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Researcher: Duncan Hunter's Use Of Racist Rhetoric Panders To Some Voters' Baser Instincts

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, leaves his hearing, Sept. 24, 2018.
Nicholas McVicker
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, leaves his hearing, Sept. 24, 2018.
Researcher: Duncan Hunter Use Of Racist Rhetoric Panders To Voter's Baser Instincts
Researcher: Duncan Hunter Use Of Racist Rhetoric Panders To Voter's Baser Instincts GUEST:John Sepulvado, host, The California Report

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh as the November election draws near. Campaigning for the 15th Congressional District has drifted away from the issues and zeroed in on what researchers are calling bigoted rhetoric. CBS's Jade Hindmon reports radical must apply for this is the voice of Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter at a campaign event last month. Radical Islam is. It's good to see in our city what Hunter describes as radical Islamist propaganda is an anti bullying program that focused on Islamophobia. This speech came hours after Hunter appeared in court on federal charges of misusing campaign funds a case he claims is politically motivated. He slammed federal prosecutors and his opponent Yasser Arafat he changed his name from Yasser Shah to the. Amar camp in Ahar is the Democratic challenger in the race for the 58. He says he was named after his father not Arafat and eventually changed his middle name to give honor to his mother. Hunter's campaign says any claims of that speech being Islamophobic are pure political nonsense. But researchers say Hunter's rhetoric is racist. Professor Brian Levin is the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at CSU San Bernardino. This is the leading edge of something we're seeing socio politically. We are seeing a mainstreaming of nationalist and racially and ethnically emersed not racially and ethnically tinged but emersed rhetoric that rhetoric is being echoed by some of Hunter's supporters. People maintain attitudes based on three things emotion cognition and then there's the behavioral aspect. Many people today are hearing a story that resonates with them emotionally and the banks don't necessarily need to light up. Levin says factual currency is worth a lot less than today's sociopolitical world than it was before in part because people can revert back to group echo chambers on social media where facts don't necessarily have currency. But anecdotes and fear do it make society right down to congressional districts more fragmented and tribal. We've seen social media and other types of communication become weaponized. The idea is typed out on social media eventually spill out into the real world Levin says. Over the years hate crimes and incidents of bigotry have gone down but recently that changed in San Diego and across the country during political season when you a hot button issues we sometimes see an increase in bigoted behavior particularly against certain groups and we've seen that in the past and we're seeing it repeated. We believe now recent research shows 42 percent of Americans polled think white people are currently under attack. Levin says for those people fear often trumps facts some of the research has indicated that there are large swaths of white Americans who believe that their status is being challenged and that comes into a whole array of fears. Levin says hot button political issues often stoked the fire as elections draw near. Whether it's immigration a Muslim ban of movement that says black lives matter to LGBTQ equality or Mexican Palestinian running for Congress there is anxiety for some over the changing demographics in America. Now that fear and anxiety is pushing bigotry and racism into the mainstream conversation and the race for the 15th Congressional District. Bottom line is that line between dog whistle and bullhorn with respect to contemporary politics has now eroded. It is gone. Jade Hindman CBS News. Joining me now is John SAPOL widow host of The California Report. He's just done a story on the most recent polling in the fiftieth district. And John welcome to the program. Thanks for having me again. Congressman Duncan Hunter won the June primary by 48 percent of the vote to mark camp in a jar's 16 percent. So it has been considered near impossible for a campaign ajar to cross that gap. What are those numbers looking like now. Well the funny thing is is that we're not seeing any increase based on any of the polling and this is going back months for. Representative Duncan Hunter. Now remember that Representative Hunter has represented this district for quite some time. And his father has also represented this district for quite some time which would seem to suggest that voters already have an idea of who this man is and how they feel about him. That is both good and bad for Amar Kampen and. What we're seeing is is that he's pulling right into an even race especially after this ad that we just heard about came out anywhere between forty four percent for Kampen ajar 45 for Duncan Hunter. Another poll had it at 46 48 and we're seeing that he as well is within striking distance but he's not getting over that hump that needs to win and regardless of how you look at