California senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris is riding a new wave of momentum following her debate performance last week when she challenged Joe Biden’s past history of working with segregationist lawmakers and his opposition to busing to integrate schools in the 1970s. While Harris has jumped in several opinion polls, there has also been a right-wing backlash online. On Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a message from an “alt-right” personality that read, “Kamala Harris is not an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I’m so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It’s disgusting. … Harris’ family were actually slave owners.” Trump Jr. shared the tweet with his followers, writing, “Is this true? Wow.” He deleted the tweet later that night, but he has come under fire from several other 2020 presidential candidates for his comments. We speak with Shireen Mitchell, founder of the group Stop Online Violence Against Women.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: California senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris is riding a new wave of momentum following her debate performance last week, when she challenged Joe Biden’s past history of working with segregationist lawmakers and his opposition to busing to integrate schools in the 1970s. While Harris has jumped in several opinion polls, there’s been also a right-wing backlash online. On Thursday, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., retweeted a message from an “alt-right” personality that read, quote, “Kamala Harris is not an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I’m so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It’s disgusting. … Harris’ family were actually slave owners.”
AMY GOODMAN: So the tweet said. Donald Trump Jr. reposted the tweet, adding, “Is this true? Wow.” Trump Jr. then deleted the tweet later that night, after coming under fire from several other 2020 presidential candidates, including Joe Biden, who tweeted, quote, “The same forces of hatred rooted in 'birtherism' that questioned @BarackObama’s American citizenship, and even his racial identity, are now being used against Senator @KamalaHarris,” unquote. 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro told CNN Donald Trump Jr. behaved like a coward.
JULIÁN CASTRO: This is a game that these folks play. They put something out there. You notice what he did. He tweeted it out, and then he deleted it, like a coward, so he can say, “Oh, that was just a mistake.” But he knows what he’s doing. He’s giving voice to these racist, you know, utterances about Senator Harris. You know, we need to dispel them immediately and condemn them and then not give them any more life, because they’re disgusting.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s presidential candidate Julián Castro.
For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Shireen Mitchell, founder of the group Stop Online Violence Against Women.
Shireen Mitchell, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to this tweet and delete of Donald Trump Jr., and talk about this in the tradition of the Trump family, really, President Trump himself, just as a private New York developer, leading the “birther” movement against President Barack Obama, questioning where he was born?
SHIREEN MITCHELL: Yes. This is not just a pattern of this family, the Trump family. But please remember, Trump is also the one that tried to get five brown and black boys executed in Central Park. So, let’s not forget that this is a history within this family of racism. The other parts of this is that we also need to remind ourselves—and also, they participated in housing discrimination. There were all kinds of legal ramifications about them targeting black and brown communities. So this isn’t new. So this is not a surprise to me or any—and it should not be a surprise to anyone else.
The ways in which they use our identity as a weapon to rally their base is very problematic and very consistent. So, Kamala Harris, being a woman of color and running for office and running against Donald Trump, maybe going forward, this is not a surprise that they would start this this early. But also, be clear that this online harassment of black and brown women has been going on as a part of the election process and has been going on since 2013, as we tracked many of these behaviors of pretending to be black women, trying to defame or discredit black women. And this example is exactly that.
To say Kamala is not an American black, when she was born in Oakland, is ridiculous. But this harkens back to what was happening with Obama, as well, that his father was Kenyan, so somehow that made him not black enough, not born here, and he had to prove that he was. And that’s the part of the birtherism that was being expanded upon when Donald Trump himself started promoting that campaign, that Barack Obama had to explain his existence in this country.
I would say there is no other group that is constantly asked to identify as American, because we have the term “African American,” that somehow we are choosing African first. And that example is an example that happens in our community, but also it’s very much used as a weapon against us.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shireen Mitchell, what do we know about the person who actually posted the tweet, this Ali Alexander?
