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Laura Loomer, the anti-Muslim congressional candidate praised by Trump, explained

Laura Loomer calls herself a “proud Islamophobe.” Tuesday night, she won a Republican primary in Florida — and Trump is cheering her on.

Laura Loomer counter-protesting the 2019 Women’s March.
John Lamparski/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Laura Loomer is a former contributor to the conspiracy site Infowars and a self-described “proud Islamophobe.” She is famous for, among other things, spreading conspiracy theories about mass shootings and demanding that Uber and Lyft stop allowing Muslims to work as drivers. She has been banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Paypal, Venmo, and GoFundMe for violating their policies on hate speech.

On Tuesday night, she won the Republican nomination for Congress in Florida’s 21st Congressional District — the stretch of southeastern Florida where President Trump is registered to vote. And on Wednesday morning, the president voiced his support, tweeting about Loomer’s victory five separate times.

“Great going Laura,” Trump wrote in one tweet. “You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!”

Loomer does not, in fact, have a great chance. FL-21 has been represented by a Democrat since 2013 and is generally seen as a safe seat for the party. It would likely take a massive Republican wave election for Loomer to unseat incumbent Rep. Lois Frankel, which seems exceptionally unlikely in 2020. (The Loomer campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.)

But her victory is telling nonetheless. In a healthy political party, extremists who cheer the deaths of migrants and were arrested for trespassing on the California governor’s mansion while wearing a sombrero wouldn’t get more than a handful of votes. Instead, Loomer was endorsed by two sitting members of Congress — Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) — and feted by the president himself.

Loomer is now part of a group of fringe Republicans winning congressional primaries in 2020, the most notable of whom is Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia-based believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory who won in a safe Republican district and is very likely heading to Congress.

This is not an isolated problem. A closer look at Loomer, in particular, reveals that the causes of this rot run deeper than Trump and are very likely to continue remaking the Republican Party after he’s gone.

Who is Laura Loomer?

Loomer isn’t a household name for most Americans. But she’s been a presence in the conservative media ecosystem for quite some time.

She first attracted attention in 2015 when, as a college senior at Barry University in South Florida, she secretly filmed a meeting with administrators in which she attempted to form a campus club supporting ISIS. The video was released by Project Veritas, the conservative group that specializes in (questionably edited) sting videos.

Loomer worked for Project Veritas during the 2016 presidential campaign and learned to build a career out of political stunts. She grabbed the national spotlight June 2017 when she stormed the stage at a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in New York that dressed the Roman general like Donald Trump. The disruption earned Loomer a booking on Sean Hannity’s show.

“You were making a very strong point. I applaud you for what you’ve done,” Hannity told her.

Loomer parlayed the notoriety from the Julius Caesar incident into a kind of internet celebrity on the pro-Trump right. The problem with celebrity, though, is that it can give you too many opportunities to show yourself. And Loomer proved to be someone with truly out-there opinions.

After an ISIS supporter killed eight people with a truck in November 2017, she went on an Islamophobic rant on Twitter, blaming popular ride-hailing apps for employing Muslim drivers. “Someone needs to create a non Islamic form of Uber or Lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver,” she wrote. The two services subsequently banned her, the first of many bans from high-profile tech platforms.

In 2018, Loomer teamed up with the conspiracy site Infowars to cover the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She had suggested in a tweet that the students there speaking out against gun violence were plants: “it’s obvious these kids are reading a screen or notes someone else wrote for them.” In May 2018, after a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, Loomer went even further — suggesting in a tweet that the entire thing was staged.

“The doctor speaking to media outside the hospital in Santa Fe, TX where victims of a school shooting were taken today said they just had a ‘mass casualty drill’ at the hospital around the same time of the school drill,” she wrote. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help but notice these ‘coincidences.’”

Laura Loomer, self-described most banned woman by social media, finds a platform with Florida GOP chairman
Laura Loomer in Tallahassee, speaking about a Florida state bill on alleged social media censorship in January.
Skyler Swisher/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

This particular cocktail of hate speech and conspiracy theory misinformation became the hallmark of Loomer’s political style, prompting the bans from major social media platforms. The straw that broke the camel’s back on Twitter, for example, came in November 2018 when Loomer tweeted that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) supported female genital mutilation because she is Muslim. In response to the ban, which came a year after Twitter stripped her blue check mark as punishment for similar false and offensive claims, Loomer physically chained herself to Twitter’s headquarters in New York while wearing a Nazi-style yellow star (Loomer is Jewish).

Since these bans, alleged social media censorship of conservatives has become Loomer’s cause du jour. She’s found allies in popular far-right publications like Breitbart as well as in Washington. In December 2019, President Trump retweeted a Loomer supporter calling for donations to her campaign. In May 2020, Rep. Gosar sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr calling on him to open an investigation into Loomer’s Facebook ban.

“Facebook is in essence preventing Loomer from using that platform to speak to potential voters, to raise money, and in effect, Facebook is supporting her opponent,” Gosar wrote. “This is a campaign contribution that has not been reported and the value of which far exceeds the campaign limitations.”

Gosar, along with Rep. Gaetz, endorsed Loomer during her primary. Positioning her as a victim of Big Tech censorship — a major concern on the right today — works to help normalize her, to bring her into the mainstream of political debate.

The story of Loomer’s primary victory appears to be fairly straightforward. Her fame among very online right-wing voters, as well as support from Trump and prominent far-right Republicans like Gaetz and Gosar, helped her raise more than $1 million during the primary — outraising both her lesser-known Republican opponents and Frankel, the Democratic incumbent. She won 14,478 votes in the primary, about 43 percent of the total — enough for a solid plurality in six-way race.

Her extremism doesn’t appear to have been an anchor. It was her selling point.

What Laura Loomer means

It’s worth reiterating that Loomer is vanishingly unlikely to win the general. House races are fundamentally linked to the national climate: For a Republican to win in a district like FL-21, which is about 9 points more Democratic-leaning than the average, there would need to be some kind of massive groundswell of pro-Republican sentiment. This is not what appears to be happening.

But while the prospect of Rep. Loomer shouldn’t cause anyone to lose too much sleep, the fact of Candidate Loomer should. She is living proof that the more sober elements of the Republican Party have lost the ability to contain the fringe — perhaps permanently.

Think about Loomer’s pathway to prominence and primary victory. She came up through the conservative movement, a job with Project Veritas, and got signal-boosted by Fox News. She formed a hard core of support on social media, a right-wing fan base that survived bans from major platforms thanks to promotion on far-right outlets popular with the GOP base like Breitbart. And then she was embraced by elected Republicans, like Gaetz and Gosar, propelling her to victory in the primary.

For most of this time, there wasn’t much of a secret as to who Laura Loomer was. It’s obvious that she’s a conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim bigot; that’s her whole deal. These are red flags that a functioning political party would pick up on. In a healthy party, someone like Loomer would be very unlikely to get even an entry-level job — and if she did, through some mistake in vetting, her career would be short-lived. Instead, she’s been consistently elevated by influential figures in the conservative movement. The more sober-leaning Republicans were either unwilling or unable to stop this.

Loomer isn’t alone in this. In this cycle alone, six sympathizers with the QAnon movement— an outlandish conspiracy theory that posits Trump as America’s champion against a secret ring of pedophiles who run the government — have won Republican primaries. One of them, Marjorie Taylor Greene, is overwhelmingly likely to win a seat in Congress.

Though Trump has stoked these fires, he didn’t start them. The real problems — an irresponsible leadership and an alternative media infrastructure that doesn’t seem to have a moral floor — preceded him and will outlast him. The Republican primary electorate has been remade by these forces over the course of decades to include a massive bloc of voters driven by racial grievance and conspiratorial thinking.

Loomer won “not in spite of being a crazy, but because she is a crazy,” conservative journalist Jonathan Last writes in the Bulwark. “It is unclear to me what suite of policy options professional Republicans and conservatives could possibly offer these voters to compete with the psychic payoffs they get for voting for the Trumps and Loomers of the world.”

Even if Trump loses in 2020, even if he loses big, the problem of a GOP that elevates voices like Loomer will still loom over American politics. And it’s entirely unclear what, if anything, the rest of the country can do about it.

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