07.10.09

The GOP's Young Hatemonger

Audra Shay, accused of endorsing racism on Facebook, is favored to become the head of the Young Republicans tomorrow. John Avlon uncovers new details about her disturbing online comments.

Audra Shay, accused of endorsing racism on Facebook, became head of the Young Republicans on Saturday. John Avlon uncovers new details about her disturbing online comments. Avlon is the author of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America.

Thirty-eight-year-old Audra Shay’s campaign to become the next chairman of the Young Republicans went from obscure to infamous over the past week, after The Daily Beast revealed details of posts of her Facebook account. Specifically, a thread where one of her friends posts that “Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist… Muslim is on there side [sic]… need to take this country back from all of these mad coons… and illegals,” and Shay responds eight minutes later with: “You tell em Eric! lol.”

“This is an outrage and I CAN NOT believe this nation has him as our leader! It makes me sick!” She posted a few minutes later: “My disdain for Obama is directly proportionate for his disdain of this country.”

Following those revelations, several Young Republican colleagues urged Shay to remove herself from tomorrow’s election at the group’s convention in Indianapolis—a request Shay, the favorite going in to the vote, has pointedly refused. Instead, she said that she was responding to an earlier post from her friend, and labeled criticism against her “political attacks” which “proves that my opponents will stoop to the lowest levels to steal this election from the jaws of victory.”

Now, The Daily Beast has obtained more troubling details about her online musings—despite clear attempts by Shay to scrub her social-networking pages clean. Specifically:

* In October 2008, in the wake of news that an effigy of Sarah Palin was being hung outside an affluent Hollywood home as an offensive Halloween decoration, Shay replied, returning to the “LOL” style that she employed after the “coons” comment: “What no ‘Obama in a noose? Come on now, its just freedome [sic] of speech, no one in Atlanta would take that wrong! Lol.”

She picked up the thread again the next morning with a clarification and a new insight. “Apparently I could not spell last night. I am wondering if the guys with the Palin noose would care if we had a bunch of homosexuals in a noose.”

* Posting and endorsing a conspiracy-theory video that attempts to prove that Obama believes he can only “ensure his own salvation” and “fate” if he helps African Americans above whites, complete with Barnum-esque captions (“LISTEN AS HE ATTACKS WHITE PEOPLE”).

* Numerous posts in which Shay says that President Obama is “anti-American” and has “disdain of this country.”

Collectively her comments are products of an increasingly common GOP mind-set I call Obama Derangement Syndrome, the right-wingers’ version of a virulent strain of obsessive presidential hatred that many liberals exhibited during the Bush years. Symptoms include comparing the president to Hitler and ascribing to him every evil and unconstitutional intention imaginable. It is accompanied by the belief that such a partisan fever is patriotic.

Just read deeper into her dialogues. Before her friend derided the “mad coons” who were destroying the country, he made the reference to “Obama Bin Lauden", as well as Muslims. The racism got the attention—the comparison of the president to a terrorist who killed 3,000 Americans is literally unremarkable nowadays in this circle of friends.

A newly discovered Facebook thread from June 30 shows her Obama Derangement Syndrome in full bluster, when she reacted with extreme displeasure with Obama’s cautious stance on the Honduran crisis.

“This is an outrage and I CAN NOT believe this nation has him as our leader! It makes me sick!” She posted a few minutes later: “My disdain for Obama is directly proportionate for his disdain of this country.”

A friend of Shay’s named Derick Moss soon weighed in, writing: “Here's what I am getting tired of: If you call Obama a socialist, terrorist, anti-American, whatever, then you're kinda calling me that, too, cause I voted for him and support him (for the most part). Or, you can claim that I didn't really know what I voted for, and in doing so you're kinda saying I'm ignorant and questioning my intelligence…”

Three minutes later, in response to Moss’ suggestion for rational discourse, Shay replied: “I think that you are ignorant if you believe this man is anything but anti american. He freely rights [sic] about Marxist philosophies. I never called him a terrorist, but if his policies are socialist (which they are) then what would you call him? His actions speak very loudly and his actions are very anti american. You just can not get past it. You might not like it but the truth is what it is.”

Video screenshot

“The truth is what it is”—it’s a statement that also applies to the indelible evidence that email provides into a person’s private views and personal character. Shay posts the Obama-attacks-white-people YouTube video with the line “This is incredible!!!!!!” even though a modicum of critical thinking shows that it’s mostly old quotes and sound bites taken out of context. When she jokes about Obama and nooses, it shows a telltale tone deafness and insensitivity to our country’s larger history of racism—a combination of callousness and cluelessness that compounds right-wing stereotypes rather than undoing them.

book-cover---wingnuts
Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America. By John Avlon. 304 pages. Beast Books. $15.95. ()

Her Facebook page, while scrubbed of all incriminating threads, still shows membership in not one but two Carrie Prejean support groups, “Stop Barack Obama,” “I Support Joe the Plumber,” “Mark Sanford (A True Conservative)” and “Fire Anderson Cooper and David Gergen.” She’s also math-challenged: Her other group memberships include “1,000,000 strong against Janeane Garafalo” (actual membership, 3,853), “1,000,000 against the bias of the mainstream media” (actual membership, 956) and “10,000+ Praying for Rush” (actual membership, 25). These are the online conservative versions of counting the Million Man March.

These new details come as hundreds of Young Republicans—many of whom, tellingly, given the party’s recent troubles with Generation Y voters, are pushing 40—descend on Indianapolis to chose their leader. Shay has posted on her Facebook page that, after seven months of traveling the country campaigning, she and her “true conservative” slate—dubbed Team Renewal—have the support of 520 Young Republican delegates, with 479 needed to win. At least one state delegation has called for Shay’s resignation from the race, but ugly anonymous emails about her chief rival’s support for same-sex civil unions have been circulated online to stem the tide (no word on how this jibes in young conservatives' eyes with Dick Cheney’s support of gay marriage). A reactionary impulse against the “politically correct mainstream media” could even increase Shay’s support behind closed doors

“There is a culture war going on inside the Republican Party,” says one of the attendees, Lenny McAllister, a co-founder of HipHopRepubicans.com. “For example, you've got the Christian right—including some from the Jimmy Swaggart crowd that have judged others publicly on family values only to cry 'I have sinned' themselves somewhere down the road—and then you have the folks that understand that you can have strong conservative principles but you can't create a time portal to take us culturally back to the 1950s.... At some point, we will see one of two things from my party: either a decline that comes from our inability to move away from the image of an older, exclusive, white-males-only party or to a party that befits the Party of Lincoln, one of more diversity that reflects America today.”

A spokesman for Shay’s most important supporter, the governor of her home state, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, said his boss was traveling and couldn’t comment on these new details about Shay. But one of her better-known Facebook friends, conservative activist Grover Norquist, was keeping his distance. “Grover's aware of the two candidates, but he doesn't really have a dog in a race,” said a spokesman. “He's friends with Audra on Facebook like he's friends with everybody else. He accepts all friendships."

Shay’s most recent post on her Facebook quotes the 23rd Psalm (“Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”)—she’s apparently in full victim/martyr mode, a far cry from the jaunty confidence she just displayed a few days ago in the face of the “coons” controversy (“amazed at all the fuss so here is what you need to know. The 6th song on the new Billy Currington CD is the most awesome song!”). Tomorrow’s vote will resonate beyond its usual dimensions. At a time when the GOP is increasingly old and regionally isolated, it is up to young Republicans to modernize the party. This requires confronting the mistakes of the past—and turning the page.

Xtra Insight: Read John Avlon's first post on the GOP's racist headache.

John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. He writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.