This post has been updated. See note at bottom.
Republican DC Council candidate Michael Bekesha has been running a sort of balance-beam campaign in which he positions himself as a moderate, socially progressive “urban Republican” while continuing to work for the right-wing, pro-Trump organization Judicial Watch. That dance got a lot harder to pull off this weekend, after a clip made the rounds on Twitter of Judicial Watch’s Chris Farrell on Lou Dobbs Tonight pushing what seems to be an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of the type that fueled the Pittsburgh shooter this weekend. The SVP of programming at Fox Business News has now condemned Farrell’s comments, and Farrell has reportedly been banned from both Fox News and Fox Business.
But what does Bekesha think? Having interviewed the candidate not long ago, I wanted to know how he would respond to a top leader at his organization spreading this kind of thing on national TV. So on Sunday morning, I sent him an email to find out.
In our previous conversation, Bekesha hadn’t been eager to talk about Judicial Watch, and he replied to my question with what’s essentially a careful dodge. Here’s the exchange:
If people Google you, they’re going to see that you work at Judicial Watch, which has gone after the Mueller investigation and is closely aligned with Trump. They’re going to see you working with the Daily Caller News Foundation and appearing on Breitbart News Daily. Is that a person who Trump haters are going to feel comfortable voting for?
Look, my professional history is out there. I’m not hiding from it. I’m proud of everything I’ve done. But I’m not here to defend Judicial Watch. I’m running as an individual. I will say I am proud of what I’ve worked on there. I think transparency is an important issue. I’m a big proponent of that regardless of who’s in office. There are a lot of people who probably work for organizations but don’t agree with their organizations 100 percent.
But after Saturday’s horrific events, that no longer seems—if it ever did—like a sustainable position. If one of the people who runs your company is publicly pushing the kinds of things Farrell is, either you stand up directly against them or you don’t.
Bekesha responded to my email by attaching a PDF with a statement:
I want to be entirely clear. I condemn all hate speech, bigoted beliefs, and conspiracy theories. The rhetoric we hear on cable news and on social media does nothing but divide us. As I have said throughout my campaign and I will say again, it must stop.
As our society becomes more and more divisive, our conversations with neighbors about race, religion, and politics are becoming few and far between. It’s a large reason why I’m running for office. We are facing serious issues in Ward 6 and the District generally with respect to public safety, housing affordability, and our schools. Yet, our elected officials do not seem to have a vision to move us forward. The status quo does not work for everyone.
For the past three weeks, I have taken leave from my day job to reach more residents, learn their stories, and discuss with them how we can move forward to tackle our most difficult problems. This has been my focus and is my focus for the next nine days. And, if I am fortunate enough to receive the support from my Ward 6 neighbors, it will continue to be my only focus for the next four years.
While voters will be happy to hear he condemns hate speech and conspiracy theories, many will no doubt think this does not go nearly far enough. Notably, the statement does not mention Pittsburgh, Farrell, or Judicial Watch (although he does refer to it obliquely as “my day job” in the context of sharing the irrelevant information that he took a few weeks off to campaign).
Wanting more specifics, I sent him a quick followup email:
“Thanks for sending the statement. But I’m interested in your reaction to this particular person–a top leader of the organization you work for–saying this specific thing. And should responsible organizations and individuals continue to work with people who go on national tv and spread the kind of hate speech and conspiracy theories you condemn in your statement?”
“I refer you to the statement. Thank you.”
So I tried again:
“The statement doesn’t address what I’m asking. You’re declining to comment on the statements made by Farrell? I am certain DC voters would like to know how you feel about that specifically, given your relationship to him.”
And here’s what he wrote back:
“I did not decline to comment. My statement is in response to your questions. Once again, I condemn all hate speech, bigoted beliefs, and conspiracy theories.”
I gave it one last shot:
“I am asking you specific questions that the statement does not address. Do you want to comment on those or no?”
Bekesha never responded.
Update 10/31: Bekesha wrote on Twitter that he condemns “all hate speech, including the phrase used by my colleague.”
As I said in my statement, I condemn all hate speech, including the phrase used by my colleague. It’s an anti-Semitic dog whistle that shouldn’t have been used. It is the same vein as the one used by CM Trayon White.
— Michael Bekesha (@Bekesha2018) October 31, 2018