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‘Winning’ Anti-Gay Religious Right Candidate Mired in Ballot Fraud Inquiry Drops Demand to be Seated in Congress

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North Carolina GOP candidate Mark Harris from one of his campaign ads

North Carolina’s state board of elections has spent the week hearing testimony in an investigation of suspected absentee ballot fraud that prevented the board from certifying what had appeared to be a narrow 2018 election victory for Religious Right candidate Mark Harris in North Carolina’s ninth congressional district. Late on Thursday the board voted to hold a new election to fill the seat.

One dramatic high point of the hearings came on Wednesday, when Harris’s son John testified that he had warned his father against hiring the campaign operative at the center of the fraud allegations. Another came on Thursday, when Harris eventually reversed his previous efforts to be seated in Congress and said he believed a new election should be held. WBTV’s Nick Ochsner live-tweeted the proceedings.

Harris is a pastor and a Religious Right favorite who was supported by Karen Pence, “historian” David Barton, Christian nationalist David Lane, and Trump-promoting “prophet” Lance Wallnau, among others.

John Harris testified that he had repeatedly warned his parents that Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless was a “shady character.” When Mark Harris took the stand on Thursday, and was asked how to reconcile his son’s testimony with his previous public statements that no one warned him about Dowless, Harris said “I did not believe John’s emails to be a warning.” Responded one board member, “It’s painfully clear your son meant, ‘Daddy, don’t mess with this guy.’”

In fact, the very reason his son was concerned about Dowless—the consultant’s involvement in dubious primary election results in 2016, when Harris narrowly lost a challenge to incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger—is the reason Harris was so intent on hiring him for his 2018 rematch. He wanted to win and thought Dowless could deliver.

As the Washington Post reported last year, “One person said Harris’s decision to hire Dowless stemmed partly from his realization that he would have defeated Rep. Robert Pittenger” in 2016 if he had won the mail-in vote in Bladen County by as large a margin as a different challenger—one who had hired Dowless—did.

The improbable 2016 primary returns—the incumbent congressman got just one mail-in vote from the county, Harris got four, and the candidate who hired Dowless got 221—was a red flag to Harris’s son that Dowless was not just encouraging people to request and use mail-in ballots, but was illegally collecting them. That is what Dowless is charged with doing on Harris’s behalf last year—perhaps completing empty ballots or neglecting to return those marked for another candidate. Dowless has denied breaking the law, but state investigators said on Monday they had uncovered evidence of “a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operated during the 2018 general election in Bladen and Robeson counties.” Harris denied knowing about any wrongdoing.

Last November, when the state election board decided not to certify the election, Harris had already been in D.C. taking part in events for newly elected members of Congress. In January, as other members of the 2018 class were being sworn in, Harris asked a court to require that the board certify him as the winner, saying “there should be no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the outcome.” On Thursday, he abandoned that position.

Harris, a pastor affiliated with the Family Research Council, became known in politics as an anti-LGBTQ activist. He was an ally of the anti-LGBTQ Behnam brothers in opposing a Charlotte nondiscrimination law. Harris had also helped organize and finance the 2012 Amendment One campaign to place a ban on same-sex couples marrying into the state constitution.  He made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate but he was defeated in the 2014 primary.

When Harris took on Pittenger for the second time in 2018, he portrayed the primary as a battle for “the heart and soul of the Republican Party.” The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins celebrated Harris’s primary upset—now also tainted. The Christian Broadcasting Network reported that Christian nationalist David Lane was among Harris’s “staunchest supporters.”

“There is no realm that God has made an exception for that He doesn’t intend for believers to be salt and light,” Harris told the Christian Broadcasting Network after his primary win. “Every arena God expects us to be engaged.”

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, traveled to North Carolina to campaign for Harrislast October as part of a “Women for Mark Harris” bus tour; also appearing was Debbie Meadows, wife of Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Mark Meadows. At that event, Elizabeth Johnston, a.k.a. “Activist Mommy,” said Harris had assured her that he would end abortion, “No exceptions.” Academic-turned-Religious Right activist Carol Swain said Harris was among the “godly” men and women answering God’s call to service in office. Christian TV host Donica Hudson declared, “It is a God mission that we are on.”

RELATED STORIES:

ELECTIONS BOARD FINDS EVIDENCE OF ‘COORDINATED’ FRAUD TO SUPPORT ANTI-LGBT PREACHER’S ELECTION TO CONGRESS

 

This article originally appear at Right Wing Watch and is reprinted here by permission.

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‘Fear-Driven Alliance’: Conservative Explains Why Far-Right CPAC ‘Opportunists’ and ‘Paranoids’ Are Meeting in Hungary

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The rise of authoritarianism and fascism growing within the Republican Party was discussed by the opening panel on MSNBC’s “The Reidout” on Friday.

Host Joy Reid noted how the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is being held in Hungary this year, which is ruled by strongman Viktor Orbán.

