Tom Daley
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Reading the Far Right: Defending Comey's Canning, Hating on Handmaids

Reading the Far Right: Defending the Comey Firing,

This week in our reading of far-right media so you don’t have to, we found a lot of people defending Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey and essentially taking Trump’s explanation at face value — even though his explanation keeps changing.

We’re also seeing a lot of hand-wringing over Mark Green’s withdrawal as Army secretary nominee, with commentators saying the anti-LGBT Tennessee state senator is a casualty of the dreaded gay agenda. And some others are decrying The Handmaid’s Tale, the Hulu miniseries based on Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed novel, as an example of liberal paranoia.

It was pretty shocking when Trump announced Comey’s firing last Tuesday. True, some Democrats and others who oppose Trump didn’t care for Comey’s announcement shortly before the election that he had new information on the Hillary Clinton email business. He appeared to promise a bombshell — and there was none, but his announcement still damaged Clinton’s credibility and likely cost her some votes. And some who oppose Clinton didn’t like Comey’s earlier announcement that he saw no reason to prosecute her — they thought the decision wasn’t his to make, and that was one of the “official” reasons given for his dismissal.

But seriously, isn’t Trump’s firing of Comey while the FBI is investigating Russian interference with the presidential election — and whether some Trump associates might have been involved — just a little suspicious?

Nope; nothing to see here, folks. That’s the answer of many in extreme-right media world, with at least one even using that language.

“There’s really nothing to see here, folks,” wrote columnist and radio host Todd Starnes, who’s carried on Townhall and elsewhere in addition to his eponymous website. “There is no smoking gun. There is no Nixonian scandal. In reality, we’re dealing with a bunch of hysterical Democrats shedding crocodile tears and a Mainstream Media full of Ted Baxter journalists who wouldn’t know the truth if it knocked them upside their heads with a cast iron skillet.”

Starnes also called out “the shameful behavior of Republicans in Name Only” such as U.S. Sens. Bob Corker, Ben Sasse, Richard Burr, and especially John McCain, saying they have taken “cheap shots” at the president in their comments on the Comey firing.

The Breitbart News Daily radio show featured Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to Trump, defending the Comey dismissal by saying it shows how “incredibly decisive” the president is.

Gorka, speaking to host Raheem Kassam, summed up the reasons for Comey’s ouster as follows: “When they tell you from one of the field offices that when the director gave that infamous press conference, where for 13 minutes he built a watertight case for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton, and then in the last minute punted and said ‘no, I’ve decided not to recommend prosecution’ — when half of the agents in that field office stood up, as I was told by a reliable source, put on their jackets and left the office for the next four days, then you know your situation is untenable. You’ve lost the institution, Raheem.”

The Breitbart folks also reported without skepticism on White House press secretary Sean Spicer denying that Trump had asked Comey to pledge his loyalty, as sources had told The New York Times. “No,” Spicer said Friday. “The president wants loyalty to this country and to the rule of law.”

And David Limbaugh, brother of Rush, accused Democrats of “counterfeit hysteria” over Comey’s discharge in a column on World Net Daily. “The real scandal is not Trump’s firing Comey — even if Trump’s supporters are unhappy with the timing and the way it was handled and communicated,” he wrote. “The scandal is the liberal establishment’s coordinated conspiracy to falsely allege that Trump stole the presidency by colluding with Russia. Liberals absolutely know that it’s not true, but they will not quit bearing false witness.” Actually, we don’t know that it’s not true. We’re trying to find out.

Trump didn’t do himself any favors when he spoke to NBC News anchor Lester Holt about the Comey affair, saying that he planned to fire Comey regardless of what anyone else in the administration said — contradicting his own official story that Comey’s dismissal came on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But the far-right media types were much more interested in Holt’s performance than any revelation by Trump.

 “For Right-Wing Media, the Big News From Trump's NBC Interview Is That Lester Holt Is Mean,” read the headline on liberal watchdog group Media Matters’ roundup. For instance, after NBC released a clip in advance of the interview’s broadcast Thursday night, Breitbart reported that Holt conducted “an interrogation-like interview in which the NBC personality interrupted Trump nine times and spoke over the president on many of those occasions. … Holt can be seen questioning almost every statement made by Trump.” Well, when interview subjects contradict themselves or give unsatisfactory answers, that’s what journalists are supposed to do.

