Update: This post has been updated on May 23, 2019, to to clarify language describing the American Guard.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz posed for a photo with a member of the American Guard, a group the Anti-Defamation League characterizes as right-wing extremists, at a gun rights rally in Harrisburg on May 6. The photo of the representative surfaced in a tweet. In the photo, she smiles next to a couple of members of the Guard, who are wearing shirts with the group’s name and logo.
“It is irresponsible for state legislators to pose for selfies with white supremacists,” ADL Regional Director Nancy Baron-Baer said in a statement. “ADL can confirm that the individual in the photo is connected to multiple right-wing extremist movements, and there is no excuse for anyone in a position of leadership in the commonwealth to appear to legitimize extremism.”
After there was outrage in reaction to the photo, and a call for an apology, Borowicz, who represents Clinton County and parts of Centre County, released a statement pushing back against the criticism.
“On any given day as a state lawmaker, I am frequently approached and honored to have my photo taken with individual constituents, groups and organizations, as are most of my colleagues,” she said in the statement, according to the Centre Daily Times. “We do not, nor should we, require ID or background checks as a condition for being photographed with the people of Pennsylvania — our constituents! The many photos taken of me at this year’s Rally to Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms are no different.”
The Guard describes itself as a right-wing populist movement, according to the group’s website, with a particular focus on restoring and strengthening the Bill of Rights, and with an emphasis that any interpretation of the Constitution should favor the states’ rights over the federal government.
Rac Brewer, the man to the right of Borowicz in the photo, is president of the American Guard’s Florida chapter and says the group rejects bigotry and violence. He noted that former member Augustus Invictus was rejected from the organization for sympathizing with the Nazis.
“Our governing documents are pretty clear; we are open to all races and both genders,” he said. “We have an organization as diverse as the nation we serve.”
Brewer noted Hussein Hill, president of the group’s North Carolina chapter, who is African American and gay, as an example of its diversity. But the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the group as a hate group, and in a 2017 report, the ADL pointed out that Guard founder Brien James was “a long-time Indiana white supremacist who was one of the founders of the Vinlanders Social Club (VSC), a hardcore racist skinhead gang.”
In 2018, there was a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents committed by white supremacists across the nation, according to an annual audit released by the ADL. White supremacists have been responsible for most extremist-related killings over the past decade, including nearly 80 percent of all extremist-related murders in 2018, the ADL reported.
Ariella Werden-Greenfield, associate director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, said the Guard is trying to take advantage of the current political climate.
“In America, white nationalists and supremacists find in the current administration sanction to act upon their hateful and inherently fearful drives,” she said.
Borowicz is the first woman ever elected to represent the 76th District in the Pennsylvania House.
“There is still too much political correctness and unaccountable government intrusion infiltrating our daily lives,” she said, when she was sworn into office in January. But in late March, she found herself at the center of another rhetorical storm, after she faced criticism over her opening prayer for the 25th session of the state legislature on March 25.
During the two-minute address, she mentioned “Jesus” more than 13 times, ending with, “Every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord.”
The prayer took place just as the first female Muslim member of the Pennsylvania House, Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell of Philadelphia, was sworn into office.
Borowicz did not return the Exponent’s requests for comment.
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