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What’s the Deal with Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard?

When Rep. Tulsi Gabbard charged Sen. Kamala Harris at the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate on July 31 with putting “over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations” during her time as attorney general of California from 2011-2016 and Harris later fired back that Gabbard is an “apologist” for Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad who has «murdered the people of his country like cockroaches» and that Gabbard «refuses to call him a war criminal,» it opened a huge can of worms.

As Freedom Leaf reported prior to the debate, the 1,500-figure stated by the right-wing website Washington Free Beacon in February, and which Gabbard quoted from, was erroneous. First of all, the actual figure reported by the Free Beacon was 1,560. After receiving data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, we added up the total number of prison admissions for marijuana-related felony offenses during those six years. The actual total was 1,876. That figure would appear to buttress Gabbard’s argument that Harris was somehow responsible for the admissions.

However, in its fact-checking article, the San Jose Mercury-News wrote the next day, as we noted in our article:

“The attorney general’s office doesn’t directly prosecute the vast majority of drug cases in the state. That’s up to the individual district attorneys in each county, and it’s wrong to say Harris put those people in jail.”

The Mercury-News added another 98 admissions for hashish charges to the total, spiking it up to 1,974.

The main point in the Freedom Leaf article about the prison admissions was this conclusion: “From the time Harris was elected AG to when she left office, admissions to prison for felony marijuana offenses in California declined by 83.2%.”

In her zeal to bolster her candidacy, Gabbard didn’t see it that way.

A Pro-Cannabis Candidate

Gabbard at the California Democratic Convention on June 1, 2019

A U.S. representative from Hawaii since 2013, Gabbard is among several Democratic presidential candidates who have called for the end of marijuana prohibition.

Gabbard appeared in a video presentation at the International Cannabis Business Conference in Kauai on December 1, 2017. A month later, she and Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Garrett introduced H.R. 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017.

At the Vote Tulsi website, Gabbard stated on November 8, 2017 about the proposed legislation: “By removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, we can remove the barriers to enterprising small businesses so that they can secure bank loans and insure their businesses. Medical researchers currently handcuffed by strict federal regulations can be freed up to study treatments, and doctors can freely prescribe the best treatments to their patients. Critically, this bill will transform our criminal justice system. Millions of people and their families have been impacted by the so-called ‘War on Drugs,’ which has boosted the private prison industry but failed our nation’s communities.”

Gabbard is among several Democratic presidential candidates who have called for the end of marijuana prohibition.

Six days before the July 31 debate, Gabbard introduced another piece of cannabis-themed legislation, H.R. 3652, the Hemp for Victory Act, named for the 1942 government film that encouraged farmers to grow the crop for the war effort.

At her Congressional website, she explained about the proposed legislation: “The hemp industry is poised to grow rapidly, having a billion-dollar impact on the U.S. economy and creating thousands of jobs. Hemp-based materials have the potential to transform industries from health care to domestic manufacturing to affordable, sustainable housing construction, and more. Studies have shown it can play a role in helping remove toxins from our environment and prevent soil erosion, as well as provide alternatives to single-use plastics, which pollute our lands and ocean. My bill will lay the foundation for how we can optimize the hemp industry’s potential and ensure this opportunity benefits family farms and small businesses across America ­– from Hawai’i to Kentucky and beyond.”

The bill was applauded by hemp industry leaders Joy Beckerman and Eric Steenstra.

Who Is Tulsi Gabbard?

Tulsi Gabbard family

Gabbard with her father Mike and mother Carol

Gabbard, 38, was born on April 1, 1981 in American Samoa to a Samoan father and a white American mother of German descent. Her family moved to Hawaii in 1983. Gabbard’s mother Carol, who’s from Indiana, converted from Catholicism to Hinduism, the faith young Tulsi chose. Her father Mike has been a member of the Hawaiian Senate since 2006. He was a Republican before switching to the Democratic Party. His father was of European descent.

Tulsi was home schooled through high school while growing up on Oahu, except for two years when she attended «informal schools run by followers of (Chris) Butler,» according The New Yorker. Butler is a Hare Krishna adherent who «created his own group, now known as the Science of Identity Foundation, and amassed a tight-knit, low-profile network of followers, hundreds or perhaps thousands of them, stretching west from Hawaii into Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia.»

Gabbard later studied business administration at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, graduating in 2009.

Gabbard’s political career began when she was elected to the Hawaiian House in 2002 at just 21 years of age. During her second term, she enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard. She served in Iraq from 2004-2005 and attended the Alabama Military Academy in 2007.

After college, Gabbard returned to her political pursuits, winning a seat on the Honolulu City Council in 2010 and then succeeding Mazie Hirono in the state’s 2nd Congressional District in 2012. She won by a landslide vote (81%-19%) and has been re-elected three times since.

