Paul Nehlen, a fringe challenger of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) whose anti-Semitic tweets have caused a stir in recent months, drew criticism again this week after tweeting an image of actress Meghan Markle photoshopped with the face of Cheddar Man, the dark-skinned man believed to be the first modern Briton.
Twitter suspended Nehlen’s account after he shared the image of Prince Harry standing next to Markle, a biracial American he is set to marry in May. Along with the image was this tweet: “Honey does this tie make my face look pale?”
The Friday tweet, the latest in Nehlen’s history of incendiary statements, appears to have been prompted by recent revelations that early British inhabitants are believed to have been dark-skinned. Nehlen has described himself as “pro-white” and decried the research on Cheddar Man as a way of “disappearing whites or dispossessing whites of their homelands.”
Last week, a new project from London’s Natural History Museum and University College London revealed DNA evidence showing that early British inhabitants did not have pale skin as initially believed. Cheddar Man, who lived 10,000 years ago and whose skeleton was discovered in 1903 in a cave in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England, had brown hair, blue eyes and “dark to black skin.” New analysis and facial reconstruction have led scientists to conclude that his ancestors arrived in Britain via the Middle East after leaving Africa, The Washington Post’s Jennifer Hassan wrote.
The Daily Mirror called Nehlen’s tweet “racist,” while the Sun described Nehlen as Markle’s “Twitter troll.” Actor Patrick J. Adams, who co-stars with Markle in USA Network’s legal drama “Suits,” lashed out at Nehlen in a tweet Saturday, calling the Wisconsin businessman “a sad and sick man with no sense of shame or class.”
In a statement Monday, Nehlen called the suspension of his Twitter account “the epitome of interfering with a federal election” and an effort to “suppress right-wing political speech.”
“These are unprecedented, brazen acts of censorship by a corporate monopoly that controls a primary channel of public communication,” said Nehlen, who’s running against Ryan in the GOP congressional primaries in Wisconsin. “It has severely compromised the integrity of our election processes, and Congress needs to hold public hearings and conduct a full investigation into these matters without delay.”
A Twitter spokeswoman confirmed that the company has permanently suspended Nehlen’s account for “repeated violations of our terms of service.” In a recent blog post, Twitter acknowledged that blocking politicians or world leaders from using Twitter would “hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”
“We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly,” the company wrote. “No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions. We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.”
Nehlen first defended himself Sunday by attacking the research that revealed the physical features of early British inhabitants.
“A deliberately inflammatory article (that I’d argue is pure junk science) was published indicating Brits, and by extension, Americans, came from this Cheddar Man character,” Nehlen wrote on Facebook. “In response, I lampooned the article.”
Nehlen is running for the second time after losing to Ryan by nearly 70 percentage points in 2016. His anti-immigrant views and use of the #ItsOkayToBeWhite hashtag have attracted criticism. Previously a political unknown, Nehlen received praise from Donald Trump in 2016 when the then-presidential candidate was facing a backlash from Ryan and others over comments about a slain Muslim soldier’s parents. Nehlen was Ryan’s primarily challenger at that time.
The website Breitbart, which deployed reporters to cover Nehlen’s congressional bid in 2016, denounced him in December after his anti-Semitic tweets. He wrote in one tweet that he is reading “The Culture of Critique,” a book about Jewish culture widely considered to be anti-Semitic, CNN reported. An adviser for Stephen K. Bannon, then still Breitbart’s executive chairman, told The Washington Post that the decision to abandon Nehlen was made after Bannon learned of his appearance on white-nationalist podcasts.
In a text message to The Post’s David Weigel in December, Nehlen described himself as “pro-White” and said he opposed double standards.
“If pro-White is White supremacy, what is pro-Jewish?” Nehlen said. “I reject being called a White Supremacist, because clearly Pro-White isn’t White Supremacy unless Pro-Jewish is Jewish Supremacy.”
Nehlen drew flak again last month when he tweeted a list of his critics and claimed that most of them are Jewish. “74 are Jews,” he wrote, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Nehlen later posted the names and contact information of critics who reached out to his campaign, some of whom said they had received harassing calls and messages.
After Twitter suspended Nehlen’s account, dozens of other users changed their Twitter avatars to Nehlen’s picture. He then posted a collage of nearly 100 Twitter accounts bearing his picture and variations of his name to his Facebook page. “You can’t silence everyone,” he wrote, along with the hashtag #ShallNotCensor.
Nehlen had proposed legislation that would impose a $500,000 fine for “wrongful censorship” by major social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit. He cited comments by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who accused Twitter of censoring conservatives but not liberals.
“The bedrock of American society is freedom of speech,” Nehlen said in a statement in December. “Social media companies have usurped this freedom, and we intend to give it back to the American people.”
The First Amendment limits only the government’s ability to suppress speech and does not apply to private companies such as Twitter.
The publicly traded company had been facing increased pressure to weed out hateful speech, images and threats. In November, Twitter removed the blue “verification checks” from the accounts of a handful of prominent white nationalists and far-right conservatives. James Allsup, one of the far-right activists who said they had lost their verified status, said the move showed that “Twitter is complicit in anti-white hatred.”
Eli Rosenberg contributed to this report.