An advocate of “household voting” in which husbands get the final say. A woman who has argued that school sex education programmes are “grooming” children to be sexualised by predators like Jeffrey Epstein. A candidate who has peddled in racist tropes and bizarre QAnon conspiracy theories.
US President Donald Trump has long surrounded himself with controversial characters who hold out-of-the-mainstream views. But the decision by the party to elevate some of those figures by featuring them in prime-time spots at the Republican National Convention or inviting them to witness this week's events is drawing new scrutiny.
Trump's comfort with the far-right fringe got uncomfortable for his party Tuesday. At the last minute, Republicans pulled a pre-recorded speech by “Angel Mom” Mary Ann Mendoza from the programme, after she fired off a now-deleted tweet directing her followers to a series of anti-Semitic, conspiratorial messages.
Mendoza, whose son was killed in 2014 in a head-on collision with a drunken driver living in the United States illegally, had recorded remarks highlighting the president’s fight against illegal immigration. But her spot was pulled after the Daily Beast reported that she had promoted a thread from a QAnon conspiracy theorist that was rife with anti-Semitism and claimed the Titanic was sunk to kill opponents of the Federal Reserve.
Mendoza, who has made frequent appearances at the White House and Trump campaign events along with other “Angel Moms," apologised for the tweet, writing that she had “retweeted a very long thread” without having read every post and said it didn't reflect her "feelings or personal thoughts whatsoever.”
But the campaign pulled the plug anyway. “We have removed the scheduled video from the convention lineup and it will no longer run this week,” Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.
Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks applauded the decision, saying “her views clearly disqualify her from addressing the convention."
“We are pleased that convention officials took prompt action to make sure the convention reflects who we are and our values as a party,” he said.
Not pulled from the schedule was anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson, whose past controversial comments have surfaced in recent days, along with questions about her journey from working at Planned Parenthood to her current advocacy.
In May, Johnson advocated for something called “household voting” in which each household is given a single vote, and said that, if differences arise, women should defer to their husbands.
“In a Godly household, the husband would get the final say,” she wrote.
Johnson also posted a video on YouTube in June in which she said she would be fine with police profiling her adopted biracial son when he’s older because "statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offence over my white sons.”
“One day he's going to grow up and he's going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking maybe, brown man," she said. “So the fact that, in his head he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart because of statistics."
The campaign did not respond to questions about how speakers had been chosen or whether they had undergone any kind of vetting. But Murtaugh said Trump "strongly supports the sacred principle of one person, one vote, and that’s why he is fighting so hard to preserve the integrity of our elections.”
For her part, Johnson fought back, tweeting: “Pro-aborts are SO scared of my speech tonight that will pull back the curtain of the barbaric reality of abortion, they are scrambling to try to find anything to detract people from my message. Well, guess what?? You can dredge up whatever old tweets you want. I’m still speaking.”
Trump has long courted controversy, retweeting videos and commentary that often draw outrage. And he has revelled in the backlash they have generated. Meanwhile, several speakers at the convention cast the Republican Party as welcoming of all viewpoints and condemned so-called 'cancel culture,' which they argue stifles freedom of thought and imposes a liberal, elitist world view.
Republicans have also accused the media of holding the president to a higher standard than Democrats, and some noted the Democratic convention, held last week, included an appearance by Linda Sarsour, an activist who has faced accusations of anti-Semitism.
Trump's convention line-up has sometimes had the feel of a lower-profile conservative gathering, much like the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which draws a wide range of ardent conservative activists and does not aim to appeal to a broader, more moderate audience.
Monday's opening night, for instance, featured Rebecca Friedrichs, an elementary school teacher who railed in her remarks against teachers unions. In a July opinion piece in the Washington Times, Friedrichs argued that public schools groom kids for sexual predators like Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, his longtime companion, who stands accused of facilitating the abuse of girls by the now-deceased sex offender, by teaching them basic sex education.
And then there are the invited guests. On Tuesday, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican congressional nominee from Georgia who supports the QAnon conspiracy theory, revealed that she had been invited to the White House to attend Trump's marquee acceptance speech.
Greene has a long history of bolstering the baseless pro-Trump theory, which centres on an alleged anonymous, high-ranking government official known as “Q” who shares information about an anti-Trump “deep state” often tied to satanism and child sex trafficking. She has also made a series of racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.
CNN reported Tuesday that, before she ran for office, Greene promoted the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy and speculated that the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was an “inside job."
Trump has praised her as a “future Republican Star.”
by Jill Colvin, Associated Press