Radio, TV and digital website ads from a group headed by a former senior adviser to Donald Trump accuse President Joe Biden and the left of “racism against white people” and “anti-white bigotry.” But in context, some of the claims about the alleged “anti-white” policies and statements don’t hold up.
“When did racism against white people become OK?” the radio ad begins, according to Politico. “Joe Biden put white people last in line for Covid relief funds. Kamala Harris said disaster aid should go to nonwhite citizens first. Liberal politicians block access to medicine based on skin color. Progressive corporations, airlines, and universities all openly discriminate against white Americans. Racism is always wrong. The left’s anti-white bigotry must stop. We are all entitled to equal treatment under the law.”
The ad comes from America First Legal, an organization founded by longtime Trump aide Stephen Miller. According to the New York Times, America First Legal has spent more than $5 million on radio ads this year, with ads running in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas. Politico calls the “anti-white bigotry” ad “one of the most openly race-based spots of the cycle.”
In addition to the ads, the group has been aggressive in filing legal challenges to government policies it contends give preferential treatment to Black and Hispanic people or other minorities.
For example, when the Small Business Administration established the Restaurant Revitalization Fund in March 2021 to provide emergency assistance to restaurants and bars impacted by COVID-19, it set up a 21-day “priority period” only open to small businesses that are at least 51% owned by women, veterans and those deemed “socially and economically disadvantaged.” Socially disadvantaged people were defined as “those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias because of their identity as a member of a group without regard to their individual qualities.”
America First Legal brought a lawsuit on behalf of business owners in Texas for what Miller called a “deplorable and unconstitutional scheme that sent restaurant owners — on the basis of their race — to the back of the line for a limited pool of funds.” That lawsuit and two others were successful; federal courts said the prioritization for those disadvantaged because of race or gender was unconstitutional, though veterans could be prioritized. The SBA halted payments on priority applications.
The TV version of the ad cites an article about that issue as the ad’s narrator claims, “Joe Biden put white people last in line for COVID relief funds.” But even in the original language of the policy, that’s not accurate, since women, veterans and economically disadvantaged people could be white people.
America First Legal has also launched disputes with companies, including Starbucks, Amazon and Kontoor Brands Inc., for policies the group contends were discriminatory against whites. The group, for example, filed a civil rights complaint against Starbucks, which in 2020 announced its goal of “advancing social and racial equity,” including mentorship and leadership acceleration programs for people of color.
It also has gone after federal agencies, such as the USDA for what the AFL called a “racially discriminatory farm loan-forgiveness program” (which was later repealed), and educational institutions, including Princeton, Harvard and the University of Michigan for offering programs that exclude whites.
We did not get a response from America First Legal to our request seeking backup for the ads’ specific claims. But we’ve seen some of these claims before. And in at least two instances, the rhetoric does not match the facts.
Harris’ comments in context
Again, the radio ad says, “Kamala Harris said disaster aid should go to nonwhite citizens first.” In October, we fact-checked a claim by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida and other conservative commentators and news outlets that the vice president said hurricane relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be based on race.
“Harris said … that, you know, if you have a different skin color, you’re going to get relief,” Scott said in an Oct. 2 interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The following day, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted at Harris: “Hurricanes do not discriminate. And neither should the federal government giving aid to people suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Ian. Is your husband’s life worth less bc he’s white?”
But we found that Harris’ words were being lifted out of context.
Both the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and the White House press secretary said that hurricane aid would be distributed based on need and would help everyone who needs it.
“We are going to be there to support everybody that needs help,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who appeared on “Face the Nation” shortly after Scott.
At a press briefing on Oct. 3, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about Republican claims that Harris had said “people of color will get an advantage of some kind with the rebuilding efforts.” Jean-Pierre said the administration is “committed to quickly getting resources to all communities impacted,” insisting Harris’ remarks have been distorted.
Jean-Pierre, Oct. 3: So that is not what the vice president said. The vice president was clearly talking about long-term investment, not FEMA aid, for hurricane response efforts. The vice president and the president have been clear that the federal government has been and will continue to be there for all Americans recovering from these devastating storms. … We are committed to quickly getting resources to all communities impacted, period, full stop. But we also know that some people, particularly in lower-income communities, have a hard time accessing that help. That’s why this administration has also made it a priority to remove barriers and ensure that everyone, regardless of their ZIP Code, can access federal resources. And that’s what she was talking about.
The Harris remarks in question came during an interview with actress Priyanka Chopra at a Democratic National Committee forum on women’s leadership on Sept. 30.
Chopra, who is from India, brought up Hurricane Ian in the context of the need for a global response to climate change and the need to help “the poorest countries [that] are affected the most.”