SHIREEN MITCHELL: So, what we found—what I found out, or as some of us were still digging a little bit deeper, this gentleman happens to be connected to some of the other right-wing groups and the “alt-right” groups, associations with Laura Loomer, Jacob Wohl. So, he is associated with—so, it wasn’t a surprise that Donald Trump retweeted him, because he’s been a part of that community.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, your response to—well, this went before the tweet and delete of Donald Trump Jr. In February, Senator Kamala Harris spoke to The Breakfast Club. This is radio host Charlamagne tha God questioning Harris about memes circulating online about her.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Another meme says, “Kamala Harris is not African-American. Her parents were immigrants from India and Jamaica, and she was raised in Canada, not the United States.” And it said “Fact!” That’s what the meme said.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: So, I was born in Oakland.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Yeah.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: And raised in the United States except for the years that I was in high school in Montreal, Canada. And look, this is the same thing they did to Barack.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Yes.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: This is—this is not new to us. And so, I think that we know what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to do what has been happening over the last two years, which is powerful voices trying to sow hate and division among us. And so, we need to recognize when we’re being played.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: I’m glad you mentioned Barack, because a lot of black people question if Barack was black enough. I see them doing the same thing to you. So, what do you say to the people questioning the legitimacy of your blackness?
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: I think they don’t understand who black people are, because if you do, if you walked on Hampton’s campus or Howard’s campus or Morehouse or Spelman or Fisk, you would have a much better appreciation for the diaspora, for the diversity, for the beauty in the diversity of who we are as black people. So, I’m not going to spend my time trying to educate people about who black people are.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Kamala Harris speaking on Breakfast Club, the radio show. Shireen Mitchell, your response?
SHIREEN MITCHELL: Yeah, I mean, she’s absolutely right. And one thing’s for sure. I’m also a graduate of a HBCU. And once you have that experience, you would never question what black identity is. The only people who make those—who question us like that are those who are from outside our community. And the other parts of that is, within our community, yes, we do have people coming from different walks of life, but that’s the same of any other community. There is nothing different about our community than others, but somehow it’s being used as a weapon.
It’s being used as a way to discredit us. It’s a use case in black identity being used as a weapon for not only to polarize the black vote, but also to try to get other people to, quote-unquote, “hate”—you know, I hate to use “hate,” but to make it look like we are the ones who are the threats, versus the threats that are upon us. So, the ignorance of what’s actually happening to us and how we’re being targeted, how—the example of what Donald Jr. did is an example of hate. The example of what Trump did to those boys in Central Park—you know, When They See Us was the documentary about that—those are prime examples of ways in which we are not only questioned about who we are, but questioned about our loyalty to this country. And we were born here, so there’s no question about that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shireen Mitchell, President Trump has also ridiculed Senator Elizabeth Warren and accused her of not being truly Native American. Now his son, Jr., raises questions about Kamala Harris. The whole issue of online attacks on women—and your organization, Stop Online Violence Against Women—can you talk about that and the impact that is having on the national discourse?
SHIREEN MITCHELL: Yes. I mean, again, we have a report that’s—we have a second report that’s coming out, but our first report revealed that the Russia interference that was in the Mueller report, that has been documented by 17 agencies, was literally an intense and focused target on black identity used as a weapon for voter suppression. And that example is what we’re seeing right now. And you have to understand that even with the Elizabeth Warren aspect, that was a target to sow discord within the Native American community. So, if you look at this pattern, there is a targeted pattern of going after brown and black voters to interfere in the ways in which they decide to choose who they want to vote for. And that, in itself, is one of the focus problems that we need to be paying attention to.
Our work showed that black women were being targeted as early as 2013. This was well before everyone understood what was happening in 2016. And yet we still are having this conversation as if this is new. This is not new. It’s been going on for years. What we’re learning is there’s a different way that we need to approach digital voter suppression. And we need to pay attention to what’s happening to women of color, because they are the targets. Black women are trusted voters in our community. And if we are not paying attention to what’s happening to them or how they’re being targeted, we will have a problem going into 2020.
AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Mitchell, we want to thank you for being with us, founder of the group Stop Online Violence Against Women, joining us from Washington, D.C.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at Senator Kamala Harris’s record as a San Francisco DA and then California attorney general. Stay with us.