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Why Did the Rhode Island Democratic Party Endorse an Alt-Right Supporter Over a Progressive Incumbent?

Moira Jayne Walsh, a 27-year-old former waitress and labor organizer, captured a bit of national attention after she won a seat in the Rhode Island House in 2016. “I decided that I wasn’t just going to work on legislation, because there has been so much neglect in my neighborhood for so many years that I wanted to make sure that people felt that they had a sense of community,” she told The Atlantic that November.

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Walsh has since been a progressive voice in the legislature and supports increasing the minimum wage and marijuana legalization. She also caused a stir in March when she said in a radio interview that there was an “insane amount of drinking” among legislators at the statehouse. All this might go some way towards explaining why the state Democratic Party has endorsed her opponent in the upcoming primaries—a man who appears to have once been a vocal supporter of Donald Trump and alt-right figures.

On June 28, the Rhode Island Democratic Party endorsed challenger Michael Earnheart in a handwritten addition to a printed endorsement sheet submitted to Rhode Island’s Secretary of State. On his Facebook page, Earnheart describes himself as a “moderate” and responded to queries about his political positions in late May with statements of support for the “Second Amendment” and a promise to “defend against legislation that attempts to stop or interfere with lawful gun ownership.”

Some angry Democrats have been circulating screenshots from a Twitter user also named Michael Earnheart, who closely resembles the picture on Michael Earnheart’s Facebook page. In one exchange on May 26, whose authenticity was verified by Slate, Earnheart wrote on Twitter that undocumented immigrants are “self-entitled lawbreakers and thieves,” in response to a tweet from the Washington Post’s Radley Balko criticizing the Trump administration’s child-separation policy. In this thread, Earnheart also alleged that many liberal and left opponents of the Trump administration’s immigration policies “don’t believe in God.”

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An archived version of Earnheart’s Twitter page accessible on the Wayback Machine and surfaced by the group Organize Rhode Island also features retweets of posts by Roseanne Barr, Donald Trump Jr., Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, and alt-right journalist Laura Loomer. Earnheart also made Islamophobic comments over a retweet of a post by alt-right figure Gavin McInnes about “Muslim pedophiles.” “We are normalizing grooming gangs and creating and lending legitimacy to rape culture by allowing these garbage human beings to live in civilized society,” he wrote. “Is the UK government actually stupid?”

Public records show that a Michael Earnheart, of the same age and location, registered as a Republican in 2014 and voted as one in the 2016 election.

Earnheart and the Rhode Island Democratic Party did not respond to requests for comment.

Walsh told Slate that the state party’s endorsement is “punishment” for her opposition to the positions of Rhode Island’s House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a pro-life Democrat who had an A+ rating from the NRA in 2016. “This is all very expected with the way our political machine is run in Rhode Island,” she said. “It only took two years to piss off the speaker this thoroughly. I’m pretty impressed with myself.”

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The state Democratic Party also declined to endorse progressive Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, who won in an upset primary victory against House Majority Leader John DeSimone in 2016, and progressive state senator Jeanine Calkin.

State GOP Chairman Brandon Bell gloated over the situation on Twitter with a post featuring an image of the Democratic Party’s endorsement filing. The primary will be held on Sept. 12.

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