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Trump Picks White Supremacist Leader as California Delegate, Then Blames Selection on Database Error

StoryMay 11, 2016
Watch iconWatch Full Show

Guests
Josh Harkinson

senior reporter at Mother Jones. His recent article is "Trump Selects a White Nationalist Leader as a Delegate in California."


Donald Trump’s campaign is facing criticism after it named a prominent white supremacist leader to its list of delegates in California. William Johnson is the head of the American Freedom Party, which has openly backed the creation of “a separate white ethnostate” and the deportation of almost all nonwhite citizens from the United States. Johnson’s name appeared on a list of delegates published by California’s secretary of state on Monday. After Mother Jones broke the story on Tuesday, the Trump campaign blamed Johnson’s selection on a "database error." But correspondence published by Mother Jones shows the Trump campaign was in touch with Johnson as recently as Monday. We speak to Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones.


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road, but back home here in New York. Well, Donald Trump’s campaign—Donald Trump’s campaign is facing criticism after it named a prominent white supremacist leader to its list of delegates in California. William Johnson is the head of the American Freedom Party, which aims to preserve, quote, "the customs and heritage of the European American people," unquote. Over the years, he has advocated for the creation of a white state and the deportation of almost all nonwhite citizens from the United States. Johnson’s name appeared on a list of delegates published by California’s secretary of state Monday. After Mother Jones broke the story on Tuesday, the Trump campaign blamed Johnson’s selection on a, quote, "database error" and removed him. But correspondence published by Mother Jones shows the Trump campaign was in touch with Johnson as recently as Monday. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Johnson’s American Freedom Party as "arguably the most important white nationalist group in the country." Earlier this year, Johnson’s super PAC funded a pro-Trump robocall to voters.

AMERICAN NATIONAL SUPER PAC ROBOCALL: The American National Super PAC makes this call to support Donald Trump. I am William Johnson, a farmer and white nationalist. The white race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called racist. This is our mindset: It’s OK that our government destroys our children’s future, but don’t call me racist. I’m afraid to be called racist. It’s OK to give away our country through immigration, but don’t call me racist. It’s OK that few schools anymore have beautiful white children as the majority, but don’t call me racist. Gradual genocide against the white race is OK, but don’t call me racist. I’m afraid to be called racist. Donald Trump is not a racist, but Donald Trump is not afraid. Don’t vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump. (213) 718-3908. This call is not authorized by Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: A pro-Trump robocall from white nationalist leader William Johnson.

Joining us now from San Francisco is Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones. His piece, "Trump Selects a White Nationalist Leader as a Delegate in California," was published on Tuesday.

So, explain exactly what happened, Josh.

JOSH HARKINSON: Well, so, we—I spoke to William—I’ve been speaking with William Johnson over the last few months, and I checked in with him on Monday, and he told me he had a big announcement coming. We didn’t know what it was; he wouldn’t tell us. He had mentioned his interest in being a delegate, so I realized, and several people in the office realized, on Tuesday morning at our meeting that the delegate list had been released, so we looked at it, and there was his name: William Johnson.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain further what then happened.

JOSH HARKINSON: Sure. So, you know, I called him up. And obviously, William Johnson is a pretty common name. So I asked him, "Are you a California delegate?" And he said he was. And I asked him to send me proof, just to be sure. So he forwarded me the email he had received from the Trump campaign. And from there, I reached out to them for comment, and they didn’t respond. So we put the story out. And, you know, it’s been picked up pretty widely since then.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk more about who he is, how well known he is, and what exactly the conversations—that you understand, what the communication has been with the Trump campaign.

JOSH HARKINSON: Sure. So, he leads the American Freedom Party, which has—it’s a political party, a white nationalist political party. You know, it probably has just a few thousand members at most. They’ve never successfully elected a candidate yet. You know, as you mentioned, they are arguably the most important white nationalist group in the country, because of the people involved. They’re sort of like the brain trust for the white nationalist movement, such as it is. And, you know, some of their members are—you know, are sort of intellectual, whether—you know, there’s a former California State professor, there’s a former Reagan appointee on their board of directors. And, you know, they talk about—they are not—they don’t consider themselves to be white supremacists. They argue that they don’t claim that the white race is superior to other races, but they do want America to be a separate, white ethnostate. So they would like to kick out the nonwhites from America.

