Democratic Congressional District Candidate Apologises for Interview With Far-Right Group

A Democratic congressional candidate in California has apologized and said that he "messed up" by taking part in an interview with a far-right group accused of harassing Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is running for California's 50th district, was criticized by his own party for agreeing to sit down with Defend East County founder Justin Haskins on October 7.

His party also condemned him for his comments during the interview, including how he may not vote for Joe Biden in November's election, backs Judge Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court in the seat left vacant following Ruth Bader Ginsberg's death last month, and how he would not have voted to impeach President Donald Trump had he been a congressman at the time.

"There are a lot of people who saw this as a disappointment, as betrayal. It's a radical group that should not be legitimized," Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chair of the San Diego Democratic Party, told Fox 5 San Diego.

Defend East County was set up in response to the Black Lives Matter protests which took place in California in the wake of Minneapolis man George Floyd's death in late May.

According to TV station KPBS, its members have allegedly shared right-wing conspiracy theories and racist views on the group's Facebook page, as well as actively called for violence against BLM protesters.

The San Diego Union-Tribunepreviously reported on the group surrounding a small BLM protest group which drove through the city earlier this month.

In a video statement posted on Twitter, Campa-Najjar said he made a mistake in speaking with the group and vowed never to give white supremacists a platform in the future.

"Despite my best intentions, I messed up. I messed up bad," Campa-Najjar said.

"I should have been stronger and I should have called this out more strongly, but I am saying today that I do not condone hate, or violence, or threats on anyone's life from any group, including members of Defend East County

He added: "I understand I need to restore the people's faith, and I need to give you a reason to trust me after tarnishing partly for what we stand for. It was not my intention, but it was my actions.

"Let me say unequivocally that white supremacist terrorist groups will not have a voice as my constituents, they will not have a platform should I become congressman. I condemn white supremacy in the strongest of terms."

I condemn racism and violence.

— Ammar Campa-Najjar (@ACampaNajjar) October 12, 2020

Campa-Najjar's GOP rival, Darrell Issa, also spoke to Haskins during the same week, even promoting the interview on his Facebook page.

Issa has been contacted for comment.

Speaking to KPBS, Campa-Najjar said he regrets the comments he made during the interview. He said he took part to try and engage with the group on issues such as racism and conspiracy theories, some of which have been aimed against him by members of Defend East County.

Campa-Najjar said he understands why Democrats are upset with him, but said he considers himself a "moderate" Democrat in a conservative district while comparing himself to Republican senator John McCain.

"There's a lot of people in the establishment who would rather me be a more vote party-line kind of a Democrat and I'm a maverick," he said. "McCain made Republicans uncomfortable and I make Democrats uncomfortable."

Campa-Najjar said that he will no longer speak with Defend East County unless they personally disavow white supremacy.

"Until this organization completely moves off of the more violent, extreme elements within its ranks or denounces those who are extremists, I won't be re-engaging," Campa-Najjar said.

Haskins said he has already done this and denied that Defend East County are a far-right group which encourages violence

"We have 22,000 people [in the Facebook group]. Some people are angry and people post things they shouldn't. But we are not about violence, we don't want to incite violence or encourage violence," he told KPBS. "The only time violence is acceptable is in defense of yourself, your family and your country."

Ammar Campa-Najjar
Ammar Campa-Najjar (D-CA) who is running for congress in California's 50th district, with supporters during election night at Golden Hall in San Diego, California, on November 6, 2018. Campa-Najjar has apologized after sitting down for an interview with the Defend East County group. Sandy Huffaker/Getty