Harris talked about the “$370 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act dedicated to address the climate crisis” as an example of America’s leadership on addressing climate change. She then talked more generally about “disparities” and said that when she served as district attorney of San Francisco, “I started one of the first environmental justice units of any DA’s office in the country focused on this issue. And in particular on the disparities, as you have described rightly, which is that it is our lowest income communities and our communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme conditions and impacted by issues that are not of their own making. … And so, we have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity; understanding that not everyone starts out at the same place. And if we want people to be in an equal place, sometimes we have to take into account those disparities and do that work.”
Harris then discussed a recent meeting she had with prime ministers of Caribbean countries and noted that while the U.S. is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, Caribbean countries that are among the lowest emitters in the world are disproportionately affected by climate change via erosion of their islands.
“So there is still a lot of work to be done to recognize the equities,” Harris said. “And I will say, for us, as the United States, to own responsibility for what we rightly should do to recognize these disparities and contribute in a way that is fair with the goal of equitable priorities.”
As we said then, readers can judge for themselves what Harris meant to say. What the vice president talked about, though, was the “work to be done to recognize the equities” needed to help low-emitting, poorer countries often bearing the brunt of the consequences of climate change, and the need in the U.S. to make sure that low-income communities and communities of color are not left behind in long-term mitigation plans.
Access to medicine
As for the ads’ claim that “liberal politicians block access to medicine based on skin color,” back in January, we fact-checked a similar claim by Trump. “The left is now rationing life-saving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating, just denigrating, white people to determine who lives and who dies. If you’re white, you don’t get the vaccine or if you’re white, you don’t get therapeutics,” he claimed.
As we wrote then, no one was being denied access to vaccines. The White House made clear it had enough vaccine doses available to get every American fully vaccinated, including a booster shot.
The issue was about therapeutics, some of which were in limited supply, but there is no evidence that white people were being denied COVID-19 therapeutics, either. Still, Trump accused New York state of discriminating against white people, saying its prioritization policy for COVID-19 treatment during times of limited resources was “anti-American.”
Trump was referring to a New York Department of Health policy that stated: “In times of limited supplies of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and oral antivirals (OAVs), providers should prioritize patients eligible for treatment based on their level of risk for progressing to severe COVID-19.” The policy included a chart of risk groups to be prioritized for COVID-19 treatments, and considered factors such as age, living in a long-term care facility and medical conditions that put someone at high risk of severe COVID-19.
A footnote stated, “Non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.”
But Michael Lanza, a spokesman for the New York City Health Department, told us via email at the time that Trump was distorting the policy.
“No one will be denied treatment based on their race and race is not a deciding factor for whether or not to fill a prescription,” Lanza said. “We have asked our pharmacy partner, Alto, to collect data on demographics to assess equitable distribution of antiviral treatments.”
“New Yorkers of color have borne the brunt of this pandemic due to structural racism and the legacy of disinvestment in many minority communities,” Lanza said. “Throughout the pandemic, the City has acknowledged this and has focused a great deal of work in our Taskforce [on] Racial Inclusion and Equity neighborhoods. Doctors are advised to consider the disproportionate impact felt by these communities in addition to systemic health disparities when prescribing treatments for people who are at highest risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes.”
America First Legal sued the New York State Department of Health on Jan. 16 over what it called a “racist and unconstitutional directive.” In April, a federal District Court ruled in favor of the New York Department of Health and ordered the case dismissed. That ruling has since been appealed, according to online federal court records.
America First Legal also threatened legal action against the Utah and Minnesota departments of health for similar policies that considered race a risk factor to be weighed in prioritizing COVID-19 treatments. But both states have since backtracked.
On Jan. 21, Utah announced that it was removing race and ethnicity from its risk score calculator. The Utah Department of Health released a statement saying, “Instead of using race and ethnicity as a factor in determining treatment eligibility, UDOH will work with communities of color to improve access to treatments by placing medications in locations easily accessed by these populations and working to connect members of these communities with available treatment.”
“Race and ethnicity are risk markers for other underlying conditions that affect health, including socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus related to occupation, e.g., frontline, essential, and critical infrastructure workers,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, as it did under Trump, on a webpage devoted to health disparities by race and ethnicity.
A CDC notice updated on Oct. 19 states, “Some people are at increased risk of getting very sick or dying from COVID-19 because of where they live or work, or because they can’t get health care. This includes many people from racial and ethnic minority groups and people with disabilities.” Taken out was a phrase from an earlier version of the notice that said the risks came about as a result of “[l]ong-standing systemic health and social inequities.”
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