Before her scorched-earth attacks, Loeffler shared a pulpit with Warnock and praised his church
The re-election campaign of Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) is increasingly focused on attacking the theology of her Democratic opponent, Reverend Raphael Warnock. Loeffler's media appearances, campaign events, websites, and TV ads all attack Warnock as a dangerous radical. Here is what Loeffler said during a November 29 interview on Fox News:
[Warnock] has espoused radical views from the pulpit. He is someone that attacked our police officers, calling them gangsters, thugs, bullies, and a threat to our children...he's also said that you can't serve in the military and serve God.
As evidence for this claim, Loeffler cites snippets from Warnock's sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Warnock has served as senior pastor since 2005. The clips are featured on a website created by the Loeffler campaign, RadicalRaphael.com. That site calls him the "most radical and dangerous candidate in America."
The website, citing Warnock's sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church, also calls Warnock "anti-American" and "extreme." Many of the attacks on the website are also featured in television ads. Loeffler's message is not subtle.
But less than a year ago, as Jamil Smith noted, Loeffler had a much different view of Warnock and his church. Although it's not mentioned on Loeffler's website, Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the 1960s. In January, Loeffler visited the church, which she now claims is a platform for Warnock's extremism and hatred, for a MLK Day event. She shared the pulpit with Warnock and praised the work of his church.
In her remarks, Loeffler called Warnock's church a "sacred place" and, with Warnock seated just behind her, said she was "surrounded by men and women who advance the cause of freedom." She specifically praised Ebenezer Baptist Church, under the leadership of Warnock, as a place that "puts words into action."
Warnock spoke shortly after Loeffler, and seemed to anticipate Loeffler's game plan.
I love this day...Leaders, people, and politicians of every stripe falling all over themselves to pay tribute, to offer platitudes, to give lip service to Dr. King. It's MLK weekend and everyone wants to be seen standing where Dr. King stood. That's fine. You're welcome. But if today you would stand in this holy place where Dr. King stood, make sure that come tomorrow we'll find you standing where Dr. King stood.
But Loeffler's criticism of Warnock and his work at Ebenezer Baptist Church are not just hypocritical. They are also inaccurate. She has condensed years of Warnock's sermons into a few soundbites and twisted their meaning beyond recognition.
Loeffler distorts Warnock sermon on the police shooting of Michael Brown
In a Fox News interview last Sunday, Loeffler claimed that Warnock “is someone that attacked our police officers, calling them gangsters, thugs, bullies, and a threat to our children.” This misleading claim has been repeated on her twitter account and in campaign ads.
One Loeffler ad, that has been aired thousands of times since November 12, claims Warnock called police “thugs, gangsters.” Over the last month, it has arguably become one of her most important campaign talking points.
But this claim is inaccurate. Not only does Loeffler misquote Warnock, but she also leaves out the context of Warnock’s remarks. The sermon that is the focus of Loeffler's attack took place in 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri – a city where, less than a year prior, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year old black man.
At the time, Warnock said that the police in Ferguson exhibited “a kind of gangster and thug mentality.” As the Warnock campaign noted, the comment was not about all law enforcement.
Loeffler falsely claims that Warnock embraces Marxism
In the November 29 Fox News interview, Loeffler claims, without any evidence, that Warnock “has espoused Marxism and socialism.” She has repeated this accusation in tweets and ads.
In one ad, the narrator states that Warnock has “praised Marxism in speeches and writing” as a quote from Breitbart that reads “repeatedly praised Marxism” is displayed. Another ad says that “There’s radical. There’s militant. And then there’s Raphael Warnock” and calls Warnock “a Marxist sympathizer who wrote a book condemning capitalism.”
The Loeffler campaign has not identified any speeches where Warnock “praise[d] Marxism.”
The “book” in question, The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness, focuses on the identity and mission of the Black Church. Loeffler’s and Breitbart’s claims hinge on two sentences in the 267-page book. In that passage, Warnock briefly mentions a study written by a sociologist who uses a Marxist view of religion as the underpinnings of his study. While Warnock says “the Marxist critique has much to teach the black church” on social and class analysis, he concludes that the study is flawed.
Rabbis condemn Loeffler's Israel attack
Loeffler is also attacking Warnock for “anti-Israel extremism.” The first piece of evidence listed on her attack site is a sermon in which Warnock calls for a two-state solution – a mainstream position that Loeffler also supports.
Last month, Warnock published an editorial in Jewish Insider titled “I Stand with Israel” where he expressed his support for a two-state solution and wrote, “I wholeheartedly and unabashedly echo Dr. King’s declaration that ‘Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.’”
According to Rabbi Peter Berg, the head of Atlanta’s oldest Jewish congregation, Loeffler's attacks “misrepresent [Warnock's] position on Israel,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
More than 180 rabbis and Jewish faith leaders across Georgia and the U.S. signed a letter last week rejecting attempts to spread falsehoods about Warnock. “We stand with Rev. Warnock and reject the baseless claims and attacks targeting him amid this Senate election. We are also deeply concerned about the possibility that racial bias is driving these false accusations, which we reject in the strongest possible terms,” reads the letter.
Loeffler campaign's Breitbart connection
Loeffler appears to be coordinating with Breitbart, a far-right website with ties to white nationalists, to promote her distorted attacks on Warnock.
On November 30, for example, Breitbart ran a story with the headline "Raphael Warnock: Opioid Crisis Only a Public Health Emergency Because 'the Faces of Human Tragedy Are White and Suburban.'" While Breitbart frames the story as evidence that Warnock is an anti-white radical, he was actually making a straightforward point. The opioid epidemic, which involved many white people, was treated by the government as a public health crisis. The government’s response to the crack epidemic, which involved mostly Black people, was declaring "war."
The video clip of Warnock's sermon that forms the basis of the story was uploaded to YouTube by Loeffler's campaign. But the video is unlisted. That means someone at the Loeffler campaign, directly or indirectly, had to provide the link to Brietbart.
Breitbart, which former Editor-in-Chief Steve Bannon described as "the platform for the alt-right," has been caught coordinating with white nationalists. A BuzzFeed exposé revealed how former Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos effectively crowdsourced columns from neo-Nazis and other racists. During the 2016 campaign "White House senior adviser Stephen Miller regularly emailed Breitbart News editors" to encourage them to cover certain stories. Miller "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols."
Now Loeffler, who has frequently attacked the Black Lives Matter movement, is using Breitbart as a vehicle to attack Warnock.