Capital Research Center Employee Favorite Source for White Nationalist Smear Campaign Against Ahmaud Arbery

(Illustration: Jared Holt)

(Update 5/18/20): After Right Wing Watch published this investigation, Capital Research Center updated its staff directory page to exclude Ashley Goldenberg and updated Goldenberg’s author bio to state that she is a “former” investigative reporter for the organization. 

White nationalists are championing a Capital Research Center employee who is at the forefront of an attempt to justify the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man killed by two white men while jogging earlier this year.

Ashley Rae Goldenberg, an investigative reporter at CRC, has gained newfound attention from the far-right by taking part in an effort to smear Arbery and downplay his death after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael on charges of murder and aggravated assault ​last week. Goldenberg ​has advanced the idea that Arbery’s killers were justified in shooting him dead in the street, even going so far as to suggest that the government’s arrest of the two men was part of “race war” she claims has been playing out in the United States “for decades.” How Gold​enberg has reacted to Arbery’s death fits a pattern: far-right actors ​have ​long attempted to demonize ​black victims of ​violent crimes​ that have received national outrage.

​The lethal actions of the McMichaels against Arbery have been described as vigilantism by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and other civil rights groups​. On the day that the GBI arrested the two white men—months after they admitted to Arbery’s killing—Goldenberg tweeted, “Vigilantism is good, actually.”

Capital Research Center, Goldenberg’s employer, is a decades-old Beltway operation research outfit that targets nonprofit organizations it perceives to be liberal or anti-conservative, actively discouraging contributions to those groups. (Full​ disclosure: People for the American Way, Right Wing Watch’s parent organization, has been among CRC’s targets.​) The right-wing operation​, which has dubbed itself “America’s investigative think tank,” is funded largely by conservative megadonors and dark-money groups, including the behemoth Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Its work, which includes a digital encyclopedia of liberal groups called Influence Watch and a handful of publications that ​take aim at liberal causes, is often cited in conservative media and ​the group is frequently present at major right-wing events such as ​the Conservative Political Action Conference. One CRC project, Dangerous Documentaries, contributed $500,000 to the production of “No Safe Spaces,” a film starring comedian Adam Carolla and right-wing commentator Dennis Prager about the supposed erosion of free speech on college campuses.

White nationalist activists and media personalities​, including Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler, anti-Semitic podcaster Nicholas Fuentes, far-right YouTuber Vincent James Foxx, and disgraced former Daily Caller editor Scott Greer, have shared Goldenberg’s online remarks alongside their own similar commentary on Arbery’s death. While Goldenberg’s Twitter account is publicly listed, meaning its content can be viewed and shared by anyone, Goldenberg has voiced explicit approval ​of, or sympathy for​, many of the figures now sharing her commentary about Arbery. On her publicly viewable “Communism Kills” Telegram channel, Goldenberg has shared and engaged with content from many of the same movement sources, including Fuentes, white nationalist organizer Patrick Casey, white nationalist organization VDARE, and far-right media personality Faith Goldy.

(Screenshot / Twitter)

In December 2019, Goldenberg praised the alt-right and white nationalist “groyper” movements now cheering on her Arbery commentary, tweeting that they were the “first right-wing movements in [her] lifetime to not recoil and apologize profusely for accusations of racism.” Goldenberg’s Twitter profile pays explicit homage to the ​latest incarnation of the white nationalist cause; her avatar is a render​ing of the groyper character to her likeness while her display name is currently “Ashley Rae Groypenberg.” She appears to have first ​curried favor with the movement via her defense of Fuentes, whose unapologetic racist and anti-Semitic remarks have caused the careers of many conservatives who have entered his orbit to disintegrate. Prior to ​February’s CPAC 2020, Goldenberg stated she would attend an extreme-right event called the “America First Political Action Conference,” featuring Fuentes and other far-right speakers. A RWW source present at AFPAC confirmed her attendance.

