Pro-Trump group uses coronavirus as opportunity to spread racist tropes


'Creating and exploiting fear of minorities is part of the Trump playbook,' said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress.

A Trump-aligned group described Chinese people as "disease carriers" and used racist tropes about Chinese food in a recent blog post about the new coronavirus.

America First Policies, a Trump-aligned nonprofit that promotes his policies, wrote a post about the new virus on Jan. 29. In it, the authors criticized the Chinese government for allowing "potential disease carriers" to leave Wuhan during the Lunar New Year holiday and pushed racist tropes mocking Chinese food as dirty.

"Wildlife is a sought after delicacy by China's growing middle class. (Bat bouillabaisse or kung pao mice anyone?)," the group wrote.

The article was first flagged by American Bridge, a progressive opposition research organization.

Tropes associating Asian cultures with "dirty" food habits have been around for years. As the Los Angeles Times notes, "Yellow Peril," the claim that Asians and Asian culture are somehow a threat to the western world — specifically the western white world — go back as far as 19th century Europe. The new virus has only served as a jump-off point for those seeking to further that racist narrative.

In the wake of the outbreak, which began in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, for instance, hysteria was sparked after a video of a Chinese woman holding chopsticks and biting into a cooked bat went viral. Various outlets promoted the video as proof of the disease's origin and blamed "dirty" Chinese food habits for the outbreak.

In reality, the woman, a travel show host, had shot the video years earlier in Palau, a nation in the western Pacific. In a letter responding to the outcry, she noted that fruit bats were in fact a "daily dish in many countries."

In an email this week, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress and the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, called the anti-Chinese language in the America First Policies post "deeply offensive."

"It's not surprising to see a Trump-inspired organization parroting his racist and xenophobic rhetoric, but that does not make it any less dangerous," she said. Such language, she continued, "endangers the Chinese-American community by encouraging fear and mistrust."

"Already, we are seeing the impact of this in our communities, including a recent hate crime in which a Chinese-American woman in New York City was attacked in the Subway simply for wearing a face mask," Chu lamented. "It's shameful to see an organization not only spread racism and hysteria, but encourage it."

Kyle Morse, a spokesperson for American Bridge, said in an email that the Trump-aligned group was stoking "fear" and dividing the country by furthering racist narratives.

"Donald Trump and his allies have been willing to use racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic language to stoke fear and divide the American people," Morse said. "Voices from the Trump universe are far more focused on denigrating and dehumanizing rather than developing a comprehensive plan to tackle this pressing public health crisis."

America First Policies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The group has had issues with racism in the past. In March 2018, Carl Higbie, who was Trump's chief of external affairs for the Corporation for National and Community Service, joined American First Policies as its director of advocacy.

But he was soon let go when funders complained about his past comments, including an instance in which he claimed that black women think "breeding is a form of government employment," and another in which he said, "I just don't like Muslim people."

In an interview on Fox News in 2016, Higbie also defended rumors about Trump wanting to implement a "Muslim registry" by citing Japanese internment during World War II.

"We've done it with Iran, back a while ago, we did it during World War II with Japanese — which, call it what you will, it may be wrong...."

Then-host Megyn Kelly stopped him. "Come on, you're not proposing we go back to the days of internment camps," she said. "You know better than to suggest that. That's the kind of thing that gets people scared."

Higbie responded by saying he was "not proposing that at all" before adding, "I'm just saying there’s precedent for it."

In addition to America First Policies' pro-Trump bent, Vice President Mike Pence has been linked to the group in the past and spoke at an event it organized in August 2019. He is also featured prominently on the group's site.

This post was updated to align with WHO guidelines on the virus' name.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.