A super PAC created by a white supremacist group in southern California inundated Vermont households Wednesday evening with robocalls urging people to vote for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Calls made on behalf of American National Super PAC subjected residents here to a barrage of racist sentiments before saying, "Don’t vote for a Cuban, vote for Donald Trump."
Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – two of Trump’s rivals in the GOP primary – are of Cuban descent.
The voice in the robocall identifies himself as William Johnson, founder of the American National Super PAC and the chairman of the American Freedom Party, a California-based group that bills itself as a “new and dynamic grassroots political organization which is dedicated to building a powerful pro-American political party to challenge the powers that be.”
Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, says the American Freedom Party “is probably the most important white nationalist or white supremacist political organization in this country.”
He said the group was founded by racist skinheads about a decade ago who found themselves in need of new leadership when the head of their group came under pressure for various criminal misdeeds.
“That resulted in a meeting with particular lawyer, a corporate lawyer from L.A. by the name of William Daniel Johnson, who very quickly agreed to become the head of what was then the American Third Position and what has since been renamed the American Freedom Party,” Potok says.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Johnson confirmed that American National Super PAC is responsible for the robocall. Voters in Iowa received similar calls in the days before the caucuses there earlier this month. Potok says the group has done robocalls in at least two other states this election cycle.
“Well, we’re a white nationalist super PAC,” Johnson said Thursday. “We wanted to make people aware of white nationalist issues. And some of the issues that Donald Trump supports we support also.”
In the robocall, Johnson says that “the white race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called racist.”
“This is our mindset – it’s OK that our government destroys our children’s future. But don’t call me racist, I am afraid to be called racist,” Johnson says in the call. “It’s OK to give away our country for immigration, but don’t call me racist. It’s OK that few schools anymore have beautiful white children as a majority, but don’t call me racist.”
Asked Thursday whether he is in fact a racist, Johnson said “I think … the meaning of that word has been diluted so much that it really doesn’t have relevancy today.”
Potok says Johnson authored and proposed something known as the “Pace Amendment,” which would have required the immediate deportation of anyone in the country with “an ascertainable trace of Negro blood.”
Potok says the same proposed amendment also called the deportation of anyone with “one-eighth” of any other “non-white blood.”
Potok says the American Freedom Party has drawn to its ranks some of the most outspoken and well-known white supremacists in the nation and it has “goals more radical than the goals of Ku Klux Klan.”
Receipt of the calls came as an unwelcome surprise to many Vermonters Wednesday night. Robert Rinaldi says he was having dinner with his wife when the robocall arrived at his Topsham home at about 7:30 Wednesday evening.
“So it went to my answering machine,” Rinaldi says.
Rinaldi says upon listening to the message, he initially chalked it up as just another political robocall.
“But then I listened to it a little bit more closely and realized that it was just outrageously distasteful,” Rinaldi says. “I really couldn’t believe that I could get a call like that.”
Johnson says the call isn’t a false-flag operation devised by Trump’s opponents to smear the candidate’s reputation of public perception. The organization, he says, is earnest in its support.
“It is not any sort of nefarious activity by any sort of third-party candidate, it is truly done by our group,” Johnson says.
Potok says he believes him.
“I think they have the hope that this will somehow add energy to the Trump campaign,” Potok says.
The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Asked to comment on the American Freedom Party’s support, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said "Mr. Trump has disavowed all Super PACs offering their support and continues to do so.”
Potok calls it an “incredibly weak-kneed” response.
“Trump has basically said, ‘If you want me to denounce them, I’ll denounce them, but it’s really not important to me,’” Potok says. “So Trump has really done nothing much to put distance between himself and these people."
American National Super PAC failed to file a report the Federal Elections Commission disclosing the source of the financial contributions the fund its activities. The FCC notified Johnson in a letter last week that it faces legal enforcement action if it fails to do so.