Politics

Strange bedfellows: How a South Florida Democrat became the darling of the alt-right

Hallandale commissioner defends herself after saying a U.S. congresswoman might blow up Capitol Hill

Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub defends herself after comments that U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib may turn into a martyr and "blow up Capitol Hill."
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Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub defends herself after comments that U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib may turn into a martyr and "blow up Capitol Hill."

A wall of half a dozen men closed ranks around Rasha Mubarak. Leering at the young Palestinian-American woman who filmed them on her phone, they shoved Make America Great Again caps into her face, waved signs inscribed with anti-Muslim messages and spewed insults.

Animal. Anti-Semite. Woman-hater. Terrorist.

“My initial reaction was that the bigotry is real in South Florida,” said Mubarak, who told the Miami Herald she was afraid the men would become physically violent. “It was a little overwhelming and scary.”

Mubarak’s antagonists were part of a group gathered outside Hallandale Beach City Hall on Jan. 23, in a rally that to some, was intended to be a defense of Israel against a growing boycott movement.

It became a platform for anti-Muslim hate. Setting that tone and mixed into the crowd were self-described Islamophobes, white nationalists, sympathizers of the Ku Klux Klan and members of alt-right factions who had come to support an unlikely new ally: Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub, known until recent weeks as an outspoken feminist and Democrat.

Not anymore. The day of the rally, Lima-Taub was facing official censure from colleagues on the city commission for a viral Facebook post in which she called Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim congresswoman from Michigan, a “Hamas-loving anti-Semite” who might “become a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.” The post was denounced as hate speech by numerous Muslim and Jewish human rights organizations, but Lima-Taub remained unapologetic.

Lima-Taub has repeatedly denied that she is Islamophobic or anti-Muslim, though she wrote that Islam was a religion hijacked by terrorists. She also maintains it’s reasonable to believe a Muslim congresswoman who supports an Israel boycott might be a terrorist. And recently, she gave the Center on American-Islamic Relations two middle fingers on a Facebook Live video, calling the Muslim advocacy and human rights group a terrorist organization. It’s not.

(The U.S. State Department has not designated the group a terrorist organization, nor is it a designated hate group.)

“Her actions speak loud and clear. Anabelle Taub is a bigot,” said Commissioner Michele Lazarow, who sponsored the item to censor Lima-Taub for hate speech. “She says she’s not anti-Muslim while promoting bigoted stereotypes about Muslims.”

Taking a page from the playbook of the far right, the Israeli-born politician labeled her critics — even the Jewish ones like Lazarow — anti-Semitic, enemies of the First Amendment and terrorist sympathizers.

By digging in and defending her statements, Lima-Taub alienated many of her mainstream supporters nearly over night. But she also attracted a new group of allies who cheered her on from internet chat rooms and anti-Muslim blogs. Some of them attended the rally at City Hall on Jan. 23.

“We are not going to relinquish our country to terrorists,” said Janet Komburg, who was one of the first Lima-Taub supporters to arrive to the rally. “There is no place in Congress for someone who takes an oath on the Quran.”

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Janet Komburg holds a sign, posing with the group that was first to arrive to support Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub on Jan. 23. Sarah Blaskey sblaskey@miamiherald.com

Whether intentional or not, Lima-Taub’s call for a solidarity rally to defend her words opened Hallandale Beach to an anti-Islam agenda that has been building momentum nationally.

From Democrat to neocon

Before Lima-Taub became the darling of xenophobes and nationalists, she was one of South Florida’s most notorious pull-no-punches feminists.

The first-term commissioner from Hallandale Beach made national headlines last August when she publicly denounced former Mayor Keith London for his comments during an official budget hearing in which he accused the commissioner of profiting from bleaching her sphincter. She hash-tagged her Facebook take down of London #MeToo, and encouraged other women to come forward.

On paper — or at least from her Facebook posts — Lima-Taub seemed perfect for the South Florida city tucked into Florida’s bluest county: She was a Democrat (though her commission seat is non-partisan). A vegan. A dedicated animal rights activist. Pro-union. A supporter of the Parkland students’ calls for gun control. A crusader for justice. She called herself corruption’s toughest rival in Hallandale Beach.

Then came her 2019 reinvention. Just days into the new year, she produced a quick succession of Facebook posts echoing the language of designated anti-Muslim hate groups. Amid backlash, she made an online announcement that she had left the Democratic Party over Tlaib’s support for an Israel boycott.

For those who know her however, the shift was not as drastic as it might seem.

“Commissioner Taub is not a Democrat in substance and never has been,” said Lazarow, who had worked with Lima-Taub on animal rights campaigns for years and helped her run for Hallandale Beach commission in 2016 before the two had a falling out. “She changed her party affiliation before last year’s election so that she could deceive voters at the polls by showing them a voter registration card with a “D” on it.”

According to her Broward voter registration records, Lima-Taub changed from non-party-affiliated to Democrat in August 2018. She switched her registration again, this time to Republican, on Jan. 23 — the day of the rally at Hallandale Beach City Hall.

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Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub after she read a statement at the Hallandale Beach City commission meeting about her comments that Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib may turn into a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill, January 23, 2019. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Lima-Taub’s transition didn’t stop at Republican. Instead, she moved further right. On Facebook, she declared herself a neoconservative, consummating the transition by launching a very public friendship with Laura Loomer, an alt-right provocateur who denounces both feminism and the MeToo movement as being “anti-white male.”

