GOP Congressman Tom Garrett—Meeting White Supremacists Is “An Occupational Hazard” –August 20, 2017
For the overwhelming majority of Americans and many of their leaders, taking one’s time to denounce hate carries costs. Numerous CEO’s kept leaving Donald’s two business advisory councils. They took this action after Trump waited two days to denounce the 8/12/2017 white supremacist Charlottesville, VA rally that killed three people and injured at least 35 others (money.cnn.com, Disis, McLean, & Mullen, 8/15/17, Huffington Post, Liebelson, 8/14/17, & Kaufman, A. 8/16/17). In order to avoid further embarrassment, Trump disbanded these councils on 8/16/17 (Huffington Post, 8/16/17). Trump’s 8/14/2017 condemnation of the Charlottesville white supremacist agitators was too little and too late. Of course, he didn’t really mean it. On 8/15/2017, Trump again argued that both sides were to blame. He stated that his initial 8/12/2017 comment blaming “both sides” was a “fine statement (CNN, Merica, D., 8/15/17).” He even claimed that there were some “very fine people” on the white supremacist side (Fang, Huffington Post, 8/15/17)! Trump’s 8/14/2017 statement condemning white supremacists was, therefore, “fake news,” concocted to try to quell public outrage. Since Trump’s most recent 8/15/2017 awful statement on Charlottesville, he has been condemned by GOPers Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sixteen members of Donald’s Committee of the Arts have resigned. Numerous charities, including the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation have cancelled events at Donald’s Palm Beach, FL Mar-a-Lago resort (money.cnn.com, 8/18/17). Yes, alt-right sympathizer and Trump adviser Steve Bannon was forced to leave the White House, but Trump still shares his hideous world-views (See Cillizza, CNN, 8/18/17).
The Charlottesville white supremacists were quickly condemned by many GOPers, who suddenly seemed “shocked, shocked” that Trump had attracted this twisted group of individuals. However, one “Team Red” Congressman, Tom Garrett, has received unwanted attention post-Charlottesville. In 3/2017, Congressman Garrett had met with Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” white supremacist march. Kessler is the founder of the Unity and Security for America group. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which keeps track of U.S. hate groups, labeled Kessler’s outfit a “nativist white nationalist group,” read, a white supremacist one. According to the SPLC, Charlottesville resident Kessler has “made waves” in his hometown by waging an online campaign against Charlottesville’s black city councilman. At the 3/2017 meeting, Congressman Garrett had a photograph take of him posing with Kessler that went viral after the violent Charlottesville rally. The Kessler-Cong. Garrett photo was posted on Facebook under Kessler’s “Unity and Security for America” group (nbcnews.com, Clark, D., 8/14/17, lawnewz.com, Kalmbacher, 8/12/17). Who is this Cong. Garrett?
GOP freshman Congressman Tom Garrett Jr. (45) currently represents Virginia’s 5th Congressional District (CD). The VA 5th includes Southside VA and the cities of Charlottesville and Danville. Southside VA geographically includes the part of the Old Dominion east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and south of the James River. The 5th sweeps from the N. Carolina border north and takes in the Shenandoah foothills, forests, and many Civil War sites. Appomattox Court House, where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, lies in the 5th northeast of Danville. The 5th’s main population centers are in Danville and Charlottesville. Danville, a blue- collar city on the N. Carolina border, was briefly the Confederacy’s last capital after the fall of Richmond and before the Appomattox surrender. Danville had a Confederate prison camp where 1,314 Union soldiers died of starvation and disease. Danville was a historical tobacco and textile center. Furniture is manufactured there. Charlottesville has ties to both Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Charlottesville, where this awful white supremacist rally occurred, is home to the University of Virginia (UVA). More than 21,000 students attend UVA. Jefferson founded UVA in the 19th Century and his neo-classical home Monticello is in the 5th. UVA and its medical center account for most of Charlottesville’s jobs. There is a growing defense-related sector, connected to the 2010 relocation of the Defense Intelligence Agency, to Charlottesville. The 5th contains fast-growing Fluvanna County and Fauquier County, part of the D.C. exurbs (Barone & CQ 2014 Political Almanacs).
Southside VA, 5th CD’s heart, is culturally part of the Deep South. It was conservative Southern Democratic, but turned GOP in recent decades. Prince Edward County, also in the 5th , closed down its public schools for 5 years (1959-1964) rather than integrate them. Prince Edward County’s segregated schools were one of the five cases consolidated into the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that ruled separate education for blacks and whites was unequal (Barone 14, NY Times, Saxon, W., 1/25/95). After 2010 redistricting, the 5th CD added several rural counties north of Charlottesville’s Albemarle County. Obama took progressive Albemarle County in 2012 by double digits. In 2016, liberal Charlottesville gave Hillary 80% of its votes and the City of Danville gave her 58.6% of its votes (politico.com/2016 election/results, CQ 14). However, the current 5th CD has a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of R+6 because the rural and suburban “Red” areas “wash out” urban Charlottesville and Danville’s “Blue” tide (“The Cook Political Report,” CQ & Barone 14). In 2012, Romney took the VA 5th CD by 7 points, and in 2016, Donald won it by 11 (VA Elections, Bragg, M. dailyprogress.com, 4/20/2017).