Gabbard’s Support for Syria and Assad

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad

Despite her appeal to pro-cannabis and anti-war voters, many progressives see a big element of right-wing Islamophobia behind Gabbard’s politics. Last year, he Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) endorsed Sherry Campagna, who challenged Gabbard in the Democratic primary. The HSTA cited Gabbard’s stance on Syria, which has long been embarrassingly soft on the genocidal Assad.

When Gabbard famously met with Assad in Damascus 2017 it was not to challenge the dictator, but to display her support. The delegation she went with was filled with regime sycophants, including adherents of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which (as its name implies) is a neo-fascist formation directly inspired by Nazi Germany.

The SSNP was briefly in power in Syria in the 1950s, and brought ex-Nazis to help run the security apparatus, in the style of Bolivia under right-wing generals. Today, the SSNP is a “satellite party” of Assad’s equally fascistic Baath Party (which continued to avail itself of Nazi talent first brought in under the SSNP).

Gabbard has sponsored legislation that would bar any U.S. support to the Syrian opposition – not just arms, but any support at all. And not just to the armed rebels, but the pro-democratic civil opposition.

She also sponsored a bill that would prevent the U.S. from arming groups linked to al-Qaeda or ISIS in Syria. In announcing the bill, Gabbard declared: “If you or I gave money, weapons or support to al-Qaeda or ISIS or other terrorist groups… we would be thrown in jail. Yet, the U.S. government has been violating this law for years, quietly supporting allies and partners of al-Qaeda, ISIL… and other terrorist groups with money, weapons and intelligence support, in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government.”

When Gabbard famously met with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus 2017 it was not to challenge the dictator, but to display her support.

On the contrary, the U.S. has been bombing these groups, not arming them. This is legislation as propaganda – again, portraying all Syrian opposition as jihadist.

In 2016, Gabbard voted against a resolution that condemned Assad for his war crimes, yet she supported a similar one condemning ISIS, revealing a curious double standard.

Last year, Gabbard called Idlib, the last province of Syria still controlled by the rebels, an “al-Qaeda stronghold,” despite the fact it was home to a patchwork of opposition groups, including secular and pro-democratic ones that have been actively resisting the extremists. Such talk legitimizes the bombing of civilians (Idlib has been savagely targeted by Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin over the past months) and echoes Assad’s dishonest war propaganda.

The Tulsi 2020 website has an entire page dedicated to conspiracy theories about Assad not being behind the serial chemical attacks in Syria, contrary to the findings of every bona fide investigation. (The claims on her page have been debunked by the investigative Bellingcat blog, which has closely followed the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war.)

survivor of torture in Assad’s prisons, whose family was massacred by the dictator’s forces, Omar Alshogre, excoriated Gabbard in a CNN interview for her refusal to call Assad a “war criminal.” After a clip in which Gabbard told a reporter there was insufficient “evidence” to label Assad as such, an aghast Alshogre said: “There is a lot of evidence. There [are] the wounds on my body. There are survivors, not a lot, who can tell you about the prisons, how many people have been killed.”

From Hare Krishna to Hindu Fascism

Tulso Gabbard Narendra Modi

Gabbard with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi

As previously mentioned, Gabbard is affiliated with the Science of Identity Foundation, a Hawaii offshoot of the fractured Hare Krishna movement led by Chris Butler, who she’s described as her «guru dev» or spiritual leader. Both she and her father have been linked to this cult.

It may seem an odd leap from Hare Krishna, with its hippie associations, to conservative political positions, but that appears to have been Gabbard’s trajectory. Gabbard, for instance, is still dogged by the work she did for an anti-LGBT organization run by her father, the Alliance for Traditional Marriage, that opposed a same-sex marriage bill during her time in the Hawaii state legislature and backed gay conversion therapy. “I regret the positions I took in the past, and the things I said,» she told CNN in January.

In addition to having a soft spot for Assad, Gabbard seems similarly enamored of India’s reactionary prime minister, the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi.

Back in 2002, when Modi was chief minister (governor) of Gujarat state, mass riots broke out there, leaving at least 1,000 dead ­ – overwhelmingly Muslims who were set upon by Hindu mobs as Modi’s police literally encouraged the attacks. Before Modi was cleared of charges by a high-level investigation for abetting the Gujarat killing spree, Gabbard was among the few to criticize the U.S. for denying him a visa, calling it a “great blunder.”

In addition to having a soft spot for Assad, Gabbard seems similarly enamored of India’s reactionary prime minister Narendra Modi.

Gabbard’s choice Modi was elected prime minister in 2014. Under his rule, there has been a growing atmosphere of terror against both Muslims and secularists

After meeting with the right-wing ruler, Gabbard praised the him in a 2016 interview: “Modi impressed me as a person who cares deeply… and as a leader whose example and dedication to the people he serves should be an inspiration to elected officials everywhere.»

In 2013, she was instrumental in defeating a House resolution that would’ve called on India to improve the human rights of its religious minorities.

