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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Cox withdraws from ‘Unite the Right’ event after Jewish group raises concerns

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox outside the Maryland Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis on Friday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox abruptly withdrew from a GOP unity gathering on Monday after a Jewish group said the event’s name evoked memories of the deadly white supremacist uprising that occurred in Charlottesville, Va.

The “Unite the Right” event was scheduled to take place at a restaurant in Arnold on Oct. 22. Organizers said the concert and rally were intended to bring a fractured Maryland Republican Party together for the closing weeks of the campaign.

But Cox and his running mate, Gordana Schifanelli, denounced the event after a leading Jewish organization noted that it appeared to represent the first time since the 2017 riot in Central Virginia that anyone has used the name “Unite the Right.”

One person died and dozens were injured in that melee. Participants carried Nazi and Confederate flags and some chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend.” The rally followed the removal of Confederate monuments and the massacre at a Black church in Charleston, S.C.

In a statement, the Cox campaign said the Maryland event had been publicized “without the campaign’s knowledge of the title.”

“Upon discovery, Delegate Dan Cox and the Dan Cox For Governor campaign have immediately disassociated themselves from any further involvement,” the statement read. “Dan Cox, Gordana Schifinelli [sic] and the entire campaign denounce any association with this event.”

“We will not be associated with anything that is reminiscent, accidental or otherwise, of the unspeakable tragedy that took place in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. Anything less is unacceptable.”

The Oct. 22 event was sponsored by Red Renaissance, Inc., a group that describes itself as “the next generation of conservative leaders.” It is described as a fundraiser to benefit Republican candidates.

The flyer for a “Unite the Right” event organized by Red Renaissance, Inc. Screenshot.

General admission tickets are $17.76. For $45, VIP attendees will get an opportunity to meet country artist James McCoy Taylor, the evening’s performer, and WBAL Radio talk show host Kim Klacik, an organizer who is scheduled to serve as emcee.

The group boasts a lineup of “special guests” that includes Cox, Schifanelli, and several congressional candidates, including Chris Palombi, Nicolee Ambrose and Yuripzy Morgan, among others.

The two party activists who were asked to spearhead the event said they never intended to replicate what happened in Virginia.

“This has nothing to do with Charlottesville,” said LaToya Nkongolo, an unsuccessful candidate for the House of Delegates in Anne Arundel County. “When the name was mentioned, it was fitting for our definition of what we want to do in Maryland. What we want in Maryland is to make sure that our candidates here get the support that they need from the community. … And that’s it.”

“This is a concert,” she added. “I can tell you unequivocally that I don’t want to be tied to anything that is anti-Semitic or white supremacist or whatever the connotation associated with it.”

Nkongolo said Klacik chose the name. In a video posted to Twitter on Oct. 3, Klacik said: “I know I complain a lot about Republicans being somewhat fractured. … We need to all come together. On Election Day, we need to vote Republican up and down the ballot.”

Co-organizer Dawn Pulliam, a former county council candidate in Anne Arundel, said tying in with Charlottesville “was never, ever, ever” the intent. “I love him,” she said of Cox. “If we did anything to put him in a bad light, that was not the intent. That’s truly unfortunate. We just wanted to bring people together.”

Asked if she knew of the event’s name, Morgan, who hopes to unseat Rep. John Sarbanes (D), said, “hell no.”

“An event with ties to white supremacy or anti-semitism has no place in Maryland and America for that matter,” she wrote in a text. “I would never be a part of any event that encouraged those ideas. Further I’m deeply offended that I was included as I would never give permission to have my name on it.”

The head of a prominent Jewish group said that if the use of the name Unite the Right was inadvertent, the organizers need to go with something else.

“Using the phrase ‘unite the right’ to name a rally feels to me like a dog whistle to anti-Semitic white nationalists,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “It clearly harkens to the tragic rally in Charlottesville.”

Klacik, who unsuccessfully sought a congressional seat in 2020, told Fox 45 (WBFF-TV) in Baltimore that the rally will take place despite the withdrawal of Cox and Schifanelli. She scoffed at the notion that anyone would tie her event to the violence in Charlottesville.

“I just think it’s quite silly that anybody would try to link the name to Charlottesville and white supremacy,” she told the station. “As a Black woman that ran in a predominantly Black city, that’s the last thing I’m thinking about maybe because I’m Black.”