it Marine it's clear that for Representative Duncan Hunter who won this district by 30 points the last election he has fallen out of favor with many in his district. Now polling before the ad after Hunter's Federal indictment still showed him with a considerable lead. This poll that you're referring to was taken after Duncan Hunter started the attack ads on cap in a jar. Now is there any way to know if there's a cause and effect here. Are voters reacting negatively to those ads. We don't know for sure because that question wasn't asked in any of the polls I saw but you're absolutely right that the polling before that ad came out showed Duncan Hunter with a 10 point lead. That's according to Monmouth University and the polling after by the L.A. Times and the University of California Berkeley showed a tight race and that was done after the fallout of that as happened in that jives with what we're seeing into internal Democratic polls. But what we are seeing regardless is a swift reaction. Let's remember as Jade was just talking about in the 15th District. This is an area that has the most Iraqis outside of Iraq besides Michigan. And this is an area and I'm saying this as somebody who went to high school in this district. This is an area where a lot of people either minorities or refugees or other groups that have been ostracized in other countries have come to and sought a new life. So this idea that a grandson is responsible for the actions of their grandfather or for their family is not something that necessarily sits well with a lot of the people who live in this district. In your latest reporting John you say that national security experts have condemned Duncan Hunter's ad saying it could be used as propaganda among Islamic extremists. Can you explain that. Sure. So propaganda by these extremists. It's often pulled from official U.S. sources and that was always one of the big worries with President Donald Trump because he has spoken so forcefully against what he believes to be problems with within Muslim countries and with Muslims themselves. And so when something like this is put out by an official who represents people in the U.S. it helps push folks who according to these experts and helps push folks who perhaps feel marginalized or who perhaps are angry specifically young men as and as a recruitment tool. And so that's something that it's not new to Representative Duncan Hunter it's something that has been incredibly watched and observed since you know since the attacks on September 11th in fact it's one of the reasons that President Bush George W. Bush said he wouldn't use certain words including fanatical extremists or Islamic extremists or radical Islam because it was something that was used as a recruitment tool. I think it's also important to note that this ad did resonate for some people you know the times of San Diego had received an audio recording of Duncan Hunter before he this ad came out where he essentially said the same thing to a group of people and you can hear the audience there are some who agreed right with him. In fact he said that you know Muslims are a danger to the United States. He said that and there were people who cheered for him. So this clearly does have an audience in this district. The problem is is that it has repercussions that are far beyond the borders of San Diego. There have been very nasty campaign ads aired in previous years and often as you say they worked with voters. But it sounds like in your reporting you've gotten the sense that things are slightly different now for this ad in the 15th District. This is really presenting two very different visions for voters. One is a multicultural more open world. This is what Amar Kampen ajar is is really pursuing. And then we see this other world which is more nationalistic closed borders trade protections and definitely more in line with standard traditional identity politics. The other thing I think that's really important is is that it's not just representative Hunter's district we're seeing across the country people really play. When I say people I mean the GOP really play on existing fears within their districts. There is another congressman who's been indicted in New York he ran ads attacking the fact that his Democratic challenger spoke Korean. We saw there were other ads in the south were essentially questioning whether people were working as part of a Muslim plot. The problem with this is that it stokes fears and the problem with this is that we have seen this type of rhetoric then be used not just out of the country to recruit but within the country we've seen a mood for hate. One of the things that I've reported a lot on is. All right and just this morning we were seeing flyers pop up in colleges across California that were incredibly anti-Semitic. They carry the same theme that this ad did which is that there is an us and there is an other and that we should be afraid of the other and that can have dangerous violent consequences if it gets out of hand. I've been speaking with John Sepúlveda host of The Kalifornia report. John thank you. Thank you for having me.

As the November election draws near, campaigning for the 50th Congressional District has drifted away from the issues and zeroed in on what researchers are calling bigoted rhetoric.

