Editor’s Note: Marisa Fox (@marisafox) is a New York-based freelance writer and producer who specializes in matters relating to gender and genocide. Her features and editorials have appeared in The New York Times, Huffington Post and Haaretz, among others. She is currently directing “My Underground Mother,” a documentary about her search for her late mother’s hidden Holocaust past. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.
Among the latest flurry of hair-raising Donald Trump appointees President-elect Joe Biden should replace as soon as possible, the name of Darren J. Beattie may not raise alarms quite like recently-installed Voice of America director Robert R. Reilly, author of controversial books like “Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything” and “The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis.” But Beattie’s presence at a federally funded entity could undermine US democracy and pose nefarious consequences.
Just days before the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, President Trump announced his intention to name Beattie, a former White House speechwriter, to a committee largely tasked with Holocaust preservation. Beattie left the administration in disgrace in 2018 after the disclosure that he participated at a conference with White nationalists two years earlier. At the time, he told CNN’s KFile he attended the 2016 H.L. Mencken Club conference and delivered an academic talk titled “The Intelligentsia and the Right.”
“I said nothing objectionable and stand by my remarks completely,” he said, adding that “it was the honor of my life” to serve in the Trump administration. “I love President Trump, who is a fearless American hero, and continue to support him one hundred percent.”
According to the Washington Post, Beattie appeared on a panel at the conference, an event that typically draws neo-Nazi pseudo-academics like Richard Spencer, alongside Peter Brimelow of anti-immigrant website VDare, which publishes work by notorious Holocaust denier Kevin MacDonald. MacDonald’s theory that Jews are trying to subvert the White majority in the US by championing multicultural immigration inspired the “Jews will not replace us” slogan chanted at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Despite protests from groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Trump confirmed Beattie’s appointment to the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad on December 3. Ben Ferencz, the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, called it “a shameful disgrace” in an email to me.
But it’s more than that. Inflammatory rhetoric is toxic and there is no shortage of examples of demagoguery and hate speech inciting followers to violence.
“When our government gives a post to a person like Beattie, it puts our security at risk,” Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me. “Take a look at his Twitter feed, where he calls Americans he disagrees with ‘the enemy.’ Beattie traffics in the kind of warlike rhetoric you’d typically encounter on neo-Nazi websites, which is what makes his continued connection to our government so disturbing.”
It also makes Beattie’s appointment to this commission all the more troubling. Started by Rabbi Zvi Kestenbaum, a Holocaust survivor who restored family graves destroyed by the Nazis and Soviets, the commission was seen as a way for American immigrant families to connect with their ancestral roots by preserving their heritage sites.
In its 35 years, the multi-faith, committee has overseen a wide array of projects in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, from restoring sites of Holocaust persecution to a Greek Catholic church in Slovakia to a Sarajevo cemetery honoring the victims of the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Commission consists of 21 members appointed by the President. Of these, seven are appointed in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and seven are appointed in consultation with the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
Beattie’s term is set to end on February 27, 2022. While Beattie claims that Biden can’t fire him case law and legal arguments indicate that Biden could indeed remove him if he chooses. The real question is whether it’s worth the trouble of a president firing an unpaid mid-level commission member whose term will expire anyway.
I believe it is.
Months after Beattie left the White House, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted that he had hired him as a “Special Advisor for Speechwriting.” Gaetz, who invited a Holocaust denier to the State of the Union address in 2018, came under scrutiny in July after Politico revealed he used $28,000 in taxpayer money to pay an independent contractor. According to Politico,Gaetz’s office acknowledged that he had improperly sent $28,000 to a company connected to Beattie. Gaetz’s office later described the payment as a “glorified clerical error” and told CNN that the funds were immediately returned to the House “as soon as the review determined this was not the right way to structure this.”
Around the same time Politico reported on Gaetz, Beattie said on Twitter that he wrote for Revolver News, an anonymously run Trump-boosted right-leaning news site that promotes outrageous conspiracy theories. Beattie retweets Revolver stories on what seems to be a daily basis.
In August, Beattie tweeted a link to a New York Times video reporting an anti-lockdown march in Berlin called “Day of Freedom” (a reference to a 1935 Nazi propaganda film), a neo-Nazi support