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Idaho neo-Nazi targets Florida candidate Andrew Gillum in new racist robocall

Oct. 23, 2018 Updated Tue., Oct. 23, 2018 at 10:01 p.m.

Scott Rhodes, left, speaks with Sandpoint police Officer Spencer Smith and Detective Mike Aerni, right, on Dec. 1, 2018, after Rhodes was identified as the man who distributed racist propaganda at Sandpoint High School. (Chad Sokol / The Spokesman-Review)
Scott Rhodes, left, speaks with Sandpoint police Officer Spencer Smith and Detective Mike Aerni, right, on Dec. 1, 2018, after Rhodes was identified as the man who distributed racist propaganda at Sandpoint High School. (Chad Sokol / The Spokesman-Review)
By Felicia Sonmez and Tim Craig The Washington Post

A white supremacist who has lived in Sandpoint, Idaho, has sent a new round of racist robocalls targeting Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum that appear to be directed at black Democratic Party leaders in the state.

Two county Democratic Party chairs told the Washington Post that they received the new robocall Tuesday morning. It features a man impersonating Gillum in a minstrel dialect, while jungle sounds and chimpanzee noises can be heard in the background.

“Well, hello there! I is the negro, Andrew Gillum, and I be askin’ you to make me governor of this here state of Florida,” the minute-long call begins, according to a recording obtained by the Post.

The speaker compares “the white man’s medicine, which is very expensive, ’cause it uses science and whatnot,” with “the medicine of my African race,” which involves “puttin’ de chicken feets under your pillows during the full moon” and “don’t hardly cost nothin’ at all.”

“So I’s promise, if you make me, Andrew Gillum, the governor, every peoples that be ailin’ will get all the chicken feets they need,” the voice on the call says.

The ad then takes an anti-Semitic turn, with the speaker claiming that “it was the Jews who owned the slave trade” and that Jews will be “puttin’ Negros in charge over the white folks.”

“All the Jews gon’ vote me, Andrew Gillum, governor of this here state of Florida,” the ad concludes. The sound of a chimp can be heard after the speaker says Gillum’s name.

A man states at the end of the call that it was “paid for by” – a video podcasting website run by Scott D. Rhodes. Rhodes also was behind another racist robocall targeting Gillum in August, as well as similar calls in Spokane, California, Iowa and Virginia.

KHQ reported Tuesday that Rhodes had moved out of the rental home in Sandpoint where he lived for several years. The house’s new tenants showed KHQ’s Adam Mayer mail that was addressed to Rhodes as well as several other names, including “Jewman Rhodes.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if Rhodes had left Sandpoint or moved elsewhere in the area. He appears to have moved to Sandpoint from California in 2015, the same year hateful robocalls targeted the city’s mayor, Shelby Rognstad, during his election campaign.

Late last year, police identified Rhodes as the man who had distributed racist CDs in the parking lot of Sandpoint High School. He also was suspected of harassing at least one Sandpoint resident, and he captured the interest of police in Alexandria, Virginia, after city leaders there received threatening, anti-Semitic calls from a phone number tied to him and an Idaho-registered company.

Last month, anonymous robocalls and an accompanying YouTube video targeted the city’s weekly newspaper, the Sandpoint Reader, and referred to its publisher, Ben Olson, as a “cancer” that “needs to be burned out.”

In Florida, polls show Gillum locked in a tight race against Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. If elected, Gillum would become the state’s first black governor.

The two Florida Democratic Party county chairs who received the robocall Tuesday morning said they believe it is targeting black Democratic leaders in the state and is aimed at keeping Gillum’s supporters away from the polls.

“I was highly insulted,” said Cynthia Moore Chestnut, chair of the Alachua County Democratic Party, who posted about the robocall on her Facebook page.

Chestnut, who is black, said she believes the call was “specifically designed to intimidate me and any other African-Americans that hold a leadership role.”

“But I have encouraged everyone that we have to vote, vote, vote and not be intimidated by this,” she said.

Shawn Kinsey, chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party, said the robocall, which was left on his voicemail, was “disgusting” and “took me aback.”

“It’s just very disturbing in this political climate,” he said. “I never thought that I would receive something like that.”

Both Chestnut and Kinsey said that they received the call on their cellphones and that it came from a Tallahassee area code.

At a campaign event in Orlando, DeSantis called the robocalls “disgusting” and urged the media to investigate their source.

“I want to know who’s doing that,” DeSantis said. “I can tell you we are not doing it, and I think the people doing it are doing it because they are trying to create division.”

Gillum, meanwhile, suggested that extremist groups are “taking their cues” from DeSantis.

In an appearance Tuesday evening on MSNBC, Gillum seized on DeSantis’ previous warning to voters not to “monkey this up” by electing him – a phrase that, Gillum maintained, is “not commonly used, as far as I know.”

“It’s not hard to understand why neo-Nazis would take an extension of that and then take it to the next level of extremity,” he said, blasting the robocalls and other ads that he said are intended “to further a stereotype about black men – illegal, unethical, take things for free.”

DeSantis has said that the phrase was not intended as a “dog whistle.”

Spokesman-Review reporter Chad Sokol contributed to this story.

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