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Republicans exploit tragedies and torture families for political gain


Kate Steinle was murdered in 2015 by a felon and undocumented immigrant who had been deported from the United States five times. Her murder was tragic, but not tied to larger patterns, as undocumented immigrants are half as likely to commit crimes as citizens. This year, “Kate’s Law” passed the House, increasing the penalties for undocumented immigrants who cross the border after being deported.

Republicans like Paul Ryan have spent weeks on national television advocating for Kate’s Law and sharing the story of Steinle’s murder. Many grieving families beset by tragedy turn their sorrow into legislative action, like Amber Alerts and the Brady Bill. But Kate Steinle’s family didn’t ask for Kate’s Law, they don’t support ending sanctuary cities, and they want Republicans to stop using Kate’s name. Steinle’s father told the San Francisco Chronicle: “I don’t know who coined ‘Kate’s Law.’ It certainly wasn’t us.” Is the GOP truly honoring Steinle’s memory when they’re causing her family pain? Kate Steinle’s family is only the latest in a long line of casualties of Republican opportunism. Again and again, the GOP uses victims of crime or abuse to score political points while bringing further harm to the victim and their family.

Seth Rich was a 27-year-old DNC staffer murdered on the streets of Washington, D.C. last summer. The police declared the murder a mugging that turned violent, and Rich’s parents agree. Republicans, however, took Rich’s tragic and unsolved murder as an opportunity to invent conspiracy theories designed to damage the Democratic Party (the party that Rich worked for and loved).

Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Tomi Lahren have spread baseless rumors that Rich was murdered by the Clinton campaign for giving emails to Wikileaks. Rich’s parents have begged for the conspiracy theories to stop, to no avail. “There’s grieving and then there’s trying to defend your son’s legacy,” Joel Rich said to The Forward in December. “And that’s where in a way we’re fighting two or three battles.”

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi in 2012. Despite spending spent two years and $7 million investigating, the House found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That hasn’t stopped Republicans from exploiting the Benghazi victims’ death, particularly that of Ambassador Stevens. Last year Donald Trump tweeted, “If you want to know about Hillary Clinton’s honesty and judgment, ask the family of Ambassador Stevens.”

But if you ask the family of Ambassador Stevens, the honesty and judgment they criticize is Trump’s. Ambassador Stevens’ mother wrote to the New York Times, saying: “As Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s mother, I am writing to object to any mention of his name and death in Benghazi, Libya, by Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party. I know for certain that Chris would not have wanted his name or memory used in that connection. I hope that there will be an immediate and permanent stop to this opportunistic and cynical use by the campaign.”

Pizzagate is one of the most far-fetched conspiracy theories Republicans have invented, but that hasn’t stopped it from spreading across the internet thanks to conservative figures like InfoWars’ Alex Jones and Breitbart’s Paul Joseph Watson. Pizzagate is, in short, a conspiracy theory that Democrats are running a child sex ring through pizza parlors (the conspiracy theory sometimes goes further to include Satanism and cannibalism, as well). While Republicans pursuing this cockamamie conspiracy theory claim they’re doing so to help children, they are causing harm to actual child victims of sex trafficking. They share unblurred photos of children, clog real tip lines, and make actual victims of abuse less likely to be believed.

And of course, Pizzagate culminated in Edgar Welch coming into Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor, firing an AR-15 rifle, and holding the employees and customers hostage. He was in search of children in the basement, despite Comet Ping Pong not having a basement and, of course, not being a front for a child sex ring. It’s a pizza parlor.

The list goes on. In January Republicans started an online firestorm about what they deemed the “BLM kidnapping,” — a case of four teenagers who illegally held and tortured another teenager. Twitter conservatives, led by Breitbart’s Paul Joseph Watson, claimed that the teenagers were members of Black Lives Matter simply because they were Black and their victim was white. These conspiracy theorists failed to mention the victim’s disability. They claimed to be on his side, wanting justice for him — while purposefully ignoring the ableism inherent in the crime because it didn’t fit their race-based narrative.

An 18-year-old disabled man was abused, which fits a pattern — people with developmental disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to be abused than people without them — but the conservatives making the story national news didn’t care about that. They only cared about using this young man’s pain to harm the Black Lives Matter movement, which had nothing to do with the crime. And in so doing, that young man was exploited all over again.

For months, Republicans online screamed at me that Hillary Clinton is evil because as a public defender, she defended a rapist. I am a rape survivor, and I believe that all people deserve a vigorous defense under the law. That’s the cornerstone of our justice system. I also believe that anyone harassing a rape victim online about the subject of rape is not an advocate for rape victims. They simply wanted a way to harm Hillary Clinton, and using rape victims to harm a politician is abhorrent.

Republicans frequently argue that their anti-Muslim policies support LGBT people and women because they claim that in some parts of the Arab world, gays are thrown off of buildings and women can’t drive. None of the Republican Party’s Islamophobia is driven by a genuine desire to help LGBT people and women, and it’s especially cruel to issue Muslim Bans that they claim are for our safety while passing anti-trans bathroom bills and defunding Planned Parenthood. Republicans don’t care about Kate Steinle, Seth Rich, Ambassador Stevens, child victims of sex trafficking, disabled victims of abuse, rape victims, LGBT people, or women. They are simply willing to exploit our pain for their own political gain, harming and traumatizing victims and their families even further.

Photo: Tony Alter/Creative Commons