Even by the standards of 2020, this week’s batch of congressional primaries across the US threw up a particularly shocking result: the election of far-right activist Laura Loomer to be the Republican candidate in Florida’s 21st district.
While some Republicans are openly dismayed at her nomination, others have backed her, including both sitting members of Congress and Donald Trump, who votes (albeit by mail) in the district where Ms Loomer is standing.
Ms Loomer, 27, has become a celebrity of sorts in extreme right-wing circles in recent years thanks to a string of sometimes bizarre public protests and stunts, including interrupting congressional hearings, storming the stage at a New York production of Julius Caesar, and publicly asking Chelsea Clinton to sign a book for a woman who has accused Bill Clinton of rape.
Her principal causes are anti-Islamic campaigning – she has called herself a “proud Islamophobe” – and more recently a fight against the “silencing” of conservatives, a theme she has latched onto since she was banned from various major social media platforms for expressing hateful views.
Among the earliest organisations to sanction Ms Loomer were Uber and Lyft, who shut her out in late 2017 when she tweeted an anti-Islamic rant in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in New York. Claiming that onlookers in hijabs probably enjoyed the attack, she then called for the creation of a “non-Islamic” ride-hailing service.
”Someone needs to create a non-Islamic form of Uber or Lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver,” she tweeted.
"I'm late to the NYPD press conference because I couldn't find a non-Muslim cab or Uber Lyft driver for over 30 min!"
Twitter, meanwhile, permanently banned Ms Loomer in 2018 after she went on a rant about Minnesota democrat Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Specifically, Ms Loomer called Ms Omar “anti-Jewish” and wrote that she followed a “cancer” of a religion that oppressed homosexuals and forced her to wear the hijab.
This was beyond the pale as far as Twitter was concerned – though Ms Loomer had previously used the platform to share many other anti-Islam screeds. At one point she celebrated the deaths of 2,000 migrants in the Mediterranean sea, tweeting “Good. Here’s to 2,000 more.”
After the ban, Ms Loomer put out a statement on social media network Gab: "My haters are celebrating today, and they are saying this is the end of my career, but I want everyone to know I'm just getting started. Everyone who knows me knows I don't back down."
She soon staged a protest, handcuffing herself to the doors of Twitter’s offices in New York while wearing a yellow “jude” star and shouting that she stood in solidarity with “millions of conservatives” who have been “silenced”. After a few hours standing in the cold, she asked to be released with bolt cutters.
In the aftermath of her primary victory, Twitter has confirmed it will not be reinstating her account.
A few months after being ejected from Twitter, she was also barred from jointly owned platforms Facebook and Instagram. The company deemed her in breach of its ban on “dangerous individuals and organisations”, citing her associations with extremist figures and her previous racist posts, including those about Ms Omar.
Ms Loomer sued Facebook over the decision claiming the ban was defamatory, but her case was thrown out by a federal judge.
Also banning Ms Loomer is PayPal, which shut her account in early 2019 after she was accused of having links to an anti-Muslim hate group. Complaining that the ban would leave her unable to receive donations to fund her activism, Ms Loomer wrote: “I can’t even exist in society because the actual Nazis in tech and on the left constantly ban me because I post facts. How am I supposed to pay my bills?”
Nonetheless, Ms Loomer has triumphed in her primary. This does not mean she will make it to Congress, not least given the district leans heavily Democratic – but for now, though still banned from much of the mainstream internet, she enjoys the public approval of certain elements in her party, and of her president.
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