People responded with shock and outrage when a white supremacist murdered nine Black individuals in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in June 2015.
Some called for the Confederate flag to be taken down in public places while others brought up reparations for African Americans.
David Armstrong would have none of it.
Armstrong, a Republican running for the state Assembly, posted a series of highly questionable tweets in the weeks after the church shooting.
On July 10, 2015, Armstrong tweeted out a video on “slavery’s dirtiest secrets exposed” featuring former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. In it, Duke makes the dubious claim that Blacks are more likely than whites to have ancestors who owned slaves in antebellum America. This, Duke claimed, undercuts arguments used to justify “discrimination against whites” today.
Armstrong, who is running in a district that tilts Republican, ended his tweet on the video by asking, “Apologies are due to who by whom?”
Around the same time, the Rice Lake business leader posted three tweets in support of the Confederate flag. In one from July 25, 2015, he linked to a story on a congressional vote to ban the Confederate flag at federal cemeteries.
“Life Long GOPer Thinking Twice And No More Money to GOP,” Armstrong said in his tweet on the story.
More than 12,000 Wisconsin soldiers died fighting for the Union army during the Civil War.
“I’m shocked,” said John Ellenson, a former University of Wisconsin-Madison basketball player running against Armstrong in the 75th Assembly District in November. “Wow.”
An official with the state Democratic Party condemned the tweets.
“These revelations are completely disqualifying,” said Courtney Beyer, spokeswoman for the Democrats. “Dave Armstrong and his racist ideology belong nowhere near the Legislature.”
Armstrong, who has already come under criticism for liking and forwarding videos tied to the QAnon conspiracy theory, apologized for posting the video featuring Duke.
The first-time legislative candidate said he doesn’t know where he came across the video and that he didn’t watch the entire thing before posting it. That, he said, was a mistake on his part.
“The first thing I would like to make abundantly clear is that I am not and never have been a supporter or believer in the KKK or David Duke,” Armstrong said via email. “They are reprehensible and have no place in our society.”
He offered no apologies for the his posts on the Confederate flag. He said he disagreed with those who believe the public should begin “canceling” unpopular or disliked items, such as the Stars and Bars flag, from our culture.
That didn’t stop Armstrong, however, from trying to erase his own tweets from the past.
“While I don’t own one or fly one and never would, it is still a part of the history of our nation,” Armstrong said, “and there are some who believe it represents one thing and others who believe it represents something else.”
A total of 91,000 Wisconsin residents fought Confederate troops during the Civil War. Of those, 3,802 were killed in action, and 8,499 died from disease, exposure, and other causes.
Armstrong, executive director of the Barron County Economic Development Corp., was recruited to run by state Rep. Romaine Quinn (R-Barron), who is not running for re-election.
The 58-year-old business official has used his Twitter account to post a mix of personal, business and political items. Over the years, he has written critically of Muslims, former President Barack Obama and various Democrats.
His David Duke post links to a video that is a hodgepodge of clips on the role of Blacks in the African slave trade and antebellum slavery. It ends with Duke suggesting that a high percentage of Blacks owned slaves in New Orleans, leading him to say that a Black person is “far more likely” to have a direct ancestor who owned Black slaves than is a white person. PolitiFact has labeled a variation on this claim false.
“Should Black people today be punished for their history of slavery?” Duke asks. “That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But it’s exactly what the discrimination against whites and reparations are justified by.”
Duke’s language in this video and a related one appears to come from an article in the Barnes Review, a self-described “journal of politically incorrect history” devoted to denying the Holocaust and defending the cause of the South in the Civil War.
The video was originally posted on YouTube by @UncookedVanilla, which posts a number of anti-Black videos with racist tropes. In its summary of the video, @UncookedVanilla says Duke shows how slavery is “used to justify discrimination against White people.”
On July 1, 2015, Armstrong tweeted an online petition protesting TV Land’s decision to drop reruns of the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” The petition says TV Land did this because of the use of the Confederate flag in the show, and the petition describes the flag as “part of our history.”
Finally, on July 20, 2015, Armstrong tweeted a video by a young Libertarian Black woman on why she doesn’t believe the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. The video is called, “The Confederate Flag and Sensitive Black People.”
In his statement to the Journal Sentinel, Armstrong offered a more nuanced perspective on the Confederate flag than he did in his tweets. He said there is some disagreement on what the flag represents.
“Instead of simply erasing everything we disagree on or don’t like, I think it’s important to have an ongoing discussion as we work to improve society for everyone,” he said.
“As a matter of principle, I am generally opposed to the idea of cancel-culture. This is a great nation we live in, and I believe it is important to learn from our history and the times we failed or fell short of our ideals.”
Ellenson said he believes his opponent is far too radical for their Assembly district.
He said Armstrong’s association with white supremacy makes the region appear a “regressive backwater,” something that he said is not true.
“Yes, we tend to run to more conservative views here in rural Wisconsin, both Democrats and Republicans, but not alt-right racism,” Ellenson said. “We’re trying, like people everywhere are trying, to be a place where people of all backgrounds feel welcome.”
The two candidates square off on Nov. 3.
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 313-6684 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.