Rep. Duncan Hunter deleted a photo of himself at a Fourth of July parade in his district standing beside a man making an “OK” gesture with his fingers — a symbol that in recent years has been appropriated by the far-right to mean “WP,” or “white power” — following questions from a reporter.
Hunter posted a photo posing with the man and other red-white-and-blue-clad parade-goers to his official congressional Twitter and Facebook pages last week. Following scrutiny of the photo by local media, progressive activists and a political opponent, Hunter’s campaign team first defended the “OK” hand symbol as innocuous. But the California Republican removed the photo from his social media pages Monday following questions from Roll Call about a 2017 video of the man reported to have made the gesture in the photo.
In an appearance before the San Diego school board two years ago, a constituent with the same name espoused Islamophobic views.
Hunter disavowed white supremacy through a spokesman, who described the man as a stranger to the congressman.
“Congressman Hunter does not know this person, or what his views may be, but to ensure there is no confusion, we are in the process of taking that particular picture off his social media pages,” district office director Michael Harrison said in an email.
Hunter was accommodating a constituent who wanted to take a picture with him, Harrison said.
“Congressman Hunter has never supported or been accused of supporting white supremacy and if anyone were to espouse any such beliefs in a photo with Congressman Hunter they did so without his knowledge or consent, particularly a stranger in the a parade who wanted to be in a picture with Congressman Hunter,” Harrison continued.
The Times of San Diego reported the identity of the man in the photo making the “OK” gesture to be Kristopher Wyrick. Roll Call has not independently verified that report.
In 2017, a man named Christopher Wyrick appeared before the San Diego Unified School District to speak against an initiative to reduce bullying faced by Muslim students, according to a San Diego Union Tribune article at the time. Wyrick was wearing a tshirt with the Iron Cross on it, according to a video of his speech, which was amplified by conservative blogs and has accumulated nearly 150,000 views.
While the Iron Cross originated as a Nazi military decoration, it has “also became one of several Nazi-era symbols adopted by outlaw bikers, more to signify rebellion or to shock than for any white supremacist ideology,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, which does not consider it a hate symbol, though it remains popular with the far-right and white supremacists.
Over the course of his 2017 remarks, Wyrick vocalized the view that Islam amounts to little more than “propaganda,” and claimed the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s foremost American Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has ties to terrorism.
“It amazes me that you’ve allowed CAIR to come into our schools and implement a pro-Islam curriculum,” Wyrick said.
According to CAIR, the idea that the organization maintains ties to terrorist organizations has been chiefly popularized by Frank Gaffney Jr.’s Center for Security Policy. The far right-wing think tank was deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said it has long peddled the anti-Muslim conspiracy theory that Sharia is encroaching on U.S. law and public schools.
CAIR dismisses the claim as a well-worn conspiracy theory.
Some of Hunter’s campaign ads during the 2018 election also centered on CAIR. In ads widely decried as bigoted, Hunter attacked opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar, who has Palestinian-Mexican American heritage, as a “national security threat,” pointing to CAIR’s campaign contributions to the Democratic candidate.
In the view of Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s communications director, the Fourth of July photo paints a clear picture.
“Given that Hunter has a history of Islamophobia, including the way he shared his deadly actions in Iraq that claimed civilian lives, I think it’s clear this individual is making a white supremacist hand sign in the presence of a congressman, who shared it proudly,” Hooper said.
Campa-Najjar, who has launched a 2020 campaign for Hunter’s 50th District seat, criticized Hunter for the July 4th photo in a statement Monday.
“At this point, it’s pretty clear that Congressman Hunter has lost all ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. It’s one scandal after another, one embarrassing news story after another, one potential crime after another, one courtroom appearance after another,” he said.
A U.S. District Court judge in California on Monday ruled against Hunter’s legal team’s motion to dismiss campaign finance fraud charges or to move the trial to another venue. He faces felony charges ranging from conspiracy to wire fraud for allegedly spending nearly $250,000 in campaign money on personal expenses ranging from groceries to trips to Italy.