POLITICS
08/31/2018 09:04 pm ET

Neo-Nazi Robocalls Target Andrew Gillum In Florida Governor Race

The ugly call features a speaker who pretends to be the black candidate, using an exaggerated dialect, as drums and jungle sounds play in the background.

Florida voters started receiving ugly robocalls Friday targeting Democrat Andrew Gillum, the African-American candidate for governor, that are linked to a neo-Nazi website in Idaho, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

In the automated phone calls, someone speaking in an exaggerated dialect pretends to be Gillum as drums and jungle noises can be heard in the background.

A voice says at the end of the call that it was funded by The Road to Power, an Idaho neo-Nazi website and video podcast, according to the newspaper.

At one point in an audio of the call obtained by NBC, the speaker says that blacks “done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an’ stone.” The caller also says he’ll pass a law letting black people escape arrest if “fo’ sho he didn’t do nothin.”

The same white supremacy site has been linked to robocalls in Iowa about the death of college student Mollie Tibbetts, who was allegedly killed by an immigrant, the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday. The group is also believed to be responsible for similar racist, anti-immigrant or anti-Semitic phone calls in California and Oregon, and in Charlottesville, Virginia, after the deadly attack there last year during a white nationalist march.

A Florida woman with a biracial daughter who received the call targeting Gillum told the Tallahassee paper that she became very emotional when she heard it.

Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan told the newspaper said the calls were “reprehensible” and clearly came from “someone with intentions to fuel hatred and seek publicity.”

Race quickly became an issue in the Florida gubernatorial contest when Gillum’s Republican rival, Rep. Ron DeSantis, made comments that were widely viewed as a dog whistle to racists. DeSantis, strongly supported by President Donald Trump, said on Fox News after Tuesday’s primary that the “last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda.” Gillum won the Democratic primary Tuesday, becoming the first black nominee for Florida governor.

A spokesman for DeSantis on Friday condemned the robocalls targeting Gillum as “absolutely appalling and disgusting” and said he hoped “whoever is behind this has to answer for this despicable action,” NBC reported. 

The neo-Nazi robocalls about Tibbetts echo Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric about her death. Trump, who offered no condolences to Tibbetts’ family, instead railed this month that her accused killer was believed to be an undocumented immigrant.

Tibbetts’ family has complained about Trump turning the tragedy into a political issue. A relative wrote to Trump on Facebook: “It is not your right to exacerbate this grievous act by hijacking Mollie and all she believed with your racist fear-mongering.” 

Authorities confirmed to NBC that the Tibbetts’ robocalls were created by The Road to Power, but there’s little they can do about them. A spokesman for the Iowa attorney general’s office told the network Friday that it’s a “tricky First Amendment issue” because there’s no apparent effort to deceive anyone for commercial gain.

The calls, characterizing Tibbetts’ alleged killer as an “invader from Mexico,” refer to comments made by Tibbetts’ father defending Latinos at his 20-year-old daughter’s funeral Sunday.

“The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans,” Rob Tibbetts said, the Des Moines Register reported.

He also said it’s time to “turn the page. We’re at the end of a long ordeal, but we need to turn toward life — Mollie’s life — because Mollie’s nobody’s victim. Mollie’s my hero.” 

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