Since her May 7 tweet in support of vigilantism, Goldberg has posted or retweeted more than 200 tweets that mention or reference Arbery’s death, according a manual review at the time of publication. The posts criticize conservatives​ who denounc​ed the shooting, ​use content from racist sources ​(including VDARE), downplay the severity of the ​incident captured on video that resulted in Arbery’s killing, ​appear to suggest subverting justice in the trial against Arbery’s alleged murders via jury nullification, and ​seek to to question ​Arbery’s character​, post-mortem​, by presenting footage, purportedly of the victim, at construction sites. ​A montage video ​created and shared by Goldenberg, which she claimed to show Arbery at construction sites​, contains footage of a man the Arbery family tells ABC News is not their slain son​. ​Goldenberg also cited a 2013 incident that led to Arbery​’s indictment as a teenager for allegedly bringing a firearm to a high school basketball game, writing: “If thieves don’t deserve to die what is everyone’s thoughts on people who bring loaded guns to high schools?”

Goldenberg has also attacked conservatives who have questioned or criticized the men who killed Arbery. She accused conservative columnist Rod Dreher of publishing “vehemently anti-white” commentary after Drehr wrote that black people are frequent subjects of hostility in the United States. Goldenberg also commented that Dreher’s column could have appeared in the liberal black publication The Root, but that the “spelling and grammar might give it away.”

Peppered into her Arbery commentary is Goldenberg​’s distaste for ​a Denny’s restaurant advertisement that featured families of two different racial backgrounds, citing the ad to mock claims that the longtime white supremacist claim of a racial “replacement”—a claim that has inspired multiple mass shootings—is a conspiracy theory.

Ashley Goldenberg downplays graphic video showing the moment Ahmad Aubrey was shot and killed. (Screenshot / Twitter)

Record of a private social media conversation obtained by RWW shows that a concern about Goldenberg’s online behavior had been raised in January with one of her CRC ​colleagues, who told that individual that the concern would be raised internally at the organization. Since that message ​was received by the person who claimed to have raised the concern, Goldenberg has remained employed by CRC, ​authoring material for its website as recently as May 7. Sarah Lee, the organization’s director of communications and external affairs, declined comment when reached by RWW for this story, citing organization policy against publicly commenting on personnel issues. When asked whether CRC has an organizational stance regarding white nationalism, Lee also declined comment, citing the same personnel policy.

But Goldenberg’s actions have not come completely without a professional price. Former associates and conservative media industry colleagues of Goldenberg’s have expressed dismay at Goldenberg’s behavior. One such colleague, who spoke to RWW on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional retaliation, said they were surprised that Goldenberg has remained employed ​by a ​conservative Washington ​institution​, considering her unabashed public support of unsavory far-right actors. This year, she reported that CPAC denied her request for event media credentials​—despite the fact that CRC was an exhibitor at the 2020 CPAC.

Her byline on CRC’s website first appears in November 2018. ​Before that, Goldenberg joined the Daily Caller as a spring 2015 intern. At the site, founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Goldenberg’s byline appeared on articles that often took aim at racial and social justice activists and causes. Eric Owens, a former Daily Caller editor who worked with Goldenberg at the time, told RWW that he wrote Goldenberg a letter of recommendation for her first full-time job at Media Research Center, a different right-wing nonprofit media outlet. Owens told RWW it was a leg up he now wishes he had not given her.

“It’s one of my biggest regrets, giving her a positive reference​,” Owens said.

Matthew Heimbach, holding an Imperial German flag, stands with Ashley Goldenberg, who is holding the flag of Israel. Heimbach said he believed the photo was taken in 2011 or 2012. (Image: RWW Source)

Owens told Right Wing Watch that during Gold​enberg’s internship, a photograph showing Goldenberg and longtime white nationalist Matthew Heimbach together—​with Heimbach holding an Imperial German flag and Goldenberg holding ​the flag ​of Israel—had been brough​t to the attention of him and then-boss Carlson. Owens told RWW it was eventually decided it would be worse if the Daily Caller “made a spectacle and fired her over the photo.” Carlson, when reached via email, said he “unequivocally” denied Owens’ recollection of the situation.

