On Saturday evening, Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) made a series of provocative comments on Fox News in which he compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the American Confederacy. The controversial congressman also claimed America is facing a cultural genocide, diminishing actual genocides such as the Holocaust and American Slavery.
Gaetz’s stunning comments came during an interview with Judge Jeanine Pirro on the Fox News Show Justice with Judge Jeanine. While discussing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) refusal to condemn Baltimore protestors for taking down a statute of Christopher Columbus, the firebrand congressman unleashed a broadside on the recent trend of protestors defacing and tearing down offensive monuments.
“So this isn’t about slavery or fascism, or even race,” Gaetz said. “There is an attempted cultural genocide going on in America right now and it calls for patriots to stand up and say, ‘This is a great country — It is worthy of our pride and our defense.’”
“The Left wants us to be ashamed of America so that they can replace America,” Gaetz added. “I love this country and I think that we ought to do a lot more to push back against the hate that we’re seeing.”
In using the inflammatory term “cultural genocide,” Gaetz has chosen an intentionally provocative phrase to describe what many believe is an overdue expression of legitimate protest against offensive symbols in America’s public spaces. The term genocide however, has historically been reserved for mass atrocities such as the killing of six million Jews during World War II, the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks from 1915-1920, and the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Many also believe that the American slave trade and its aftermath is a form of Black genocide as well.
Also in the interview, Gaetz made a troubling, and unsubstantiated, comparison of the current Black Lives Matter movement and the American Confederacy.
“But the great irony, Judge Jeanine, is that the organizers of Black Lives Matter — who pledge allegiance to the destruction of America — have a lot more in common with the Confederate generals that they hate than they would like to admit,” Gaetz expressed. “Because it was, in fact, the Confederacy that initially wanted to kick out federal officials who wanted to destroy America and change it to something different,” Gaetz said.
He continued, “I think America was worth defending in the 1860s, and she’s certainly worth defending today.”
There is no evidence that Black Lives Matters leaders have “pledged allegiance to the destruction of America,” and, in fact, a majority of Americans agree with core elements of the Black Lives Matter movement, especially with respect to issues of police reform. Yet by trying to compare the BLM movement with one of the most divisive moments in American history, when the nation actually faced an armed rebellion by the slaveholding south, Gaetz is doing his best to both confuse and conflate the divisive rhetoric he himself tends to use.
The Florida Congressman, one of President Trump’s most ardent supporters, is no stranger to making offensive comments since he was elected to the House of Representatives in 2016. Gaetz has been a past guest on Alex Jones’ Infowars, the controversial host who once said “it’s not that Jews are bad, it’s just they are the head of the Jewish mafia in the United States. They run Uber, they run the health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you.” Gaetz also has tweeted unsubstantiated speculation that well-known Jewish financier George Soros funded “migrant caravans” in October 2018, trafficking in anti-Semitic inferences.
Gaetz’ newest comments are sure to get the attention of his critics, who find his over-the-top rhetoric as equally as troubling as his divisive politics. By confusingly comparing protesters fighting against systemic racism with those who defended it, and by diminishing actual genocides for the benefit of election year rhetoric, Gaetz owes both an explanation and an apology for his comments.
At a time when America faces a set of grave challenges not only to its health and economy, but also to its democracy, elected official like Congressman Gaetz have an even greater responsibility to build bridges, not to burn them. But as Gaetz demonstrated on Saturday night, not only does he see a fire burning in America, but he has no hesitation in throwing gasoline on it.
That isn’t leadership — it’s arson.