AMY GOODMAN: Last year during an interview of WFMZ in Pennsylvania, William Johnson openly called for the formation of a white state. This is what he said.

WILLIAM JOHNSON: We’re seeing now a dispossession of the majority in this country, and it’s not just through illegal immigration. It’s through legal immigration. But we’re—happening now is that America is being replaced by other peoples. And a group of people should not willingly open up their borders and allow other people to take it over. And what has happened is, the last 50 years, there’s been a relentless onslaught of propaganda, antiwhite propaganda. If you stand up and say, "I want to preserve this country for our own people," you’re called a racist. And as a result of that, every aspect of our society has gone downhill. And we have to address that issue.

TONY IANNELLI: From your perspective, would you close the borders entirely? Is that what you’re—is that what you’re—

WILLIAM JOHNSON: Well, even if you close the borders entirely, it is not going to correct the system. If you look at the demographics now, that the white children are the vast minority in the school districts everywhere in the United States. We need to look at it a total different way. We need to create a separate, white ethnostate. This diversity is a failure.

AMY GOODMAN: That is William Johnson, speaking on WFMZ in Pennsylvania. Josh Harkinson, talk more about—I mean, this is a person who’s extremely well known. This isn’t someone that you had to research their background to figure anything out about.

JOSH HARKINSON: Exactly. You know, he’s spoken at many of the major white supremacist conferences around the country and, you know, is well known in that world. But he should also be well known to Donald Trump, because he has taken out robocalls in support of Trump in seven different states. You know, Trump—the Trump campaign has responded to that already, distancing themselves, you know, albeit somewhat tepidly. And so, he should be known to them pretty well by now.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what it is about Donald Trump that attracts this kind of support? I mean, I want to turn back to a clip that we’ve played a few times: in February, Donald Trump coming under criticism for wavering on whether or not he wants the support of a former Klan leader, David Duke. Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper, Trump refused to disavow Duke’s support or the support of other white supremacists.

DONALD TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know—did he endorse me, or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so, when you’re asking me a question, that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.

JAKE TAPPER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is—even if you don’t know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say, unequivocally, you condemn them, and you don’t want their support?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them, and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.

JAKE TAPPER: The Ku Klux Klan?

DONALD TRUMP: But you may have groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups, and I’ll let you know.

JAKE TAPPER: OK, I mean, I’m just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here, but...

DONALD TRUMP: I don’t know any—honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Donald Trump speaking on CNN. The New York Times quoted Donald Trump in February of 2000 talking about the Reform Party, saying it "includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi." That was Trump’s words. Josh Harkinson?

JOSH HARKINSON: Yeah, so it’s curious. And, you know, Trump later claimed that he was having earpiece problems when he was on the set and didn’t understand what CNN was saying. But, you know, that is also similar to what he has said in response to this latest with William Johnson. He claimed that it was a database error, so—you know, that basically prevented him from—you know, he had already excluded Johnson from a list of potential delegates, but there was some problem with the database and the computer system. So, you know, he seems to be having an unusually large number of technical problems whenever the issue of his support for white nationalists or white supremacists comes up.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you say that Trump is legitimizing white nationalism, white supremacy in this country?

JOSH HARKINSON: Well, I think he is. The question is also: Does that—is that what he is intending to do? And you can debate that, but I think the effect of his rhetoric has been to normalize things that people didn’t used to say, that were considered too extreme to say in polite company, whether it’s his comment comparing Mexican immigrants to rapists, whether it’s his stated policy of wanting to prevent Muslims from immigrating, from traveling to the United States. I think, you know, those are things that do get associated with racists. And so, people who are racist and are proud of it are rightfully ecstatic that Trump is saying these things.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Josh Harkinson, I want to thank you for being with us, senior reporter at Mother Jones. We’ll link to your piece, "Trump Selects a White Nationalist Leader as a Delegate in California."

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at a Florida prison and "Madness," also the issue of police brutality. Stay with us.

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