Some secularists in India term Modi’s official ideology of “Hindutva” as “Hindu fascism” that seeks to impose the supremacy of the majority faith on a multicultural nation, especially stigmatizing Muslims.

Is Tulsi on Team Trump?

In 2016, Gabbard told West Hawaii Today that “when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk. When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”

She certainly hasn’t opposed Donald Trump’s massive air-strikes on ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq, which have taken a horrific toll in civilian casualties.

After Trump’s victory in 2016, Gabbard joined a group that met with the president-elect at the Trump Tower – a schmooze later reported to have been arranged by Trump’s ultra-right then-strategist Steve Bannon.

In the aftermath of the 2016 elections, she also dissented from Democratic calls to abolish the Electoral College and have presidents directly elected by popular vote. “I think it’s unfortunate that too often these calls for changes come about by the side that has lost or suffered as a result of the Electoral College,” she told Fox News.

And after the Mueller Report was released this year, Gabbard praised its failure to indict Trump for colluding with Russia as “a good thing for our country.”

After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, Gabbard joined a group that met with the president-elect at the Trump Tower.

Gabbard’s positions are often closer to Trump’s than you might think. In a 2014 interview, Gabbard said she felt “conflicted” about the use of torture in interrogations: “[I]f we were in a situation where our family, our community, our state, or our country is in a place where, let’s say, in an hour, a nuclear bomb or an attack will go off unless this information was found, I believe that if I were the president of the United States that I would do everything in my power to keep the American people safe.”

In 2015, Gabbard was among a handful of turncoat Democrats who voted for the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE) Act, which would’ve imposed restrictions on Iraqi and Syrian asylum-seekers.

For such positions, she won support from figures like Arthur Brooks, president of the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute. In a gushing 2015 article in the right-wing establishment organ National Review, “Meet the Beautiful, Tough Young Democrat Who’s Turning Heads by Challenging Obama’s Foreign Policy,» Brooks wrote: “I like her thinking a lot. She could be a very powerful new voice on the D side.”

Gabbard has also won praise from white supremacist David Duke on his Twitter page for standing up to the “Zionist neoCons and neoCommies who subvert our nation and lead us into insane wars for Israel” and for being a “candidate who will actually put American First rather than Israel First.”

Perhaps Duke wasn’t aware that, in 2015, Gabbard spoke at a Christians United for Israel conference (alongside such Republican figures as Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee).

A Biden-Gabbard Democratic Ticket?

Dems debate

From left at the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate on July 31: Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang and Gabbard

Gabbard is hardly the only candidate seeking the Democratic nomination to call for legalizing marijuana. Harris signed on to Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act last year and this year again when it was reintroduced and just last month joined Rep. Jerry Nadler in sponsoring the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have also been promoting federal legislation that would end prohibition. On the other hand, Joe Biden is considered an architect of the drug war.

You’d expect Gabbard would have directed her sharp words at Biden rather than Harris during the July 31 debate, but since Biden’s the frontrunner, Gabbard appeared to be playing her cards. Now that she sought to take Harris down a few notches or even out of the race altogether with her premeditated attack on the Senator’s criminal-policy track record as California AG, this could be seen as doing the bidding for Biden, who Harris chastised during their first debate in June. Might Biden view Gabbard a possible running mate?

After the July 31 spectacle, Gabbard’s fans responded gleefully with the hashtag #KamalaHarrisDestroyed. The spat degenerated as Gabbard’s supporters accused Harris’ campaign of “inventing conspiracies” the that the Russian propaganda machine (RT and other Kremlin state media outlets) have been aggressively promoting Gabbard.

If Gabbard has an eye on the vice-presidential nomination, don’t think the Biden and Sanders campaigns are not aware of her controversial foreign-policy opinions and connections.

But, in an interview with MSNBC, Gabbard herself advanced the improbable thesis that network anchor Yasmin Vossoughian was fed questions by the Harris campaign after she asked her about her coziness with Assad.

In a follow-up interview with Anderson Cooper after Harris charged Gabbard with backing Assad, when Gabbard was flatly asked, “Do you consider him a torturer and murder?,” she deftly dodged the question and replied: “That’s not what this is about. I don’t defend or apologize or have anything to do with what he has done to his own people.”

Yet in a tweet in October 2015, after Russia intervened in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime, she appeared to support that aerial campaign: “Al-Qaeda attacked us on 9/11 and must be defeated. Obama won’t bomb them in Syria. Putin did.”

This is a far cry from the pacifist image Gabbard has carefully tried to cultivate. It’s also another serious distortion of the truth, echoing Putin-Assad propaganda that the Syrian rebels are monolithically “al-Qaeda,” which is definitely not the case. The Russian air strikes turned the tide of the war in Assad’s favor and have taken a ghastly toll in civilian casualties.

If Gabbard has an eye on the vice-presidential nomination, don’t think the Biden and Sanders campaigns are not aware of her controversial foreign-policy opinions and connections, which will most likely prevent her from ever ascending to that high aspiration.


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