Atlanta, GA native Tom Garrett Jr., graduated from VA’s Louisa County High School and earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Richmond (“The Central Virginian,” 6/21/17). He served in the U.S. Army for six years (“Gazette-Virginian,” 10/31/16, Ivancic, J., “Fauquier Times,” 12/27/16). Garrett served as an Assistant Attorney General under then GOP VA Atty. General, later Gov. Bob McDonald. In 2007, Garrett was elected the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Louisa County. In 2011, Garrett successfully ran for the 22nd District seat in the VA State Senate. In the VA Senate, Garrett served on several committees, including Courts of Justice, Privileges and Elections, and Education and Health. In 2012, the VA Chamber of Commerce gave Garrett the Freshman Legislator of the Year Award. In 2013, the American Conservative Union gave him the Defender of Liberty Award. In 2016, Garrett won the GOP nomination for VA’s 5th Congressional District. In the 11/2016 general election, Garrett clobbered his Democratic opponent by 16 percentage points, 58%-42% (htop.com/virginia/2016/11, “Virginia Elections Database”). Right-wing Koch Industries contributed $3,500 to Garrett’s congressional run (opensecrets.org).
In the House, Garrett is a member of the Freedom Caucus, the farthest-right grouping within the right-wing House GOP Conference (cnn.com, Fox, 3/23/17, Barrett, citizen-times.com, 12/03/16). He has voted with Demagogue Donald 90.2% of the time (fivethirtyeight.com/congress). He was an “Aye” for the Trump-GOP bill to repeal Obamacare, which died in the Senate. He voted to dismantle the financial regulations on Wall Street put into place by the Dodd-Frank Act (fivethirtyeight.com/congress). Garrett currently sits on the influential House Education & the Workforce, Foreign Affairs, and Homeland Security Committees (115th Congress At Your Fingertips).
How did Cong. Garrett react when confronted by the 3/2017 photograph where he posed with Charlottesville white supremacist and rally organizer Jason Kessler? Although he condemned that meeting in an 8/13/2017 FOX News interview, conducted after the violent riot, Garrett ridiculously called this 3/2017 meeting an “occupational hazard.” He additionally claimed he “did not know” who Kessler was at the time of the meeting. “That’s what we do, we meet with people all the time. I didn’t know who that cat was at that point in time (nbcnews.com, Clark, D., 8/14/17).” Cong. Garrett stated that Kessler and some associates drove to his D.C. office and requested a meeting. Garrett did not describe what he discussed with Kessler and his friends and how long the meeting lasted (nbcnews.com, Clark).
According to a caption on the Facebook photo under Kessler’s white supremacist group, Kessler and his associates discussed with Cong. Garrett the RAISE Act legislation, the proposal recently touted by Donald that would dramatically reduce the number of legal immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. (nbcnews.com, Clark, 8/14/17). Cong. Garrett, when asked on FOX if he regretted this 3/2017 meeting with Kessler and his associates, flippantly replied, “Yeah, sure. But what do you do? My time machine is broken. So I can’t go back and undo it (nbcnews.com, Clark).”
Cong. Garrett should not be allowed to get away with this Doc Brown “Back to the Future” time travel quip. This FOX interview dealing with the Garrett-Kessler photo was not the first time that this matter had come up. At a previous alt-right rally that took place in Charlottesville in 5/2017, Kessler had been arrested for disorderly conduct. Garrett condemned the rally. Garrett’s spokesman Andrew Griffin, however, was then asked about the 3/2017 photo Garrett took with Kessler. Griffin explained that Garrett posed with Kessler and other members of his Unity and Security for America group, David W. Caron and Isaac Smith, “because they asked him to (lawnewz.com, Kalmbacher, 8/12/17).” Griffin then added that Garrett had met with Kessler and his associates because “they are constituents who asked to meet with their representative (Bragg, “Daily Progress,” Bragg, M., 5/15/17).” I suppose Garrett, under that “reasoning,” would have met with KKKer/neo-Nazi David Duke, if he too was a constituent and taken a similar picture with him if Duke had asked him for one. Of course, like Donald, who repeatedly claimed not to know who Duke was, Garrett ridiculously argued he didn’t know who Kessler was until the 8/2017 violent Charlottesville rally. Give me a break! Kessler was a well-known agitator in his district who was then conducting a well-reported campaign to oust a black councilman. Corey Stewart, a Trump wannabe, praised Kessler’s recall efforts and posed for a photo with him. Stewart, then running in the GOP primary for Gov. of VA, made saving Confederate monuments a major issue and barely lost that race (See Bragg, M., dailyprogress.com, 8/15/17). Stewart plans to run a “vicious” race against Dem. Sen. Tim Kaine in 2018 (Politico, 7/13/17, “Laredo Morning Times,” 7/13/17). Garrett’s repeated claims of not knowing who Kessler was fail to pass the “lsmell” test. Cong. Garrett routinely condemned the rallies Kessler was involved in. However, by still meeting with Kessler, Garrett gave this white supremacist the respectability he craves.
Democrat Roger Dean Huffstetler (38), a Marine Corps Iraq and Afghanistan veteran with Silicon Valley experience, plans to run against Garrett. Other Democrats are planning to challenge Garrett. Huffstetler has attacked Garrett hard for his “Freedumb” Caucus membership (Bragg, dailyprogress.com, 4/20/17). Huffstetler should now hammer Garrett for his record of winking and nodding at white supremacists. A Democrat winning in the Southside VA 5th CD would, according to political analyst Geoff Skelley, constitute an “uphill fight.” However, should the heavily anti-Trump national feeling continue as the 2018 midterm election approaches, Marine veteran Huffstetler could make this race more favorable to “Team Blue (Bragg).” In 2018, Democrats, moderates, and independents must come out in droves to flip a net-24 seats to “Column Blue” to retake the House. Even if Garrett won his race, he would then be an irrelevant member of the minority. Too many GOP legislators have ignored Trump’s love affair with white supremacists for far too long. In 2018, they must pay the price.