Corey Stewart, the Republican candidate for Senate in Virginia, has been shunned by his own party over his ties with neo-Confederate groups and his refusal to condemn white supremacist violence. That hasn’t stopped several activists who express similarly extreme views from working for Stewart.
One of Stewart’s spokespersons, Rick Shaftan, tweeted that three majority-black U.S. cities were “shitholes” and repeatedly warned against opening businesses in black neighborhoods. Shaftan, along with Stewart’s other spokesperson, previously worked on behalf of an anti-Semite running for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat in Wisconsin.
In addition, a Stewart volunteer was a member of a chat group that planned a sequel to the deadly right-wing rally in Charlottesville, The Daily Beast previously reported. Meanwhile, a former Stewart staffer appeared to praise the founder of the American Nazi Party, and recently left Stewart’s team for a role on the campaign of a New Jersey politician who has previously posted white supremacist content.
Shaftan, who runs communications for Stewart, has for years publicly disparaged black people on Twitter.
“Crazed black people looting a liquor store is the ultimate racist stereotype. #Ferguson,” he tweeted in 2014 after the unrest following a white police officer’s killing of a black teenager. “After #Ferguson, only a fool would start, finance or insure a business in a black neighborhood,” he tweeted again. After violence in Baltimore following the death of a black man at the hands of police, Shaftan tweeted “The message out of Ferguson and Baltimore is a simple one: DON'T OPEN A BUSINESS IN A BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD!”
Responding to the news of a robbery in 2011, Shaftan wrote in a now-deleted tweet: “Another reason why white people (and Asians and Latinos) don't want to live with black people. #TheTruthHurts #Reality”
“The word #Shithole is an appropriate one to describe this particular shithole,” Shaftan tweeted this year above a story about Baltimore replacing a Confederate statue with a memorial of Harriet Tubman. Twice in 2010, he called the NAACP “the Black KKK, only more violent and dangerous.”
Shaftan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Shaftan has also worked for a political action committee that supported Paul Nehlen, a far-right candidate running for a House seat from Wisconsin. Nehlen has long expressed anti-Muslim views, and beginning late 2017 started posting explicitly anti-Semitic content, including an image of Jews’ heads on pikes in the Oval Office.
“I was with a super PAC [America Speaks PAC] back in 2016 where we boosted Nehlen. There was no sign he was anything other than a Trump guy, pretty much,” Shaftan told The Daily Beast. “I made an ad for him, I think in November, before he went wacko.”
FEC filings reveal America Speaks gave Shaftan’s company Mountaintop Media six payments totalling $24,987 for pro-Nehlen or anti-Paul Ryan ads in 2016. The PAC’s treasurer, Elizabeth Curtis, is a frequent Shaftan colleague, and was Nehlen’s campaign treasurer until December. Curtis is also treasurer for the Principled Leadership PAC, which paid Shaftan’s company Atlantic Media $14,670 last year. (Its only other independent expenditure in two years was $2,500 to Facebook.)
On Stewart’s campaign, Shaftan works alongside Noel Fritsch, who last year acted as a spokesperson for Nehlen. (Campaign filings show Fritsch was paid $32,500 for salary, consulting fees, and reimbursements in 2017.) Reached by phone and email, Fritsch did not answer questions on whether he disavowed Nehlen or his campaign, but said he parted ways from the campaign in December 2017.
Shaftan and Nehlen also both worked on behalf of Roy Moore, the far-right judge accused of sexual misconduct who ran for Senate from Alabama last year. Shaftan worked for two PACs that supported Moore’s campaign, and Fritsch acted as the Moore campaign’s spokesperson while simultaneously acting as a Nehlen spokesperson. When multiple women accused Moore of sexual misconduct, Fritsch gave a statement to the Washington Examiner in his capacity as a Nehlen spokesperson, stating Nehlen still supported Moore.
Previously, Fritsch managed communications for Mississippi Senate hopeful Chris McDaniels. During the campaign, a pastor gave an interview to conservative blogger Chuck Johnson, in which he accused McDaniels’ opponent of trying to buy votes. The pastor later walked back the story and claimed Fritsch had paid him $2,000 for the interview, a claim Fritsch denied.
Two of Stewart’s more junior staffers have also dabbled in far-right circles on Facebook.
Brian Landrum, a staffer in Stewart’s local office who volunteers on his congressional campaign, was a member of a Facebook group chat with the architects of the Unite the Right rally, The Daily Beast previously reported. Landrum said he’d been added to the group without his consent, although chat logs show he sent at least one message mocking one of the group’s enemies.
Meanwhile, former Stewart staffer Thomas Dees has gone to work for Seth Grossman, a New Jersey candidate who lost the National Republican Congressional Committee’s backing this month, after Media Matters reported he used a campaign Facebook page to promote a white nationalist website’s article that called “blacks” “a threat to all who cross their paths.” Shaftan is a former Grossman staffer and longtime Grossman acquaintance, but declined to say whether he was working for the campaign. Grossman’s campaign treasurer is Liz Curtis, the Shaftan colleague who formerly worked as Nehlen’s treasurer.
While working for Stewart’s campaign, Dees sparred with Stewart’s opponent Nick Freitas on Facebook, where Dees also called Stewart “literally the second coming of Jesse Helms,” a racist senator who fiercely opposed the Civil Rights Act.
Reached for comment, Dees did not deny authoring the posts.
On July 9, the day of the Media Matters report and the NRCC disavowal, Dees gave what appears to be his first statement as the Grossman campaign’s spokesperson. The following day, a news report referred to him as Grossman’s campaign manager. Dees confirmed the title to The Daily Beast. In a cached version Dees’ Twitter from July 1, his biography reads “Field Director for Corey Stewart for U.S. Senate.”
Shaftan said he had not sent Dees to New Jersey to help the embattled Grossman campaign.
“Did I send him up there?” he said. “No, Thomas Dees went up there on his own to help him out. He worked for Corey, he was an excellent worker for Corey, but they’re not really hiring field staff and this was an opportunity.”
In June, the Stewart campaign came under fire for awarding “Volunteer of the Week” to Ian McDonald, a man who had recently implied a neo-Nazi affiliation, Mediaite first reported. McDonald had posted a meme of American Nazi Party found George Lincoln Rockwell, with a caption that implied McDonald did not see himself as a Republican but a member of Rockwell’s party. Not included in the initial report was another Rockwell picture McDonald had posted to Facebook.
Dees commented on the picture of the neo-Nazi hero. “Nailed it,” he wrote. In an email to The Daily Beast, Dees implied his comment was not racist.
"The Daily Beast's efforts to divide people based on trumped up claims of racism will backfire just like the Billy Bush tape tanked Trump,” Dees said. “The media's efforts to take quotes and content out of context for political gain will not be rewarded this November."
He did not respond to a question on the context of his Rockwell praise.