Much of the rhetoric is heard from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, in a recent recording captured by Ken Stone of the Times of San Diego at a September campaign event in Ramona.

“Radical Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government,” Hunter can be heard saying. “You have radical Islamist propaganda being pushed on kids in our San Diego school district.”

What Hunter describes as radical Islamist propaganda was actually an anti-bullying program that focused on Islamophobia.

The speech came hours after Hunter appeared in court on federal charges of misusing campaign funds, a case he claims is politically motivated. He slammed federal prosecutors and his Democratic challenger, Ammar Campa Najjar, alleging he was named after Yasser Arafat.

Campa-Najjar has said he was named after his father, not Arafat. Campa-Najjar said he eventually changed his name to pay homage to his mother.

RELATED: Ammar Campa-Najjar On His Race For the 50th Congressional Seat

While critics call Hunter's rhetoric Islamophobic, his campaign has said the allegations are pure political nonsense.

However, Professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at CSU San Bernardino, said the language is racist.

"This is the leading edge of something we are seeing socio-politically and that the rhetoric isn't just tinged with racism, but immersed," Levin said.

That same rhetoric is being echoed by some of Hunter’s supporters.

Retired Navy Capt. Joseph John who appeared in a Hunter ad shared his thoughts on Campa-Najjar during a September rally,

“He was indoctrinated in Gaza until he was 13 years old by the Palestinian Liberation Organization," John said.

Campa-Najjar identifies as Christian. He said he went to a Catholic School in Gaza, left when he was 11 and was raised in San Diego by his mother.

John's comments can be described by what Professor Levin says is fear not based in fact.

“People maintain attitudes based on three things: emotion, cognition and then there is the behavioral aspect. Many people today are hearing a story that resonates with them emotionally and the facts don’t necessarily need to line up,” Levin said.

Levin said factual currency is worth a lot less in today's socio-political world than it was before. In part, because people can revert back to group echo chambers on social media where facts don't hold the same weight as anecdotes and fear. The situation makes society, right down to congressional districts, more fragmented and tribal.

RELATED: Hate Crimes Rise In US Cities and Counties In Time of Division and Foreign Interference

“We’ve seen social media and other types of communication become weaponized,” Levin said.

Research shows hate crimes and incidents of bigotry have recently gone up in San Diego and across the country.

“During political seasons, with hot button issues, we sometimes see an increase in bigoted behavior particularly against certain groups and we've seen that in the past and were seeing it repeated, we believe, now,” Levin said.

VIDEO: Researcher: Duncan Hunter Uses Racist Rhetoric to Pander to Voter's Baser Instincts

Recent research shows 42 percent of Americans polled think white people are currently under attack.

Levin warns, for those people, fear often trumps facts.

“As some of the research has indicated, there are large swaths of white Americans who believe that their status is being challenged and that comes into a whole array of fears,” Levin said.

Levin's research shows hot button political issues often stoke the fire as elections draw near.

Whether it’s immigration, a Muslim ban, a movement that says black lives matter too, LQBTQ equality, women's equality or a Mexican-Palestinian-American running for Congress, Levin said there is fear and anxiety, for some, over the changing demographics in America. Now that same fear and anxiety is pushing bigotry and racism into the mainstream race for the 50th congressional district.

"Bottom line is, the line between dog whistle and bull horn, with respect to contemporary politics, has now eroded. It is gone," said Levin.

Hunter's campaign denied that his rhetoric is Islamophobic.

In an emailed statement, a campaign spokesman said: “This Islamophobic claim is completely contrary to the fact that Congressman Hunter has endorsed a Muslim candidate in Omar Qudrat running for Congress here in San Diego County.”

Researcher: Duncan Hunter's Use Of Racist Rhetoric Panders To Voter's Baser Instincts
As the November election draws near, campaigning for the 50th Congressional District has drifted away from the issues and zeroed in on what researchers are calling bigoted rhetoric.