“They have elections, of a sort, but also hamper voters’ abilities to make informed choices and heavily control the outcome that the elections are essentially a show,” she explained. “These are the autocratic dreams of a far-right leader obsessed with solidifying a Christian monoculture and who, in 2014, declared his intention to build an illiberal new state citing China, Russia and Turkey as role models. Flash forward to today where CPAC, the once conservative gathering that is now simply a cesspool of the far-right running amok, is holding its conference in Budapest.”

For analysis, Reid interviewed conservative writer Tom Nichols.

Nichols warned “there is a nihilistic, fear-driven alliance here with a group of opportunists, and I want to get back to this issue of about Hungary, the really dangerous thing here is that some of these people believe very deeply in — in some of this stuff and yet others, and I would say people like [Tucker] Carlson and Matt Schlapp and some of the other people capering about in Budapest, don’t believe in any of this and don’t believe in anything of this other than the extension of their own personal power and wealth.

“And when you have this coalition of shallow, empty opportunists along with with a group of paranoids, basically, then you have a really dangerous movement because each side has to keep upping the ante to kind of justify why they are doing the things they are doing,” he explained.

“A lot of this is an act, but the problem is you then paint yourself into a corner… You have to start actually trying to put forward policies and carry things out that, that make you look as if you believe the things that you’re doing. And then after a while, whether it’s an act or its opportunism is no longer relevant: You have become the thing you’ve been prancing about and pretending to be,” he explained.

Watch the segment below or at this link.

 

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LGBTQ Student Says He’s Being Blocked From Running for Class President After Suspension Over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Protest

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A 17-year-old gay Florida high school student who was suspended after organizing a highly-successful statewide protest against Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law now says school officials are blocking him from running for class president.

Jack Petocz was suspended for four days, he and school administrators say, for handing out several hundred small LGBTQ Pride flags just before the walkout that drew hundreds of his classmates at Flagler Palm Coast High School and thousands of students across the Sunshine State. The walkout he organized was approved by school administrators although reports at the time say barely hours before it began he was told to cancel it. That order allegedly came one day after a school board member who has opposed Petocz in the past toured his school.

Now Petocz wants to run for senior class president.

In a letter he posted to Twitter he says school officials told him there would be no additional disciplinary action against him after his suspension but, he says, one month later they “broke this verbal agreement and placed a level 3 referral on my record. Now, due to this high level of discipline, I am being prevented from running for senior class president. I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred. I’ve emailed administration and the principal numerous times, they’re simply ignoring me.”

NBC News reports “school district spokesman Jason Wheeler said Flagler Schools was not permitted to speak about individual students’ disciplinary records. Requirements for individual on-campus clubs or organizations are set by the schools or clubs themselves, he said.”

Literary and human rights organization PEN America is honoring Petocz this month, the Associated Press reported.

RELATED –
‘We Say Gay’: Thousands of Students Across Florida Walk Out to Protest DeSantis-Backed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

“Jack Petocz is leading his generation in fighting back against book bans and legislative efforts to police how individual identities can be discussed in schools,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

This week he picked up support from U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), Florida’s former governor who is running again to be governor.

 

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Donald Trump Took a Direct Role in Developing a Legal Strategy to Overturn Election Loss Says Coup Memo Author Eastman

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John Eastman revealed Friday in a court filing that he routinely communicated with Donald Trump either directly or through “six conduits” in the weeks ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The right-wing attorney asked a federal judge to maintain attorney-client privilege over his work for the former president, and the late-night filing gave the clearest view yet of the communications between Trump and the battalion of attorneys and allies helping his effort to remain in power despite losing the election, reported Politico.

The filing shows Trump took a direct role in those efforts, describing “two hand-written notes from former President Trump about information that he thought might be useful for the anticipated litigation,” which Eastman is looking to shield, and the attorney also said he spoke directly to the former president about legal challenges in states he lost.

Eastman wants to prevent the House select committee from obtaining 600 emails related to his so-called “coup memo,” which sought to enlist Mike Pence and GOP-led state legislatures to overturn the 2020 election outcome, and he also asked U.S. District Court Judge David Carter of California to shield his contacts with state legislators to discuss appointing pro-Trump electors in state Joe Biden had won.

IN OTHER NEWS: A GOP power grab shatters 30 years of political progress for Black voters in Galveston County

The filing does not identify the White House officials and attorneys he communicated with during that period, but some of those attorneys — including Kurt Olsen and Bruce Marks — filed declarations supporting Eastman’s claims about his work for Trump.

Eastman also reveals that he exchanged a dozen emails with Fox News host Mark Levin, whom he doesn’t identify by name but whom he describes as “an individual who, in addition to his role as a radio talk show host, is also an attorney, former long-time President (and current board Chairman) of a public interest law firm, and also a former fellow at The Claremont Institute.”

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