Proud of the label “Islamophobe,” Loomer clarified that she sees her fear of Islam as rational. She calls Islam “the biggest threat to Western Society.” (In reality, most terrorist attacks in America are carried out by nationalist extremists.)

Loomer told the Miami Herald she supports Lima-Taub because “she had the balls to say what everyone believes but is too scared to say.” Lima-Taub calls Loomer — the woman behind the conspiracy that Parkland students were paid media plants — a “rock star.”

Lazarow said for Lima-Taub, politics have never really been about policy or party but about pandering to those willing to support her. Since losing most mainstream support, many of Lima-Taub’s loudest allies come from the alt-right.

Pandering to the alt-right

The term “alt-right,” first coined by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer to describe his brand of white nationalism, has expanded in common vernacular to describe a non-homogeneous, dizzying array of far-right ideologies and warring factions. Alt-right groups range from full-blown white supremacists, to watered-down, pro-Israel versions of the ideology that Loomer promotes, sometimes called the “alt-lite.”

This faction, which Loomer described as socially liberal, is tolerant of gay — albeit mostly white — men, for example, but still deeply xenophobic and nationalistic.

As Lima-Taub came under fire in national headlines for “anti-Muslim comments,” various alt-lite publications and blog sites came to her defense. Some claimed the press had blown the story out of proportion and had conspired with Lazarow to discredit Lima-Taub out of personal vendetta.

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Lima-Taub gives the finger to CAIR on a Facebook Live video. Miami Herald staff screenshot from Facebook Live

The major proponents of this counter narrative included Halsey News, an organization founded by a woman who claims responsibility for starting the infamous PizzaGate rumors, according to the Miami New Times. It was also pushed by the Geller Report, a publication founded by extremist and anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller. Lima-Taub called the former “good reporting!” and thanked Geller by name on Facebook for the positive press.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “In recent years, the most influential [anti-Muslim hate] groups — namely ACT for America and the think tank Center for Security Policy [CSP] — have sought to develop closer relationships with elected officials both at the state and local level.” Recently on her public “Rogue Commissioner” Facebook page, Lima-Taub posted a video by Brigitte Gabriel, founder of anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America, with a comment: “Preach on!” The video slammed two Muslim congresswomen, calling them anti-American.

By the night of the Jan. 23 commission meeting, Lima-Taub was familiar enough with this new world of conspiracy theorists and extremists that she picked Loomer out of the crowd, having never met her before in person, and excitedly waved the woman forward to give her a hug. “We support you,” Loomer said.

“It’s hard knowing that one of five people serving in a position of power in our city is aligned with hate groups and the mayor is standing by her,” said Lazarow. “Hallandale Beach deserves so much better.”

Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Adams is the only elected official in the country who came out in support of Lima-Taub after her Facebook post went viral. Adams, who has her own history of insensitive comments, declined to comment for this story.

An anti-Islam agenda in Hallandale Beach

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported the number of hate groups has spiked, due to an increase in both neo-Nazi and anti-Muslim organizations.

Proponents of anti-Muslim agendas “typically hold conspiratorial views regarding the inherent danger to America posed by its Muslim-American community,” according to the SPLC report. “Muslims are depicted as irrational, intolerant and violent, and their faith is frequently depicted as sanctioning pedophilia, coupled with intolerance for homosexuals and women.”

Although Lima-Taub’s supporters are certainly not all anti-Muslim extremists, the Jan. 23 rally list of attendees included several people and groups featured on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Watch.”

Among the crowd were members of the designated hate group Citizens’ Action Group of South Florida. KKK-sympathizer and secretary of the Citizens’ Action Group, David Rosenthal, told a reporter he came to the rally prepared for anything, showing a baton and bear spray clipped to his belt.

Filming the event was Joe Kaufman, founder of CAIR Watch, an organization dedicated to disparaging the Muslim-advocacy group, and frequent contributor to FrontPage Mag, a far-right extremist publication founded by David Horowitz.

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Anti-Muslim slogans promoted by some at pro-Israel rally held at Hallandale Beach City Hall Jan. 23. Sarah Blaskey sblaskey@miamiherald.com

Lima-Taub’s supporters outnumbered her critics five to one at City Hall. Many jeered at a handful of people holding a press conference to demand an apology from Lima-Taub, booing and hissing to drown them out. A rabbi who came to speak against hate said he did not feel safe as the crowd heckled, labeling him a “self-hating Jew.” Mubarak said two young women wearing hijabs left without speaking after being harassed.

“I saw hate. I saw a mob,” said Lazarow. “But I also saw people who didn’t understand what they had walked into. People were duped into believing that the issue we were discussing was about Israel, BDS, or anti-Semitism. It wasn’t.”

Lazarow, who has voted on several local pro-Israel agenda items, continued: “We were condemning Commissioner Taub’s hateful and bigoted remarks. We weren’t expressing support for Congresswoman Tlaib or her political views.”

On Jan. 23, the commission passed a condemnation of Lima-Taub’s statements. Both Lima-Taub and the mayor voted against the statement.

While dozens have written to Hallandale Beach asking that Lima-Taub be removed from office, only the governor holds that power, which is principally intended to unseat local politicians convicted of crimes. Without a recall or a resignation, at least until the 2020 election, Lima-Taub will maintain her seat governing over a city that is home to a significant Muslim community and a prominent South Florida mosque.

This article has been updated since it was originally published. A quote from Elan Savir was removed as it was taken out of context.

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