races in which Democrats are running African-American nominees — and the civil rights organization reached out to a series of stations across the state. NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said he was “deeply troubled by the false and misleading radio advertisements transmitted through your radio station,” calling them “race-baiting advertisements” that are “obviously false.”
The fact that Johnson emphasized both points — the America First Legal message is wrong and racist — was notable.
Politico reported earlier this week that the ad from Miller’s group “represents one of the most openly race-based spots of the cycle, amplifying tropes that have historically been used to generate backlash to minority groups.” That’s absolutely correct. But it’s also true that the claims included in the America First Legal advertising aren’t standing well up to scrutiny.
The group told the public, for example, “Joe Biden put white people last in line for Covid relief funds.” As a Washington Post fact-check piece explained, that’s not what happened.
This line inaccurately describes what happened. There was an effort to let minority groups get in line first for restaurant relief — but many White people, such as women and veterans, had equal access.
America First Legal also told the public, “Kamala Harris said disaster aid should go to non-white citizens first.” In reality, that’s not at all what the vice president said. A recent summary from FactCheck.org set the record straight:
In a “fireside chat” with actress Priyanka Chopra, Vice President Kamala Harris said the Biden administration is “thinking about the families in Florida [and] in Puerto Rico” and “what we need to do to help them in terms of an immediate response and aid.” But she also talked about the long-term need to ensure equitable treatment of “our lowest income communities and our communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme [climate] conditions ... that are not of their own making.”
As we discussed soon after, the vice president did not say — and did not mean to say — that skin color should dictate the speed with which storm victims receive disaster aid.
What’s more, Harris’ actual comments were entirely accurate: Many communities, in the United States and around the world, that are already struggling are positioned to feel the brunt of the climate crisis. It’s a serious issue that deserves policymakers’ attention.
America First Legal also told the public, “Liberal politicians block access to medicine based on skin color.” The Post’s analysis added, “This line refers to an effort by Miller’s group to challenge efforts by states to account for the fact that hospitalization and death rates from covid-19 have cumulatively been higher for minorities throughout the pandemic. But again the central premise is false — there is no evidence that anyone has been denied access to medicine used to treat covid because of their race.”
I’d just add that if we’re going to talk about racism in access to medical care, the focus should be on communities of color, which are actually feeling the brunt.
Finally, the ad from Miller’s group also told the public, “Progressive corporations, airlines, universities all openly discriminate against white Americans.” This appears to refer to affirmation action policies and efforts to create diverse workforces and student populations.
America First Legal considers such policies “racist,” which seems to say more about the group than the policies.
Postscript: I received an email from America First Legal, which included a statement from Gene Hamilton, the group’s vice president and general counsel. It was a fairly long statement, complaining of “left-wing officials” engaging in “illegal” discrimination.
It added, “The goal of our educational advertisements that AFL is running simply informs the American people about something they all know to be true in 2022, but that major news outlets fail to report on. No one should face racial discrimination regardless of the circumstances.”
The email from the group also included 13 links to America First Legal press releases.