Sites that are way more fringe than Breitbart were even more critical of Holt, and some were downright racist. Media Matters found several examples. A site called TruthFeed said Holt “treated the president like a damn criminal,” adding, “It’s despicable the level of disrespect that our lying fake news media affords President Trump.” And a neo-Nazi site, Infostormer, described Holt as a “rude Negro.” (And that’s one of the milder statements on that site.)

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The more typical (not neo-Nazi) far-right media outlets are also way upset that Mark Green has taken himself out of the running for secretary of the Army. “Dr. Green was bullied and forced out by a mob of militant gays, Muslims and Democrats,” Todd Starnes wrote in a column carried on his various platforms.

Starnes continued, “Dr. Green was deemed unsuitable because he believes among other things that people should use bathrooms that correspond with their God-given plumbing. He also believes in traditional marriage and that man was created in God’s image.” The columnist noted that Trump, in issuing his “religious freedom” executive order, pledged to end what the president considers bullying of people of faith. Given that, Starnes said, Trump should “stand up to the bullies” and reinstate Green’s nomination.

Well-known homophobe Bryan Fischer, who works for the rabidly anti-LGBT American Family Association, was even more outraged in a column on BarbWire, and some of his wrath was directed at Trump. “The president allowed the yammering, demanding, and hate-filled voices of homosexual activists to shred his own pick to be the next Secretary of the Army,” he wrote.

Fischer went on to mention some data about the high rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicide among transgender people as if these problems were symptomatic of being transgender, not of living in a world full of anti-trans bigotry. He concluded by warning his audience — far-right “Christians” — they can’t depend on Trump. “The bottom line: President Trump flinched,” Fischer wrote. “He will not be, his religious liberty order notwithstanding, America’s defender of the faith. He has chosen sides on the only religious liberty issue that matters today, and he has chosen poorly.”

BarbWire also carried a column by Tony Perkins, president of the likewise anti-LGBT Family Research Council. He didn’t denounce Trump, with whom he has a cozy relationship, but said Green “was maligned, misquoted, and mistreated by liberals desperate to keep a pro-family, pro-gun, pro-freedom, pro-marriage leader from a position of military authority.” And he noted that Green “supported privacy laws like North Carolina’s” — not exactly what we’d call House Bill 2. Perkins further alleged that Eric Fanning, the out gay man who was secretary of the Army during the Obama administration, “wasn’t put under the same scrutiny when he was nominated.”

One more BarbWire contributor, Cliff Kincaid, peppered his article lamenting Green’s withdrawal with quotes from a certain George Draper, author of the book Diversity and Inclusion: What You Don’t Know and Why You Don’t Know It. Kincaid painted Green as a victim of the promotion of diversity and inclusion, using this statement from Draper as backup: “The harsh reality is that literally none of President Trump’s objectives can be accomplished on an enduring basis until the policy of diversity and inclusion (DI) is rescinded as an unlawful attempt to usurp the ‘rule of law’ and the Constitution.” Draper also contended that antidiscrimination policies amount to “preferential treatment” and “a case of quotas over qualifications.” No, they don’t — but this is what people like Kincaid and Draper are selling to their readers.

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Lastly, the extreme right doesn’t much care for the critically lauded miniseries The Handmaid’s Tale, now on Hulu, or its source material, Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel about a Christian right takeover of the U.S. The work envisions a nation in which women and LGBT people have no rights; the titular handmaids are the women pressed into service to bear its leaders’ children.

Some of the series’ stars and creators have commented on its timeliness in the age of Trump, whose administration is obviously hostile to women’s and LGBT rights. But certain right-wing commentators say that’s just crazy paranoia.

“There is no faker news than the notion that America is on the precipice of a Puritan patriarchy under President Donald Trump,” wrote Brent Bozell in a column on Townhall. “But the left pretends it’s real.” No, we just know that old saying about the frog being boiled and not realizing the temperature’s rising. We know to be on our guard against rights being chipped away.

The Advocate will continue to be on guard. We’ll be back next week with more monitoring of the far right, so you don’t have to.

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