ST. LOUIS, Missouri — A relatively uneventful race for Missouri's open seat in the U.S. Senate broke out with a viral moment on Twitter Tuesday night when Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine accused Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt of "openly embracing those who spew vile antisemitism."
Valentine's post spread quickly online with more than 1,300 shares and retweets and nearly 4,000 likes. While she has said she's not personally on Twitter and doesn't publish tweets herself, her campaign's post could become one of the more visible moments of a campaign where the two candidates refuse to debate each other on the same stage.
Valentine went on the attack after Schmitt deleted a tweet promoting controversial rapper Kanye West. Schmitt's initial tweet was posted amid a furious backlash stemming from the rapper's anti-Semitic rants that were edited out of his recent interview with right wing Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Carlson initially invited West to appear on his program after he wore a shirt with the caption "White Lives Matter" on it. Twitter and Instagram also locked West out of his social media accounts after he tweeted that he was going to "go death con 3 on Jewish people," an apparent reference to the military term DEFCON 3.
All of these events were reported publicly and circulated widely in conservative circles after West's appearance on Carlson's program. Schmitt's tweet promoting the rapper came several hours after some of the most offensive comments to Carlson were unearthed in a Vice News report and shared widely in other media reports.
The morning after, Schmitt adopted a stance of plausible deniability, though his campaign said the Attorney General published the tweet himself.
"I wasn’t aware of the recent comments and was commenting on Kanye’s recent interview with Tucker Carlson where he called out left wing hypocrisy," Schmitt said in a text message through his campaign spokesman Rich Chrismer.
Local Jewish leaders are now calling on Schmitt to apologize and take a more active stance in condemning anti-Jewish bigotry.
"Anti-Semitism, as well as racism and homophobia, seem to be part of Republican politics today," Rabbi Susan Talve said.
"It's not enough to delete a tweet," the leader of the Central Reform synagogue said. "He needs to really do something now. It's not enough. His words have caused damage. You can't take them back now. He has to align himself with different communities that are working against hate. So he has to do more. He has to do something. He has to reach out. He has to have conversations. He has to go into those places where he knows there is hate speech, and he has to condemn it."
"This kind of reckless, careless rhetoric causes suffering," Talve said. "It encourages people who are on the fringe to put other people at risk, and so it does have consequences. There's a reason that one out of every four Jews in America say that they have experienced some kind of anti-Semitism in this past year."
Schmitt's response was laced with political attacks, but did not include any direct condemnation of Kanye West's anti-Semitic rants.
“Regarding my tweet on Ye and Kid Rock: I like their music," Schmitt said. "Typically, they’re against the privileged elites like my opponent The Heiress. But, I don’t condone everything they say, unlike The Heiress Valentine who has been silent on Cori Bush’s anti-Semitism and embraced her support for her campaign."
Schmitt's campaign declined to explain its accusations leveled at Congresswoman Cori Bush, though some Jewish groups have criticized her pro-Palestine positions.
The episode raises further questions about Schmitt's judgment and discretion in employing the resources of his office to fight racism and anti-Semitism in Missouri.
Earlier this summer, Schmitt's government office said he had no power under state law to pursue or investigate credible leads into the Patriot Front. The racist, white nationalist hate group is actively recruiting new members in Jefferson City, Columbia, and the greater St. Louis region, according to leaked internal messages from the militia members.
"I think it very much is his lane if he knows that people in his state are at risk because of potential hate crimes," Talve said.
Arrest records show Florissant native Mitchell Wagner and Freeburg native Garret Garland traveled with the Patriot Front from the St. Louis region to intimidate people at an LGBT parade in Idaho in June. The two local men were also in regular, direct contact about a plot to vandalize a Black History mural at Washington University, according to hate speech monitors at "Discord Leaks" who identified Garland by his code name Randolph IL, and Wagner as Kyle MO in their leaked texts and group chats.
Prosecutors eventually charged Wagner for spray painting racist messages over a mural of the civil rights icon and late Congressman John Lewis, but signs of the hate group's graffiti continue to appear in public places in the St. Louis area.
When 5 On Your Side asked Schmitt's office again in September if the Attorney General had taken any action whatsoever to investigate the Patriot Front and its activities in Missouri, his spokesman Chris Nuelle gave no response.