On Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, a 21-year-old white supremacist named Ryan Palmeter drove up to the Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida’s predominantly Black New Town neighborhood wearing a tactical vest, mask and blue latex gloves. He got out of the car, grabbed his Glock pistol and AR-style rifle emblazoned with swastikas and allegedly killed three people, all of them Black, before turning the gun on himself.
Now, that kind of unbridled violence and hatred is bad enough. But it gets even worse when you add the context that, one day earlier, GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy lashed out at Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a Black woman and a Democrat, calling her and Black author Ibram Kendi “the modern grand wizards of the modern KKK.”
Of course, Ramaswamy didn’t target Congresswoman Pressley by accident. A lifetime activist and champion for justice, Pressley became the first Black woman elected to Boston’s City Council in 2009, and, in 2019, she beat a 10-term incumbent and made history as the first woman of color to be elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In Congress, she’s been relentless in her fight for reproductive justice, justice for immigrants, consumer justice, justice for seniors, justice for workers, justice for survivors of sexual violence, criminal justice reform and healing for those who have experienced trauma.
In short, she’s everything the MAGA Republican can’t stand: a smart, strong woman of color who refuses to sit down and shut up.
Now, though Ramaswamy’s comments are absurd, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he said those things on Friday and Palmeter didn’t gun down three people until Saturday. Maybe he just didn’t understand.
But then he went on CNN’s “State of the Nation” on Sunday and doubled down on his hateful and dangerous rhetoric. In fact, when Dana Bash confronted Ramaswamy with video of him saying, “I’m sure the boogeyman white supremacist exists somewhere in America. I’ve just never met him. … Maybe I’ll meet a unicorn sooner. Maybe they exist too,” Ramaswamy couldn’t acknowledge that white supremacy even exists in America.
Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised because, despite their professed overtures to Black voters, Republicans are not interested in actually talking to Black voters, much less their issues.
The simple fact is that the Republican Party and the MAGA extremists vying to lead that party aren’t serious about bringing along voters of color, bringing people of color into the fold or understanding this country’s ever-changing diversity.
Oh, they want to pretend. They want the occasional photo-op. They may even attend an NAACP function now and again just to complete the illusion. But the only thing they seem to care about is trying to embrace the radical right-wing extremism that has taken over the GOP — anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something. And if you need proof, you don’t have to look any further than Vivek Ramaswamy.
You see, before Ryan Palmeter opened fire at the Dollar General, he went to nearby Edward Waters University, the oldest HBCU in Florida. Luckily, he was immediately spotted, confronted by security guards and left, driving down the road.
That’s where he shot and killed 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr, who was waiting in the Dollar General parking lot. He fired 11 rounds into her car parked outside the store.
Once inside, he took aim at store employee AJ Laguerre and gunned him down while people inside fled out the back door. Laguerre was 19.
Unaware of the danger, 29-year-old Jerrald Gallion was killed as he entered the store with his girlfriend. Luckily, Palmeter missed when he opened fire.
Ryan Palmeter brutally murdered Black Americans because he was a white supremacist. But Vivek Ramaswamy and many in the the Republican Party think white supremacists don’t exist. They think white supremacists are as mythical as unicorns. They think a Black congresswoman who tells the truth is the new grand wizard of the new KKK.
Tell me again why Black folks should vote Republican? I don’t think I heard you over the gunshots.
Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. Follow him on Twitter @afolleyntjuansea.
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