Veteran Featured in GOP Congressman’s Midterm Election Ad Posted Racist Rants and Violent Threats on Facebook

Incumbent Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, center, after answering questions from the moderators at the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Lancaster West Rotary Congressional Forum at the Hellenic Center in Lancaster, Calif., on September 10, 2018. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

November 1, 2018

By Michael Finnegan and Maya Sweedler

LOS ANGELES — On the home page of his campaign website, Rep. Steve Knight has posted a television ad showing a veteran praising the California Republican congressman for helping him get a lung transplant.

It turns out that veteran, David Brayton of Santa Clarita, has posted dozens of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments on Facebook.

Brayton, 64, has also promoted violence against journalists he sees as hostile to President Donald Trump and called on citizen militias to turn their weapons on left-wing protesters.

Brayton’s Facebook pages illustrate how Trump’s incendiary rhetoric has resonated with his most radical followers. Trump, who is often praised by Brayton, has disparaged Muslims, Mexicans and blacks, equivocated when denouncing white supremacists, and encouraged violence against protesters and reporters.

Last week, Cesar Sayoc, a Trump supporter in Florida, was charged with mailing bombs to CNN and more than a dozen critics of the president.

On Monday, Brayton shared a Breitbart article on the aggressive White House reporting of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta.

“CNN should be indicted, found guilty and face a firing squad,” Brayton wrote in his Facebook post above the story.

For Knight, one of the nation’s most imperiled Republican incumbents in Tuesday’s midterm election, disclosure of Brayton’s background threatens to disrupt his attempts to steer clear of Trump’s coarse brand of racial politics. Both Knight and his Democratic challenger Katie Hill are trying to campaign as moderates in the state’s 25th Congressional District.

Matt Rexroad, Knight’s campaign strategist, said Brayton’s background was irrelevant to Knight’s decision to help him get medical care, and there was no reason to vet his social media postings before putting him in a TV commercial.

“Congressman Knight does not choose to help people based on their political views, period,” he said. “I think the timing of this is ridiculous.”

In the Knight commercial, Brayton wears a red shirt with the word “infidel” imprinted in the American flag, an apparent jab at Muslims.

In a Brayton Facebook post in May, an illustration shows two white men slipping a noose around former President Barack Obama’s head. “You will hang by the neck until dead,” the caption says. “Take your smug ass to hell.”

Brayton’s overt bigotry on Facebook — he posted a Ku Klux Klan blood-drop-cross insignia in June 2017 — underscores the trouble that social media companies are having as they try to keep menacing bursts of hatred off their platforms.

A Facebook spokesman said the company was looking into the matter.

Brayton has used three Facebook accounts to dodge the company’s suspensions, mocking the company along the way for its ineffective policing of content.

“Notice my primary account is still banned on this fascistbook thingy,” he wrote last year under the name David B Enghazi Brayton, which he has used for many of the inflammatory postings.

In a telephone interview, Brayton, a former Air Force medic, stood by all of his posts, but denied any of them were racist or anti-Semitic. He defended his call for putting CNN personnel before a firing quad, saying the network’s subversive propaganda was tantamount to treason.

He also claimed Muslims had declared war on Western civilization. “Islam has decided they’re going to kill everybody,” he said. “They’ve always done that.”

The Knight campaign’s TV ad with Brayton is part of the congressman’s push to be seen as a champion of fellow veterans in his district, which covers Simi Valley, Santa Clarita and part of the Antelope Valley. The spot shows Knight in a living room with Brayton and his wife.

“If it wasn’t for Steve Knight’s assistance in this thing, I guarantee you I’d be dead,” Brayton tells viewers in the 30-second ad.

Knight, an Army veteran and former Los Angeles police officer, put the commercial on his campaign’s Facebook page.

“I’m proud to have earned David Brayton’s vote, but this is who we fight for,” Knight wrote in a Sept. 18 post. “Every. Single. Day.”

One of Brayton’s angriest Facebook postings came a few weeks after the August 2017 march of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va. Brayton wrote that “antifa” protesters against fascism were enemies of America who had given up their right to legal and constitutional protections.

“May your bodies stack up and you rest in the hell you have chose for you and yours in declaring war on Americans,” he wrote. Echoing Trump’s attacks on news organizations, he added, “You ARE the enemy of America. So is your mouthpiece the corrupt fake media.”

A few days later, he urged opponents of Muslims and “Black Supremacists” to “DO OUR DUTY AS MILITIA” in fighting antifa, saying they needed only 10 percent of Trump’s 63 million voters to step up.

In May 2017, Brayton wrote, “Kill them all” above a photo of a demonstration of Muslim extremists. He also posted a remark that he attributed to a Union Army leader: “If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast.”

In one of his frequent posts against Trump’s political adversaries, Brayton posted a doctored photo last year showing men leading Hillary Clinton up a gallows staircase for a hanging.

Racist remarks are rampant on Brayton’s Facebook pages. “I think the KKK hates blacks cuz they’re jealous of them since blacks have killed more blacks than the KKK could in 100 years,” he wrote.

“That’s absolutely true,” Brayton said in the interview.

Brayton also wrote: “I know why black kids in liberal run cities hate and murder in huge numbers. They realized they were conceived as a paycheck.”

In another post, he quotes Adolf Hitler saying, “If my party had a voice in this country we might find less violent ways of expressing ourselves.” Brayton asked, “Sound familiar?”

In September 2017, Brayton wrote, “Perhaps all Jews on television should wear the ‘sign’ in this last photo … just to make sure the audience knows … wink wink.” The photo showed a yellow Star of David inscribed with the German word “Jude” — the badge that Nazis forced Jews to wear during World War II.

Rants against Islam are a major theme of Brayton’s Facebook pages. He once shared a photo of a Koran in flames. The profile picture for his account under the name David Heisenberg Brayton is an image of a man pointing two machine guns in the air. “Hear me Islam,” the caption says. “I will slaughter you with your own knife.”

From October 2016 to May 2018, Brayton complained about 11 Facebook suspensions, ranging from a week to 30 days. On May 23, he wrote on his newest account that he’d been banned for the 12th time in 23 months.

When his main account was suspended, Brayton would post from his two other accounts. From those, he sometimes tagged his main Facebook page and posted screenshots of the notification that his account was temporarily blocked.


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