The racially charged debate about President Trump’s reaction to the violence in Charlottesville has spilled into the Massachusetts Republican Party, where leaders are grappling with a proposed resolution condemning bigotry and hate speech.
The issue, members say, is whether to specifically denounce some left-leaning groups — including Black Lives Matter — along with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan as “reactionary and radical.”
The discussion, revealed in e-mails obtained by the Globe, mirrors a larger debate happening at this week’s Republican National Committee meeting in Tennessee, where the same sharp divisions have emerged over attempts to pass a similar resolution. Here in Massachusetts, the proposal has created an internal debate that touches some racial and ethnic fault lines as the state GOP sets the agenda for its September meeting.
It also signals trouble for Governor Charlie Baker and the state’s more moderate GOP leaders who have tried to prioritize outreach to minority groups ahead of the 2018 elections.
The fracas began last week when one member of the GOP’s 80-person state committee, Brock Cordeiro of Dartmouth, offered a resolution to his colleagues that would put the state party on record condemning white supremacy and white nationalism. Cordeiro sent e-mails to fellow committee members with proposed language that, according to e-mails,denounces “bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, and religious intolerance.”
But at least one member of the state party who aligns with Trump’s politics said he wants the proposal to echo the president’s repeated claims that “both sides” are to blame for violence earlier this month in Virginia.
Martin Lamb of Holliston, a Trump supporter on the committee, replied to insist that Black Lives Matter, or BLM — a loosely structured national organization that campaigns against violence and racism toward African-Americans — be included on the list of hate groups. He points to its platform that accuses Israel of carrying out genocide against the Palestinians.
“Having studied the Holocaust and nazi ideology I have learned that the ideology of hatred isn’t owned by white supremacists, it is shared by other haters such as BLM and antifa,” Lamb wrote last week.
Singling out BLM as a leftist hate group has concerned party leaders, particularly those who are looking after Baker’s political interests. Some are concerned it would play into the hands of the Democrats and would certainly rub against Baker’s attempts to build bridges to the black community and other minority communities.
Baker’s communications director, Lizzy Guyton, said the governor does not agree with Lamb’s description of Black Lives Matter as a hate group but stopped short of getting involved in the internal committee debate.
“Governor Baker stood with Mayor Walsh and members of the Legislature to denounce white supremacy and the hatred and bigotry on full display in Charlottesville,’’ she said.
Massachusetts Republican Party Chairwoman Kristen Hughes, a strong supporter of the governor’s, concurred in a statement: “Black Lives Matter is not a hate group.”
But another Baker ally, Massachusetts Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman, who is attending the party’s national meeting in Nashville, was concerned enough that he stepped into the fray and suggested a compromise resolution similar to one that was under consideration there.
“That could be a mutual starting point,’’ Cordeiro said after getting a call from Kaufman while he was at the RNC meeting.
Cordeiro’s proposal appears aimed at the party’s right fringe. It uses language that is hard for mainstream political leaders to disagree with, particularly in a major party in Massachusetts.
It notes that “reactionary and radical organizations in our Commonwealth and Country have consistently promoted values that are overtly racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant, and these poisonous ideologies continue to promote hatred, bigotry, and violence specifically against individuals solely on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and immigration status.”
Reached for comment, Cordeiro says that the word “radical” encompasses any hate from the left as well as right. Another opponent of Lamb’s, Christopher Walton of Princeton, chided his colleague, saying the party could be called out for not naming all of the hate groups.
But Lamb disagrees. “Failure to speak out against the specific evil is worse than no statement at all,” he said in an e-mail response Friday to a fellow committeeman’s argument not to name specific groups.
“We may as well just hang up a rainbow peace flag if we refuse to name where the hatred comes from,’’ Lamb wrote. “Do any of you have the guts to stand up and make a statement or are we no better than the Democrats?”
Citing his Jewish roots, Lamb wrote in the e-mails that Black Lives Matter and other organizations on the left “preach hatred against me and my people to the same extent as those white supremacists and need to be named.”
In his e-mail exchanges with other committee members, Lamb offered additional language naming specific groups: “including, but not limited to, KKK, nazi and neonazi groups, white supremacists, BLM and antifa.”
Lamb pointed to arguments from attorney Alan Dershowitz, a Democrat, that BLM has “declared war on Israel” by making the accusation the Jewish state is carrying out genocide against Palestinians.
Others on the committee were reluctant to speak publicly about the debate.
One, Patricia Saint Aubin of Norfolk, said she was open to discussion at next month’s meeting about the issues Lamb has raised. She said there is some validity to his concerns that all sides had to be held accountable.
“Let’s have this discussed at the meeting, and allow opinions to come forth,’’ she said “I am not going to throw Marty Lamb under the bus. He has his opinions [and is] entitled to voice his opinion.”
Cordeiro’s resolution, which needs 10 sponsors to get before the committee, has seven signators so far and, according to party insiders, is expected to easily reach the threshold to qualify for the agenda.
Still, following the Globe’s inquiries into the debate, factions in the party were moving Friday to try to negotiate a compromise.
“My hope is that between now and the state committee meeting, a consensus will be gathered that makes everyone happy and that shows we are against all forms of hatred and bigotry,’’ Lamb said in an interview.Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.