Narrowly elected to represent Minnesota’s 2nd District in 2016, Lewis is now considered one of the most endangered House Republicans in the midterm election. CNN rates the race as a “toss up,” the most competitive designation.
In a statement to CNN on Friday, Lewis’ office said highlighting the congressman’s past statements amounted to “an orchestrated attempt at making anyone who supports reducing illegitimacy or crime in minority communities, Voter ID laws and work requirements for public assistance back off their public policy positions.”
On his radio show in 2012, Lewis, who has described himself as libertarian Republican, regularly expressed a belief that African-Americans had an “entitlement mentality,” leading to violence in the community.
“There’s a cultural problem in the African-American community that is leading to this. The entitlement mentality,” Lewis said in December 2012. “You’re a victim. It’s OK to hate women, beat up women. It’s OK to hate gays. All this, we’re just sort of feeding this to people who are very lost because of the breakdown of society to begin with.”
That same month, Lewis added the welfare state has in some ways been worse for the black community than Jim Crow, calling black people “addicted” to government programs.
“What the welfare state has done to the black community, a hundred years of racism could not do,” he said. “A hundred years of racism could not break it up, it could not destroy black families. Jim Crow could not do it. But what dependency has done, is has caused unwanted pregnancy, illegitimacy. It has told young black males that they are dispensable, they don’t need to hang around when mom needs support or whatever and it has destroyed — and not just black communities, but any urban community, and so what you’ve got here is now they’re addicted. Large swaths of Hispanic communities, black communities are addicted to these, these subsidies.”
Lewis also asserted on an August 2012 broadcast that there tended to be trouble at black social gatherings — and that the same could not be said about other social groups.
“I happen to think actually that the modern welfare state has really devastated African-American communities, minority communities by making certain that young black males are raised by one parent, not holding fathers accountable,” he said. “You’ve added sort of gasoline to the fire of poverty. Now you’ve got young men with no way to express themselves in a proper way, so violence begets violence and the cycle keeps going on and on and on.”
He went on to say, “You simply can’t say the same thing about other groups. But when there is a festival, a gathering, call it what you will — June ninth, Juneteenth or urban weekend in Miami Beach or Myrtle Beach and Indianapolis. When there is a predominantly black festival, there’s trouble.”
Earlier that year in March, Lewis made a similar point in saying that “whitey” did not riot over OJ Simpson’s acquittal.
“Where were the throngs of lily white people in their Lacoste tennis shoes when OJ Simpson got off and everybody knew the man was guilty?” added Lewis. “I’m not speaking out of turn. Isn’t he in jail right about now or was? But regardless, where were the protests? Where was whitey going, ‘no justice, no peace.’ The Goldman family was outraged. They held some interviews. There wasn’t a threat to community violence or civil disobedience. Why not? That was a travesty of the criminal justice system. That was a joke. OJ didn’t even have a jury of his peers.”
“I can guarantee you why these murder rates are going up in these cities and it’s urban violence. It’s predominantly minority on minority, but where’s the protest over that?” added Lewis.
On the same broadcast, Lewis cited the book “White Girl Bleed A Lot” by far-right commentator Colin Flaherty, also the author of the book, “Don’t Make the Black Kids Angry.” The congressman used Flaherty’s book to support his theory that white people are “the real victims of racial violence.”
“Racial violence is all the media rage, but the elephant in the living room is they have it wrong. The real victims of most racial violence are not are not members of the minorities in America. They are white people,” the Minnesota congressman said. “Unfortunately, and this is documented fairly well in this new book, White Girl Bleed A Lot, The Return of Racial Violence, the author Colin Flaherty, an award-winning journalist based out east, as you have heard now.”
Lewis went on to say that the book was “not something that’s easy to stomach, because it is a tragic tale of more flash mobs, of more black-on-white violence, of more racial hatred and it’s not being reported except here.”
Some reviewers called the book’s portrayal
of the frequency of black-on-white crime misleading and accused it of inciting racism against black teenagers.
According to Bureau of Justice statistics, the rates of black-on-white violent crime and white-on-black crime between the years 2012 and 2015 were extremely similar, with the former being 3.1 per 1,000 white people and the latter being 2.8 per 1,000 black people. For the vast majority of violent crimes during those years, the victim and offender were of the same race.
“If you’re trying to suggest that that somehow I’ve got these horrible attitudes or because you were engaged in a provocative radio talk show, even though your record in Congress is very mainstream — Gov Track, puts me as a moderate,” Lewis told CNN’s KFile on Friday. “I’m working with (Democratic Rep.) Bobby Scott on criminal justice reform. I wrote a number of op-eds over the years questioning the efficacy of the drug war and specifically citing its impact on minority communities. My actual record is, is fairly clear. So when you take a quote in the context of a rhetorical discussion and put it in a headline that’s even worse — I do think that’s out of context.”
During his radio career, Lewis repeatedly returned to the subject of black-on-white crime, warning in December 2012 of a “racial war.”
“Another thing the media is ignoring that’s the return of race riots in America, in Chicago, in Philadelphia, and all across the fruited plain, there is a racial war going on,” he said. “Remember when we interviewed Colin Flaherty, author of a White Girl Bleed A Lot, where he documents, from Minneapolis to Portland to Miami to Philadelphia, the violent racial crime that’s going on, and most of it black on white, but the media choose to ignore that as well. Now, no one can discount the horrible legacy of slavery. No one can discount the sin of America’s past — but the chances today, and I want to be clear about this, I know it’s provocative, but I want to be clear — the chances today of a gang of KKK members beating up a black kid are remote compared to the opposite. A gang of black on white crime.”
“None of them are being reported by the mainstream media,” he would add. “No left wing violence whatsoever, no aggrieved victim violence. You know the usual victim groups, gays, minority members, union members, the poor you name. They’re next to godliness. Now, nobody wants to trade places with people who are impoverished, but that doesn’t countenance violence and it’s happening all over the country and nobody’s reporting on it.”
Lewis had previously warned of a potential “race war” in April 2012 after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. On that show, the congressman argued that “overreaction” to the shooting “by the civil rights establishment,” such as Al Sharpton, had brought the country to the “verge of a race war.” He then went on to say that the opposition of Sharpton and others to stricter voter ID laws was “the same sort of hyperventilation that has brought Florida to the edge of a race war.”
“You’ve got to have a photo ID to get on an airplane, you’ve got to have a photo ID to take a college test, you’ve got to have a photo ID to cash a check and yet (then-US Attorney General) Eric Holder is rejecting the Texas voter identification laws. He’s stopping the South Carolina voter identification laws. Why?” Lewis said.
“Because he and (Jesse) Jackson and Sharpton are once again bringing out the race card in photo ID–saying what? Saying that having a photo ID requirement at the polls is inherently — are you ready?–racist. Now this is the same sort of stretch, this is the same sort of hyperventilation that has brought Florida to the edge of a race war and now it’s coming from the white side as well as the black side, tragically. Extremists on both sides.”