California: Beware the Right Wing Scheme to Take Out Our Progressive Leaders

Margaret Davis
Nov 4, 2017 · 5 min read

California: Beware the Right Wing Scheme to Take Out Our Progressive Leaders

LOS ANGELES — As progressives nationwide look to California as home to an aggressive resistance to the Trump agenda, a nefarious and shadowy Alt-Right coalition is working hard to derail that effort, targeting some of Southern California’s most progressive leaders, trying to undermine them and even attempting remove them from office.

Using tactics straight from the playbooks of Steve Bannon and Alex Jones, the key players are right-wing radio hosts, white nationalists, and agents provocateurs posing as progressive activists in order to destroy progressive leaders. They are targeting members of congress, members of the state legislature, local officials, and even the California Voting Rights Act.

For months, Republicans — led by right-wing shock jocks “John & Ken” — have been pushing for a recall of State Senator Josh Newman. It is an attempt to strip Democrats of the two-thirds supermajority in Sacramento that has resulted in huge progressive victories and buoyed Democrats nationwide. Last week, the Daily Beast reported that Russian bots have been targeting U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, pushing for her ouster from Congress and trying to disrupt Town Hall meetings with her constituents. Over the summer, a mob of white nationalists tried to chase Senate President Kevin de Leon out of a meeting in Santa Monica. Earlier this month, the Alt Right filed a lawsuit challenging provisions of the California Voting Rights Act that have created district lines allowing more accurate representation of Blacks and Latinos.

The Right’s most relentless and focused attacks have been on a local official — Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, the popular progressive representing the city’s Westside. Like Newman, Bonin is the subject of a recall campaign. On the surface, the campaign against Bonin seems like populist voter outrage at controversial city efforts to reduce traffic collisions by slowing speeds and reducing traffic lanes on certain streets. After all, there are few things as fundamental to Los Angeles as anger and frustration over traffic. But behind it is an instigator with a track record of tearing down progressive leaders while pretending to be a die-hard leftie.

The front man for the campaign is “Alt Right Alexis” Edelstein, a former Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention who became a Trump cheerleader during the general election. In the past year, he has become a flesh and blood version of a Russian Facebook bot. Through social media, podcasts and videos, he has repeatedly bashed strong progressive voices such as Ted Lieu, Kamala Harris, Eric Garcetti, Maria Elena Durazo, Anthony Rendon, and Bonin. A few months ago, Edelstein was trying to recall Rendon (who he has repeatedly accused of murder), and has launched his own campaign for Congress, in an effort to unseat Lieu, a particularly strong critic of Trump. (Edelstein has called for Lieu to be investigated for violations of the U.S. Military Uniform Code of Conduct, and presumably for treason, for being simultaneously a Naval officer and a critic of Trump.)

In his campaign against Bonin, Alt-Right Alexis has teamed with KFI Radio’s John & Ken. Alt-Right darlings with a huge audience, they are notorious for opposing the Dream Act and viciously attacking undocumented immigrants. They fiercely condemn unions. Civil rights organizations have attacked them for promoting hate. They played a huge roll in recalling Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Edelstein and other Recall leaders have been on their program several times, including this week. John & Ken are heavily promoting the Bonin recall, and in exchange, the recall effort is heavily promoting John & Ken. The show’s angry and conservative audience has fueled the recall campaign with right-wing rage. Recall supporters have called Bonin a “left wing fantasy looney tunes,” and a “snowflake cuck.” They have repeatedly used homophobic slurs to attack Bonin, who is gay. One of the Recall Bonin ads actually refers to Bonin as a “degenerate.”

Who else is involved with the recall campaign? Alt-Right Alexis and his friends have been raising money since June, and so far have failed to disclose their full list of donors. But some publicly available records show the campaign relying heavily on financial support from Republicans, from developers angry at Bonin’s insistence on affordable housing, from vocal opponents of the minimum wage, from anti-homeless activists in Venice, and from at least one of Bonin’s former opponents (a former lobbyist for Donald Trump). The campaign has accepted scores of anonymous, dark money donations, and Edelstein has been publicly imploring deep-pocketed interests, such as big corporations and Texas millionaires, to donate to the campaign.

Why target Bonin? He is an effective, articulate and accomplished progressive voice in Los Angeles. He has co-authored LA’s $15 minimum wage, wrote the proposed ban on fracking and oil drilling, launched efforts to get the city to 100% clean energy, and championed public financing of elections. He was an architect of the city’s homelessness strategy, and has proposed homeless housing in his own district. He’s made a habit of taking on special interests and fighting for progressive causes, even when it is tough or risky. In retaliation, Alt-Right Alexis and the recall campaign has taken pages from the Bannon-Jones playbook, smearing Bonin with relentlessly repeated (and widely spread) outlandish accusations, manufacturing false data, spouting a litany of lies, and more. By seizing on the issue of traffic, they are trying to dupe Democrats and progressives into supporting their effort — just as they are trying to use support for the controversial gas tax against Newman.

Earlier this month, Edelstein said something ominous — and telling. At an organizing meeting, he said the point of taking out Bonin was to unleash something bigger, to knock out a councilman in the nation’s most progressive city, sending a national message, and encouraging others to follow suit. They are making a serious effort. The campaign has boasted how it is reaching out to former Trump campaign staffers for help, and Edelstein has been touting his ties with Republicans who worked on the recall of Gray Davis. Alt Right Alexis has even hired the lawyer working on the Newman recall.

Make no mistake about it: there is a war to destroy progressive leaders in California at a time when we need them most. It’s broad, manipulative, and increasingly effective. We need to wake up, call it out, and combat it with everything we’ve got.

Steve Bannon-styled strategist and alt right campaign activist Alexis Edelstein