When questioned about the photograph, Heimbach told RWW that he used to be friends with Goldenberg, that they had attended protests together, ​but claimed that he recently walked away from white nationalism.

“While it’s now easy to see what a terrible person Ashley is, and while in retrospect The Daily Caller certainly should have fired her, at the time ​[it seemed that] she was just a college student who did something stupid,” Owens said, adding that he was not surprised Carlson did not remember the conversation on account of Carlson’s busy lifestyle ​at the time, juggling obligations to Fox News, the Daily Caller, and his family of four children.

Curtis Houck, managing editor of Media Research Center’s NewsBusters blog and someone who Goldenberg described on Facebook as a former co-worker, “liked” and shared Twitter posts critical of Goldenberg in December​. ​However, neither Houck or MRC responded to our requests for interviews, via Twitter and online contact form, respectively.

Before entering conservative media, Goldenberg achieved notoriety online for her Tumblr blog project, “Communism Kills,” and for intense backlash she received after writing and posting a limerick about Michael Brown, a black teenager whose death at the hands of a white police officer inspired protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. According to a Campus Reform article from the time, Goldenberg’s poem, which she posted approximately three months after Brown was shot to death, read:

There once was a thug named Brown
Who bum-rushed a cop with a frown
Six bullets later
He met his creator
Then his homies burnt down the town

Ashley Goldenberg and Paul Ray Ramsey take a photo together at a 2016 National Policy Institute conference. (Screenshot / Twitter)

Goldenberg attended a 2016 conference hosted by the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank notoriously presided over by “alt-right” poster-boy Richard Spencer, at the apparent invitation of Paul Ray Ramsey, a longtime white nationalist speaker. According to The Washington Spectator, Ramsey told the crowd at that event to make friends by exchanging gifts, suggesting copies of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography as a possible present. Ramsey, who called Goldenberg a “friend,” publicly stated years later that he had invited in her capacity as a journalist, however RWW was unable to locate a single article with Goldenberg’s byline that mentioned the event, let alone any published work with her byline that mentions National Policy Institute. Last week, Goldenberg shared a post of Ramsey’s ​in which he mocked the reported fact that Arbery was killed while jogging.

Megan Squire, a professor of computer science at Elon University who studies right-wing extremism, compared Goldenberg’s comments about Arbery’s killing to those ​made by far-right activists about other victims of violent acts that spawned national outrage.

“The blame-the-victim narrative is par for the course for the far-right. It’s part of the playbook: Deny, demean, discredit. They did it to Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Heather Heyer, the list goes on,” Squire said via email.

Squire likened Goldenberg’s comments about Arbery’s killing to those ​made by white nationalist Jared Taylor after the death of Eric Garner, who ​was choked to death in 2014 by a New York police officer. Squire said ​that Taylor, like Goldenberg, “tries to represent the ‘alt-lite’ side of things, but they can’t help but demean the victim rather than admit that people aligned with them are violent and unfair.”

She pointed to what Taylor said of Garner after the officer accused of fatally choking Garner was fired last year. “He was obese, he had heart problems, he had asthma, he was a fella who was so out of shape and had so much of a problem even moving around, he couldn’t even walk one block without ending up queasy. At the time of the incident he was out on bail for selling untaxed cigarettes, driving without a license, and marijuana possession and false impersonation … and he had been arrested by the NYPD more than 30 times,” Taylor said on his American Renaissance podcast, arguing that the officer should still have his job.

A widely circulated video of Garner’s last moments shows the officer on top of him while Garner repeatedly says through his gasps, “I can’t breathe.”

Right Wing Watch offered Goldenberg the opportunity to comment via a Twitter direct message to her personal account and a Facebook direct message to her “Communism Kills” page but did not receive a response prior to publication.