Dark-money group smears Valerie Plame with ‘white supremacist’ label
A group called the Alliance to Combat Extremism (ACE) Fund has entered the Democratic congressional primary in New Mexico with an ad so off-the-charts that even the candidate it is presumably seeking to help has denounced it. In a tweet, attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez, one of Plame’s key opponents, called it “extremely offensive and sexist.”
There is an extremely offensive and sexist video going around about another candidate in this race. This type of vilification has no place in our politics and I strongly condemn this video. My life’s work and my campaign has been about love, not hate.
— Teresa Leger Fernandez (@TeresaForNM) May 20, 2020
Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D) is running for Senate, opening up a strongly Democratic district. One of the top contenders in the June 2 primary is Plame, a former CIA operative who gained fame after her name was revealed to reporters during the controversy over the George W. Bush administration’s claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As readers may recall, in 2019 we slapped Plame with Three Pinocchios when her initial campaign ad overstated the case against one administration official.
But this ad is really beyond the pale. It’s an interesting example of how a mountain can be made out of a molehill.
ACE President Ian Sugar said the group, which is not required to disclose its donors, is “dedicated to combating extremism in our politics, fighting hate in our society, and rebuilding trust in our democracy.” He said that “we have not been involved in political activity like this before,” but “Valerie Plame poses a real unique threat — combining bigotry with celebrity.”
Sugar acknowledged “it’s a hard-hitting ad, for sure.” He provided a point-by-point defense of every word in the ad. But it mostly adds up to a bad Twitter day.
It all started when Plame tweeted out a link to an article posted on the Unz Review, a website that says it provides a forum for “alternative perspectives,” which happens to include anti-Semitic diatribes. The article, by Philip Giraldi, was titled “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars” and the tweet showed a photo of commentator Bill Kristol. The article listed Jews it called “conduits for the false information that led to a war [with Iraq] that has spread and effectively destroyed much of the Middle East.” It also asserted that “Jewish groups and deep pocket individual donors not only control the politicians, they own and run the media and entertainment industries.”
Plame’s tweet spawned Twitter outrage, and Plame initially pushed back, telling people to “calm down, retweets don’t imply endorsements. Yes, very provocative, but thoughtful. Many neocon hawks ARE Jewish.” (It wasn’t really a retweet, though.) She kept tweeting, defending herself as being “of Jewish decent [sic],” urging followers to “read the whole article and try, just for a moment, put aside your biases for a moment.”
Eventually, at some point during the day, Plame apparently read the whole article herself. “OK folks, look, I messed up. I skimmed this piece, zeroed in on the neocon criticism, and shared it without seeing and considering the rest,” she tweeted about an article she had previously called “thoughtful.” She added: “Apologies all. There is so much there that’s problematic AF and I should have recognized it sooner.”
Plame further tweeted: “I’m not perfect and make mistakes. This was a doozy. All I can do is admit them, try to be better, and read more thoroughly next time. Ugh.”
Well, just about everyone has bad days on Twitter, but this was an especially spectacular flameout. It didn’t help that Twitter users found a few earlier examples of Plame tweeting other articles by Giraldi that had appeared in the Unz Review in 2014 and 2015. One article touted a 9/11 conspiracy theory about “dancing Israelis” — Mossad agents who supposedly had prior knowledge of the attacks on the World Trade Center. In 2017, Plame also suggested that then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer should apologize to “other rich Jews” besides Sheldon Adelson.
The Unz Review was founded by businessman Ron Unz, who the Anti-Defamation League said in 2014 has a Jewish background and funds a number of anti-Israeli activists. In 2018, the ADL reported that Unz has “embraced hardcore anti-Semitism,” including creating an online library of free anti-Semitic texts.
“In the past, I have also carelessly retweeted articles from this same site, the Unz Review, without closely examining content and authors,” Plame said in a written apology a few days after the tweet, when she announced she had resigned from the Ploughshares Fund, a group that seeks to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. “Now that I have, I am horrified and ashamed. The white supremacist and anti-Semitic propaganda espoused by this website is disgusting and I strongly condemn it.”
She added: “Actions have consequences, and while I have been honored to serve on the board of the Ploughshares Fund, to avoid distracting from their mission, I have resigned. I take full responsibility for my thoughtless and hurtful actions, and there are no excuses for what I did.”
Since this incident, Plame, who was raised a Protestant, has emphasized her Jewish roots — she says her great-grandfather was a rabbi in Ukraine — and announced that she attends a reform synagogue in Santa Fe. (There is some dispute about whether she is a member, as she told an Israeli journalist, but it’s been confirmed that she attended High Holiday services in 2018 and 2019.)
The ACE Fund ad takes this one-day flap and turns it into something more sinister. It cites the fact that the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, praised her for the tweet (before complaining that she “cucked”) and that former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke also hailed the tweet.
Plame, of course, apologized for the tweet. She can’t control how others responded to it.
Then, further upping the ante, the ad says, “Valerie Plame promoted the bigotry of a website so racist it even smears Mexicans for having a taste for sexually abusing children.” This refers to a 2017 article on the Unz Review, but Plame never tweeted about that. Apparently, according to the ACE Fund, any article on this website can now be associated with Plame.
Sugar said the use of the phrase “white supremacists friends” is justified because Plame has accepted — and not returned — campaign donations from a former GOP member of Congress, Pete McCloskey Jr., who won fame in 1972 for challenging President Richard M. Nixon for the Republican nomination on an antiwar platform. McCloskey supposedly referenced the “so-called Holocaust” and said “I don’t know whether you’re right or wrong about the Holocaust” during a May 2000 speech to the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), a now-much-diminished group that promotes Holocaust denial, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
McCloskey has denied he is an anti-Semite. In a 2006 interview, he called IHR a “bunch of nuts” and said the speech transcript was inaccurate. He recalled “being booed” when he talked about the Holocaust. “Of course the Holocaust existed,” he told the Contra Costa Times. “But I will go and speak to any group.” Mark Hertsgaard, a reporter for the Nation, wrote in 2006 that he viewed a videotape of the speech, and “I found no such wording.” He added that the former lawmaker devoted “much of his speech to describing how Jews had long been discriminated against in the United States and abroad.”
Heather Colburn, a spokesman for the Plame campaign, said: “These attacks are the work of people who are desperate to elect their candidate and who will do whatever it takes to win. They will continue to perpetuate these extreme and disgusting attacks because it is all they have. New Mexicans should stand up and speak out about these groups, their hate speech and the candidates they support.”
The Pinocchio Test
Plame certainly demonstrated terrible judgment in tweeting an article with anti-Semitic language, especially if, as she claims, she did not fully read the article. She briefly defended herself, but then within hours, she apologized. She also had tweeted a few other articles from a clearly anti-Semitic website. One could imagine an ad crafted around these events that asks New Mexicans whether they want a member of Congress who is so sloppy about her sources of information.
But instead, this ad uses lurid images and words to smear Plame as a white supremacist — or at least claim she is willing to represent them in Congress. There is no evidence that is the case, especially given her quick effort to disassociate herself from her tweets and her strong language condemning white supremacism. We swung back and forth between Three and Four Pinocchios — given that, even though Plame apologized, she did tweet an anti-Semitic article — but the Nazi symbol superimposed on her eyes tipped us to Four.
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