Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli is helping coordinate the federal law enforcement agents unleashing a wave of authoritarian violence against anti-racism protesters in Portland, Oregon, and has been justifying his department’s actions by citing pundits and personalities notorious for their connections to far-right movements.
Since the police killing of George Floyd, right-wing activists and politicians, including President Donald Trump who sent the federal agents, have tried to blame mass civil unrest on their favorite boogeyman: anti-fascist activists. The right-wing figures and outlets Cuccinelli has cited on his official Twitter account, @HomelandKen, have well-documented histories of stretching facts to portray anti-fascist activists as an imminent terrorist threat and to justify law enforcement’s use of force against protesters in cities led by Democrats. Those sources, which include Andy Ngo, Breitbart News, and reporters from The Daily Caller, have also sought to smear journalists reporting facts that contradict their hyperpartisan misinformation by claiming that those reporters are sympathetic to anti-fascists and therefore aligned with domestic radicals.
Among Cuccinelli’s favorite sources to justify actions against protesters is new media star Ngo, who BuzzFeed News reporter Joe Bernstein noted last year rose to fame by building “an incendiary political narrative out of a narrow selection of facts.” Bernstein wrote of Ngo, “He proceeds from a worldview and seeks to confirm it, without asking to what degree his coverage becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Jewish Currents published a lengthy profile last year that examined Ngo’s relationships to far-right agitators, which had been exposed in a Portland Mercury investigation and may have led to Ngo’s departure from Quillette. Writer Hannah Gais highlighted instances where Ngo had minimized the radical elements of the subjects he portrayed as victims at the hands of anti-fascists “in favor of a straightforward victimization narrative.” Gais wrote, ”In other words, this is all a cynical and dangerous grift. In the service of this grift, brushing shoulders with the far right—or even embracing them—is fine, so long as plausible deniability is retained.”
Cuccinelli has cited Ngo’s content at least seven times on his official government Twitter account since mass protests began in late May following the police killing of Floyd, a number of which tried to scapegoat ant-fascist activists. In one tweet citing Ngo’s content, Cuccinelli tagged Michelle Malkin, who in the last year has rebranded herself as the “mommy” of the “groyper” white nationalist youth coalition, appeared on radio shows hosted by racist extremists, promoted anti-Semitic and racist literature, and headlined a white nationalist conference for interested attendees of the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference.
The acting DHS leader has also supported his claims by sharing links to Breitbart News, an outlet that spent much of the 2016 election promoting “alt-right” white nationalists into mainstream conservative discourse. Cuccinelli has also shared information from hyperpartisan sites including The Federalist and RedState (known for sharing revenge porn of an elected official), from pro-Trump mouthpieces like Sean Hannity and Buck Sexton, and from staffers at The Daily Caller.
Cuccinelli, who was the GOP nominee for governor in 2013, has a sordid history of expressing his own far-right beliefs. In 2015, Cuccinelli told radio host Steve Deace that the United States was being “invaded” by immigrants “one person at a time.” He used similar rhetoric to describe undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, writing in a 2014 Facebook post that the country was being “directly invaded” by those immigrants. For more than a decade, Cuccinelli has made clear his support for far-right causes and his loathing for immigrants through his rhetoric and proposed legislation, which included a bill to charge employees with “misconduct” for an “inability or refusal to speak English at the workplace” and disqualify them from receiving unemployment benefits. Last year, The Atlantic described Cuccinelli as “The New Stephen Miller,” referring to the far-right White House official at the forefront of the Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies.