Rep. Steve Knight’s campaign on Thursday took down an advertisement featuring a local veteran who regularly posts racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments on social media, a day after the congressman’s camp said it would not remove the political spot.
The ad was no longer displayed on the home page of Knight’s campaign website or on his Facebook page.
The Republican congressman from Palmdale said Thursday that his office had not been aware that the veteran, David Brayton of Santa Clarita, posted inflammatory and violent messages from multiple public accounts. He did not condemn Brayton’s comments.
“We don't say anything that is anything near racist about anyone,” he said when asked what he would say to constituents in the groups targeted by Brayton. “Our office is very open. We try and help anyone who walks in, and that's the way we go about business.”
Speaking after a veterans luncheon in Simi Valley, Knight said he could not recall when or how he met Brayton, and that more than a year has elapsed since his office helped Brayton deal with severe medical issues.
In addition to posts calling for Trump supporters to take up arms against protesters, Brayton has posted doctored images of Democratic leaders, including one with former President Obama with a noose around his neck and former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton being led to a gallows. He has posted disparaging comments about black people and Muslims, and the profile picture on one of his three Facebook accounts was captioned “Hear me Islam. I will slaughter you with your own knife.”
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Brayton, a former Air Force medic, stood by all of his posts, but denied that any of them were racist or anti-Semitic.
In the 30-second ad for the Knight campaign, Brayton sits next to the congressman and praises Knight for helping him get a lung transplant. The 64-year-old veteran wears a red shirt with the word “infidel” imprinted in the American flag, an apparent dig at Muslims; a Latin saying under it translates as "If you want peace, prepare for war."
Knight said he didn’t notice Brayton’s shirt, and that the veteran had never made comments to him hinting at his beliefs.
“Well, when somebody comes into our office, we don't ask them if they're a Republican or a Democrat,” he said. “We don't look at anything that they do. We ask them how we can help them.”
Matt Rexroad, Knight’s campaign strategist, had said Wednesday that there was no reason to vet Brayton’s social media postings before putting him in the ad and that Knight had no plans to take down the ad.
The two-term incumbent is locked in a tight race against Democratic challenger Katie Hill in the state’s 25th Congressional District. The district, which covers Simi Valley, Santa Clarita and part of the Antelope Valley, has been in Republican hands since 1993 but now has a four-point Democratic voter registration advantage. Knight’s seat has been a Democratic target since Clinton carried the district in the 2016 presidential election.
Hill on Thursday said Knight should apologize to the groups Brayton attacked.
“Knight, by featuring this individual, continuing to allow the ad to run, and refusing to condemn the remarks and behavior, is unfortunately complicit in creating a culture that divides us for political gain, and at the extremes, permits and encourages violence,” Hill said in a statement.
The Los Angeles office for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, said it was “unbelievable” that a congressman would embrace the support of an overt bigot, especially in light of recent deadly attacks, including one that killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
In a closely watched campaign, Knight has tried to stay away from divisive rhetoric. The Army veteran and former Los Angeles police officer has sought to focus his campaign on local issues, highlighting his efforts to help veterans and obtain funding for local infrastructure projects.
Knight opened Thursday’s luncheon by talking about a Vietnam veteran who, thanks to his office’s intervention, recovered medals that had been awarded but never received. The 14 veterans present didn’t seem particularly interested in the upcoming midterm election, however, and conversation drifted from healthcare to reminiscences about service.
But the casual nature of Thursday’s lunch was not indicative of the race’s status. The campaign for the 25th had drawn national attention: Last week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his political action committee was spending $5.1 million to help Hill.