National Republicans are distancing themselves from George Buck after the Florida congressional candidate suggested hanging U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar in a fundraising email.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to remove Buck as one of the party’s “Young Guns," a Republican recruitment program that trains and supports candidates in competitive House races. U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, agreed with the decision, a spokeswoman for the committee said Wednesday.
The decision comes a day after the Tampa Bay Times reported that Buck’s campaign had sent a fundraising email calling for Omar’s execution. The email was sent last week in response to unsupported accusations that Omar, a Somali-born Democrat representing Minnesota, secretly works for the country of Qatar.
“We should hang these traitors where they stand,” the email said.
Buck, 64, initially told the Times he didn’t write the email, though it was signed by him. “I would never talk like that,” he said.
In a follow-up statement, Buck appeared to stand by the campaign’s email. “Anyone who commits treason against the United States should be tried to the full extent of the law,” Buck said, adding that death is a possible punishment for treason. He declined to elaborate further.
On Twitter and at rallies, President Donald Trump has often singled out Omar, who he called “an American-hating socialist.” Democrats have warned these outbursts have instigated and amplified threats of violence aimed at Omar. Federal authorities arrested a New York Trump supporter in April after he called the freshman congresswoman’s office saying he would “put a bullet in her skull.” The FBI investigated another death threat against Omar in August.
Buck’s fundraising email uses the same kind of violent language that prompted Twitter to permanently suspend from its social media platform Danielle Stella, Omar’s Republican challenger in Minnesota. Like Stella, Buck referenced an unverified story that Omar is an asset of Qatar who passed information to Iran. Omar has denied the report, which was circulated by the Jerusalem Post but has not been corroborated by American news outlets or the U.S. government.
Buck is one of six Republicans running for Congress in Florida District 13, a Pinellas County seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat and former Florida governor. Buck, a veteran and longtime firefighter, won the party’s nomination in 2018, but lost handily to Crist.
He did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
After the Times story published Tuesday, there was swift condemnation of Buck from Democrats and Republicans. U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat also mentioned unfavorably in Buck’s email, said the statement, “reaffirms just how much white supremacy has spread within the NRCC.”
Meanwhile, Todd Jennings, the chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party, said on Facebook: “There is no room for this kind of inflammatory rhetoric in either political party.” The post instigated a heated argument on Jennings’ social media page, with some standing up for Buck in the face of the blowback.
“Well..I look at it this way..what horrible threats & words have the DEMOCRATS said about OUR PRESIDENT...SO..WHAT HE SAID..IS HORRIBLE????? We’re allowed free speech also,” said one post.
Others agreed with Jennings.
“I agree Todd!! Because they are mean and hateful does not give us a pass to be able to do the same. Let’s put up good candidates and work to get them elected,” another person wrote.
Matt Becker, a Clearwater businessman also running for the GOP nomination in District 13, wrote on Facebook, “Under no circumstance is this appropriate.” Sheila Griffin, another of Buck’s primary opponents and the only black candidate in the race, said the calls for hangings were “careless rhetoric."
“We are not running a carnival sideshow,” Griffin told the Times in a statement. “If we are serious about beating Charlie Crist, we need to start being serious about who we nominate from our diverse region to take him on.”
By Wednesday morning, the National Republican Congressional Committee website no longer listed Buck as a Young Gun. GOP donors are encouraged to contribute to Young Gun candidates because they have met a minimum threshold for campaign organization to be considered viable. Former healthcare lobbyist and congressional staffer Amanda Makki, another Republican running for the seat, is currently the lone Young Gun in the race.