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Stephen Miller’s disingenuous ad charging ‘anti-White’ racism

A political ad financed by Trump aide Stephen Miller’s America First Legal alleged Vice President Harris actively discriminated against White Americans. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

“When did racism against White people become okay?”

— voice-over of radio and television ads airing in Georgia, sponsored by America First Legal, Nov. 1

America First Legal (AFL), founded by Trump immigration guru Stephen Miller, bills itself as a conservative version of the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization has filed many legal challenges to Biden administration policies, both domestic and foreign, that it says undermine fundamental rights of Americans.

The group’s radio ad — which Politico said is running in several Georgia media markets and Tallahassee, just south of the Georgia border — and a similar television ad encapsulate a key argument of the group in explicitly racial terms. The group says that efforts by the federal government to prioritize aid for vulnerable communities — or to correct historic wrongs — is a form of racism against White people and is just as pernicious as racism against Blacks.

“Stop left-wing racism,” reads the text of the television ad. “End anti-white bigotry.”

The ads offer a window into how Miller’s group is laying the groundwork for legal and political steps that would undermine efforts by politicians and companies to address inequities between Blacks and Whites — often believed to be a legacy of slavery and systemic racism.

Many of the claims made in the ads stem directly from lawsuits filed by AFL, as we will explain below. At least one of the statements was derived from a misleading video that was highlighted on right-wing social media.

Let’s go examine the factual assertions in the ad line by line.

“Joe Biden put white people last in line for covid relief funds.”

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.

When Biden ran for president, he highlighted how minority communities appeared to be disproportionately affected by the economic swoon caused by the coronavirus pandemic. When Congress was crafting the $1.9 trillion covid relief bill early in his administration, experts testified that minority-owned businesses were more vulnerable to economic distress than businesses owned by White entrepreneurs — and they were more likely to be in areas with higher rates of covid-19 infections.

But controversy erupted when the Biden administration sought to limit the first three weeks of applications to a $29 billion restaurant-relief fund to businesses that were 51 percent owned by “women, veterans, or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” Under U.S. law, “socially disadvantaged” is defined as “those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities.”

AFL sued on behalf of a White male restaurant owner. A federal judge in Texas blocked the effort, saying the plaintiff is “experiencing race and sex discrimination at the hand of government officials” because the fund might be depleted before the first three weeks were completed. The Biden administration initially won another case — filed by a White man in Tennessee who owned a restaurant 50-50 with his Hispanic wife — but then lost at the appeals court level in a 2-1 vote.

The lawsuits put the restaurant-aid program in turmoil and nearly 3,000 restaurant owners whose grants were approved were told they would not be paid. Ultimately, the Small Business Administration says that in Biden’s first year, 42 percent of restaurant relief went to women-owned businesses and about 15 percent went to minority-owned businesses.

“Kamala Harris said disaster aid should go to non-White citizens first.”

This line reflects a claim that was recently hot in Republican circles — but it is false. A clip of the vice president was taken out of context.

On Sept. 30, Vice President Harris was interviewed by actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who asked a long multipart question that covered aid for Hurricane Ian, the impact of climate change and global disparities. Harris, in response, barely addressed the Ian part of the question but instead focused mostly on the climate-change aspect of the question.

“In particular on the disparities, as you have described rightly, which is that it is our lowest income communities and our communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme conditions and impacted by issues that are not of their own making,” Harris said at one point. “We have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity; understanding that not everyone starts out at the same place.”

Ryan Fournier, executive director of Students for Trump, tweeted over this clip a statement that took her words out of context: “You can’t make this up. Kamala Harris said the administration will be giving hurricane resources ‘based on equity’ by directing funds to ‘communities of color.’ I guess everyone else is just screwed.”

His tweet attracted the attention of Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and now owner of Twitter: “Should be according to greatest need, not race or anything else.”

A Reuters reporter who covered the event posted a Twitter thread a day later saying that Harris’s remarks were “being deliberately distorted.” Nevertheless Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) amplified the misinformation when he was challenged by “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan about the rhetoric of some Republicans. He claimed Harris said “If you have a different skin color, you’re going to get relief faster.”

Brennan quickly said that Harris did not say that — and Scott retorted: “That’s exactly what she meant.”

“Liberal politicians block access to medicine based on skin color”

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.

Under pressure from Miller’s group, Minnesota, Utah and New Mexico have rolled back policies that were once hailed by public health professionals as good-faith efforts to bridge the pandemic’s deadly racial divide. The ad offers as a source a Wall Street Journal opinion article, headlined “New York’s Race-Based Preferential Covid Treatments.” Miller’s group — and others — have also sued New York state to get it to remove race as one of many selection criteria for outpatient antiviral treatments, but a court in March dismissed one such lawsuit.

“Progressive corporations, airlines, universities all openly discriminate against white Americans.”

This line asserts that corporate and university policies that seek to consider the racial background of applicants to help achieve diversity in their workforce or student body constitutes discrimination against Whites. AFL, no surprise, is at the forefront of filing legal challenges to such policies.

For instance, after Amazon in 2020 announced a program to build diversity among its delivery contractors — offering $10,000 grants to “help reduce the barriers to entry for Black, Latinx, and Native American entrepreneurs” — AFL sued earlier this year, alleging “patently unlawful racial discrimination.” (The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.)

The Supreme Court is weighing whether race can be barred as a factor in college admissions — and it’s possible many of these other attacks on diversity efforts will end up before the high court.

“The Biden administration and left-wing officials in education, business, and governments across the country are imposing policies that systemically and routinely discriminate against American citizens based solely on the color of their skin. That is illegal. Our advertisements make the point that racism is always wrong — regardless of who it is targeted against,” Gene Hamilton, AFL’s general counsel, said in a statement to The Fact Checker. “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.”

The Pinocchio Test

These ads are a disingenuous stew that claim the Biden administration and liberals are harming Whites with policies intended to deal with racial inequities, such as minority communities being more affected by the coronavirus pandemic. But Harris did not say what the ad claims and there is no evidence people have been denied medicine on the basis of race.

The policy on covid relief funds for restaurants was not aimed at all Whites, as the ads claim — or even all White men. But there was a policy limiting funds until it was halted by the courts. The overall message that such policies constitute “anti-White” racism is worthy of Four Pinocchios, but the factual claims made in the ad earn Three.

Three Pinocchios

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