An expert on race and politics said the site smacks of the 'Southern strategy' of communicating a racist message through coded language.
A conservative political action committee in Missouri is facing accusations of racism after posting a website that uses images of violent protests and photos of Black politicians to attack the Democratic candidate for governor on her support for police.
Nicole Galloway, Missouri's state auditor, is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Mike Parson, a former sheriff running on a "law-and-order" platform. The website recently set up by the Uniting Missouri PAC has the heading, "Nicole Galloway's anti-policing allies" and says, "If you want to know where Galloway stands, look at who she supports."
The site includes photos of Black politicians and activists Cori Bush and Rasheen Aldridge of St. Louis, and Clem Smith, a Black man who is the acting chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party. Also pictured are mixed-race members of the Sunrise Movement. Video in the background shows violent scenes from protests.
Several Democrats, along with St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger and the Kansas City Star editorial board, contend it's more than coincidental that the imagery overwhelmingly involves Black people.
"To me, it is not just a dog whistle. It's a bullhorn," said Lindsey Simmons, a Democrat running for the U.S. House in Missouri's 4th District against incumbent Republican Vicky Hartzler. "They are directly saying, 'Hey, be afraid of Nicole Galloway, she is pro-crime, because look at the Black people she hangs out with, and they're pro-crime, too.' That is just incredibly, overtly racist."
Parson's campaign is not involved in the website. His campaign did not return email messages seeking comment.
Uniting Missouri Chairman John Hancock denied any racist intent, saying the people pictured meet two criteria: They support Galloway, and they "hold documented radical anti-law enforcement views."
"The website simply compiles unedited statements from Nicole Galloway's allies advocating for defunding the police, freeing convicted cop killers, and even setting fire to a police station," Hancock said in an email.
"If Nicole doesn't want to face criticism for endorsing candidates that want to defund the police, then she should rescind her endorsements — it's as simple as that," Hancock said.
Galloway campaign spokesman Kevin Donohoe said in a statement that the website is evidence that Parson's allies "are desperately trying to divide Missourians to distract from Governor Parson's failures on crime, law and order, healthcare, and the pandemic."
Bush and Aldridge are longtime activist leaders in St. Louis. Bush pulled a stunning political upset in August, defeating 10-term incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay in Missouri's 1st District primary. She's expected to win easily in November. Aldridge represents a St. Louis district in the Missouri House. Smith was a five-term state representative who was named acting chair of the Missouri Democratic Party in July.
The site includes a tweet from Bush that reads, "We need to defund the police and make sure that money goes back into the communities that need it." It cites a June story on KSDK-TV's website in which Aldridge said activist demands include defunding police and payment of reparations for past racism.
The site references a news article that said Smith signed a letter calling for the "immediate freedom" of a man serving life imprisonment without parole after killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
Clarissa Rile Hayward, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis with expertise in the relationship between race and politics, said there are plenty of activists of other races with similar views who could have been pictured. She said the site smacks of the "Southern strategy" of communicating a racist message through coded language rather than overt racism.
"The message is, 'Galloway is not on your side; she's on their side,'" Hayward said. "I think it's pretty heavy-handed and I think there's a racist subtext that's not hard to see and is not subtle."
Opinion writers for the state's two largest newspapers also have taken exception to the website.
A Star editorial on Wednesday accused Uniting Missouri of "using an ugly tactic in their campaign" against Galloway. Messenger wrote on Tuesday that it's not enough for Parson to stand on his own record as sheriff.
"It's like his campaign, or the one run by his sidekicks, is the little boy in the movie 'Sixth Sense,' with a little racist twist: 'I see Black people,'" Messenger wrote.