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Misleading Late Attack on Kathy Barnette in Pennsylvania Senate Race

A late attack ad from a super PAC supporting one of Kathy Barnette’s opponents in the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary makes several misleading claims about Barnette, who has surged in the polls.

  • The ad highlights a Barnette tweet with the hashtags “#BLM #DefundThePolice” to claim she “holds extreme views on race.” But the tweet linked to a video that clearly stakes out Barnette’s opposition to the Black Lives Matter and defund the police movements.
  • The ad says Barnette supported the George Floyd protests, while misleadingly showing images of protesters starting fires — the very kind of violence that Barnette repeatedly denounced in a video cited in the ad.
  • The ad says Barnette “supported a law that released criminals from prison,” without disclosing that the law, known as the First Step Act, was championed and signed by then-President Donald Trump.

Released just days before the May 17 primary, the attack ad against Barnette was created by Honor Pennsylvania, a super PAC supporting one of Barnette’s Republican opponents, Dave McCormick. Although Honor Pennsylvania’s ads have mostly targeted McCormick’s chief opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, recent polling shows Barnette has moved into a statistical tie with Oz and McCormick.

The ad concludes, “Conservatives can’t trust Kathy Barnette.” But the points on which it bases that conclusion are misleading.

Barnette on Black Lives Matter

The narrator in the ad says Barnette, who is Black, “holds extreme views on race.” On screen the ad shows a July 14, 2020, tweet from Barnette that reads “#BLM #DefundThePolice.”

But as Twitter explains, hashtags do not connote support, but rather, “Including a hashtag gives your Tweet context and allows people to easily follow topics that they’re interested in.” And indeed, those are the topics discussed in a video Barnette attached to her tweet. But as she makes clear, contrary to supporting, she vehemently opposes Black Lives Matter and defund the police.

“Defunding the police is stupid, people,” Barnette says in the video. “Abolishing the police is stupid, people. Black people, do not fall for the okey doke. Do not fall for these white liberals who are coming into our communities and telling us we need to remove law enforcement.”

“Black Lives Matter global network incorporated does not care about my Black life,” Barnette says. “It does not care about the Black lives of those who are just trying to work, who are trying to provide for their family, who are keeping their nose clean, who just want to be able to take their Black child across the street to the park with the rest of their Black family.”

“Democrats, I know all of you cannot be falling for this stupidity that Black Lives Matter global network incorporated is really trying to improve the lives of Black people.”

Barnette on Floyd Protests

The ad goes on to say that Barnette “supported the George Floyd protests.” As the narrator says this, the ad shows an image of protesters starting a fire.

To back up its claim, the ad cites a May 31, 2020, video Barnette posted on YouTube in which she discusses Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis a week earlier on May 25, 2020, and the protests the killing sparked around the nation.

In the video, Barnette says, “What happened to George Floyd should never happen to anyone. It is indefensible what was done.” And, she said, she would have protested alongside people in Minnesota seeking justice for Floyd.

“I, like you, wanted to make sure that … George Floyd received justice, and that these four police officers did not get a tap on the wrist,” Barnette said. “I wanted that just like everyone else in this nation. And I can say for a strong certainty that I would have been out there right along beside each and every one of you who were protesting in Minneapolis. I would have been right there. Lock arm and ready to have my voice heard, to make sure that those who are in power recognize that we are watching them and what our expectations are. I would have been right there.”

She said the national response was “a wonderful show of a nation coming together and condemning something that we all found to be reprehensible.”

However, she said what “honestly started as a protest, and for very good reason” was co-opted by white liberals, and descended into rioting, looting and fire-starting, which she said she vehemently opposed.

“Let me tell you something, rioting has nothing to do with honoring George Floyd’s death, or memory,” Barnette said. “Looting has nothing to do with honoring the memory of George Floyd. Creating chaos, assaulting people, destruction, vandalism, setting police cars on fire, running over a police department has absolutely nothing to do with honoring George Floyd’s memory. Absolutely nothing.”

Barnette said she also does not believe police violence against Black people is systemic.

“Listen, there is a reason why many Black Americans feel disenfranchised in America,” Barnette said. “And I will never try to minimize the reasons why many of them feel that way. And yet a lot of what we see is manipulation. It’s the stoking of the flame of the tensions of the history of this nation. For example, many are saying today that what we are experiencing — what happened to George, George Floyd — is systemic racism in our justice system, specifically among police officers. They would have us to believe that there is a police officer like Officer Chauvin, who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, around every street corner. And that everywhere we go, there is a police officer waiting to shoot a Black man. I reject that. And I don’t reject it because I feel like that’s not true. I reject it because it is — statistically is not true.”

Barnette Supports First Step Act

Finally, the ad says Barnette “supported a law that released criminals from prison, including the release of prisoners convicted on weapons charges, sex offenses and homicide.”

The ad cites a July 23, 29109, Fox News story, without making clear it is a reference to Barnette’s support for the First Step Act of 2018 — a bill championed and signed into law by Trump.

The law seeks to reduce the size of the federal prison population through sentencing changes, while maintaining public safety. It received bipartisan support and was hailed by Trump as “groundbreaking criminal justice reform” that he boasted Democrats were not able to get passed. The Senate passed the bill 87-12. While 12 Republicans opposed the bill, and Sen. John Kennedy later claimed that it led to the early release of some violent criminals, it enjoyed overwhelming support from Senate Republicans, including — as Trump noted — conservative senators such as Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Chuck Grassley.

Immediately after making the claim about Barnette’s support for Trump’s policy, the Honor Pennsylvania ad says, “And if that wasn’t crazy enough, Barnette even opposed Donald Trump.”

In her book, “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America,” Barnette acknowledges that she did not support Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

“In all honesty, I was not a Trumper initially,” Barnette wrote. “With the likes of former governor Mike Huckabee, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and Senator Ted Cruz, there was no way on God’s green Earth I was intending to vote for the television and business mogul. We had just too many ‘good’ options to resort to voting for him. Out of the sixteen presidential candidates, Donald Trump was number 16 on my preferred list.”

Barnette said she did not vote for Trump in the Republican primary, but “by the time the general election rolled around I was firmly on the first car of the Trump train.”

The candidates in the Pennsylvania race are seeking to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Trump has endorsed Oz and has criticized Barnette as being unelectable in the general election.

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