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Senate candidate Herschel Walker cancels fundraiser after uproar over donor’s use of vaccine-needle swastika in profile

Republican Senate candidate speaks at former president Donald Trump’s rally in Perry, Ga., on Sept. 25.
Republican Senate candidate speaks at former president Donald Trump’s rally in Perry, Ga., on Sept. 25. (Ben Gray/AP)

A fundraiser for Republican Herschel Walker, a U.S. Senate candidate in Georgia, was canceled Wednesday after its host was criticized for featuring an image that used a swastika made out of syringes on her Twitter profile.

Bettina Sofia Viviano-Langlais, a Republican donor, was set to host a fundraiser for Walker this weekend in Parker, Tex., according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which first noted Wednesday morning that her Twitter profile picture resembled the symbol. That specific rendering of the vaccine-needle swastika has been co-opted by activists nationwide who oppose coronavirus vaccine mandates and compare them to Nazi treatment of the Jews.

Within hours of the Journal-Constitution’s report, the account’s profile picture had been changed and Walker had called off the event despite initially standing by Viviano-Langlais.

Former NFL player Herschel Walker defended President Donald Trump’s character during his speech for the Republication National Convention on Aug. 24, 2020. (Video: The Washington Post)

On Wednesday morning, a spokeswoman for Walker’s campaign defended the image as being “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic.”

“Herschel unequivocally opposes anti-semitism and bigotry of all kinds,” the spokeswoman told the Journal-Constitution. By 3 p.m. Eastern time, however, the spokeswoman said Walker would no longer be attending the event and emphasized his support for the Jewish community.

“Herschel is a strong friend of Israel and the Jewish community and opposes hatred and bigotry of all forms,” Walker spokeswoman Mallory Blount told The Washington Post. “Despite the fact that the apparent intent behind the graphic was to condemn government vaccine mandates, the symbol used is very offensive and does not reflect the values of Herschel Walker or his campaign.”

Viviano-Langlais, a Texas filmmaker, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The campaign’s walk-back was not enough for the Georgia Democratic Party, which initially accused Walker of defending the symbol “for nothing more than some campaign cash.”

“Herschel Walker defended a swastika, and canceling a fundraiser does not change the fact that he failed to condemn a hateful, anti-Semitic symbol,” Dan Gottlieb, a spokesman for the state’s Democratic Party, said in a statement.

Walker, supported by Trump, jumps into U.S. Senate race in Georgia

Walker, a former National Football League running back whose career was bookended with stints with the Dallas Cowboys, has refused to say whether he is vaccinated. He officially received former president Donald Trump’s endorsement in September, months after Trump first raised the possibility that the former University of Georgia star could run a strong campaign against Sen. Raphael G. Warnock, a freshman Democrat.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the legendary Herschel Walker ran for the United States Senate in Georgia?” Trump said in a March statement. “He would be unstoppable, just like he was when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, and in the NFL.”

When her Twitter profile still featured the image, Viviano-Langlais shared an invitation to the fundraiser for Walker, which she was set to co-host. Tickets started at $500 per person, while VIP access — featuring a photo opportunity with Walker — was going for $5,800 a person.

Viviano-Langlais has hosted anti-vaccine events in Texas, including a March party celebrating the end of a mask mandate imposed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). The event featured a bonfire — for masks.

The cancellation of this weekend’s fundraiser may not be much of a setback for Walker — his campaign is off to a fast start, drawing in $3.7 million since it was first announced five weeks ago, according to the Journal-Constitution.

The image of a swastika formed by syringes has led to controversy in other parts of the country. In Arizona, Kelly Townsend, a Republican state senator, dismissed criticism from the state chapter of the Anti-Defamation League after she tweeted an image of a Nazi flag made up of needles.

“Learn your history,” Townsend tweeted back at the organization.

In Utah and New York, anti-vaccine-mandate protesters have been spotted carrying flags and posters featuring the needle swastika, drawing criticism from Jewish organizations.