BURLINGTON — In April Michael McGarghan, a candidate for state representative in Burlington’s Chittenden 6-1 district, tweeted “Take that traitor Obama & hang him from the neck until he’s dead!”
In an interview Monday, McGarghan, 49, said it might have been “a little harsh” to call for the president’s death by hanging, but he stood by his assertion that Obama is a traitor.
“It’s a citizen voicing frustration. It’s not an act that can be done. It’s meant as a point of frustration,” McGarghan said.
The Tweet is one of a handful from McGarghan that denounce the president, promote conspiracy theories about him and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or contain anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The Tweet calling for the president’s execution is accompanied by a link to a video from the far right political commentator Bill Whittle. In the video, Whittle explains how Obama, a “radical left-wing zealot raised by actual communists” is destroying the military.
Asked for evidence that Obama is a traitor, McGarghan initially said he could point to things he’d seen on television or on “major news sources,” but when asked to cite a specific example he was unable.
“They’ve given the information, then it’s up to you to put the term traitor to it if you believe it fits,” McGarghan offered, still without an example.
Pressed further, McGarghan said, “(Obama) is pretty good at keeping this stuff at the second or third levels. He’ll delegate it to a second or third level assistants” who would then take the fall for the traitorous act. McGarghan could not cite an example of that occurring either.
“I’m spun up right now. I’m flooded, and not able to focus. Let’s see if my head will focus and I can come up with something,” McGarghan said, but never offered a specific example of the president’s teachery.
— Michael McGarghan (@McGarghan) May 24, 2016
Another of McGarghan’s Tweets has a link to a video with charged imagery conflating migrants with terrorists, which appears to be narrated by Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump. The video description says, “Do not allow the (sic) islamification currently happening in Europe to reach America. Act now before (sic) its too late.”
McGarghan’s comment alongside the link is “Build the wall now, kick them now! Our security of Homeland comes before charity.”
McGarghan said he is a reluctant Donald Trump supporter, who backed Texas Senator Ted Cruz during the Republican Primary. He called the Republican nominee “brash” and “phony,” but he described Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as an “outright devious criminal.”
Many of McGarghan’s Tweets disparage Clinton, including one meme describing Clinton voters as idiots and dead people.
McGarghan said he served a tour of duty with the Air Force in Afghanistan in 2004, and that experience left him convinced that while many people in the Middle East were welcoming, there are also many who despise western culture.
“I’m not against the Muslims in total. I’m against the militant Islamics, and when you can’t determine who are the ones standing against you and who are the ones that are against the militants, that’s when it becomes dangerous,” he said.
McGarghan said he opposes the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, raising concerns that among the refugees could be “teenage men who could be plants from some terrorist groups.”
McGarghan said he understood the need to help Syrians fleeing the bloody civil war “on a humanitarian basis,” but he said “there’s too wide of a shotgun approach and I think it’s going to put us at risk.”
McGarghan suggested that Syrian refugees, while desperate to escape the violence in their country actually would not want to come the U.S. if they had another alternative.
“We’re looked at as the great Satan in the Muslim religion,” he said, “They want the safety of refuge away from the killing area, but there’s probably a lot of areas that they would be closer to home geographically and culture-wise.”
Not all people fleeing the violence in Syria are Muslims.
“Why is it that we keep on forcing this discussion that it should be the U.S. and it should be our backyard?” McGarghan asked.
Five neighboring majority-Muslim countries, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, host 4.5 million Syrian refugees, according to Amnesty International. The United States has accepted only 10,000 Syrian refugees since the civil war broke out in 2011, according to the New York Times.
Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, an incumbent and the other Republican running in the Chittenden 6-1 district, condemned McGarghan’s Tweet about the president as “beyond the pale” and said McGarghan’s language was “totally inappropriate language and offensive.”
“There’s no place for that type of language in a political discourse,” Wright said.
While Wright said he does not agree with McGarghan’s vilification of Muslims, he said he too has concerns about resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.
“What we don’t want is a breach of our security. We want to help children, we want to help families, but we have to be careful,” Wright said, “I support there being a serious vetting process to make sure the country is safe. If we can help people and make sure there’s not a security breach, that’s what we need to do.”
Wright would not comment on Rutland’s plans to resettle Syrian refugees, and would not comment on how he would respond if Burlington were to do the same.
Instead, Wright insisted that if he could be assured that resettling Syrian refugees presented no risk to public safety, then he would support resettlement.
Wright said that his concerns arose from a conversation he had several months ago with Congressman Peter King, a New York Republican, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee and chairs a sub-comittee on counterterrorism.
In that conversation, Wright said King told him that because the Syrian government is not a reliable partner in vetting those fleeing its war-ravaged borders, there are legitimate concerns that some refugees might be terrorists.
Wright said he asked King why a terrorist would use the asylum process to enter the U.S., instead of some other method, and Wright said his answer was that “we don’t think like terrorists.” Some terrorists might assimilate first, only to be “activated” by their handlers at a later date, Wright said.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the agency that coordinates resettlement, has sought to allay concerns about Syrian refugees arriving in Rutland, but those efforts have had mixed results. Rutland officials, including their police chief have called resettlement a “non-issue” for public safety.
Wright said that after the November election he plans to meet with Kit O’Connor, the legislative affairs person for Amnesty International in Vermont.
“When I’m convinced here is no concern whatsoever, and that may happen, then I’m fine with (Syrian refugee resettlement),” Wright said.
There is no love lost between the two Republicans running for seats in the two-member Chittenden 6-1 District. McGarghan has attacked Wright for not being a strong enough advocate for the Second Amendment.
“The Republicans haven’t been supportive because I’ve been critical of Kurt Wright,” McGarghan said, “I’ve felt I’m in a one against three race all along.”
Both candidates were reluctant to discuss the mutual enmity, but Wright said, “I ran very closely two years ago with Michael Ly…In this campaign, I’m totally running my own campaign, and I will leave it to the voters to sort things out. I think that tells the story.”
As for the criticism that he isn’t standing up for gun owners, Wright defended his record.
Wright was recently given a F rating from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, which grades candidates support for pro-gun policies. The NRA had previously endorsed Wright, but Wright said that his support for gun legislation in the previous biennium lost him his A rating.
“I got a very bad rating from the NRA this time. I am a strong believer in the Second Amendment, but I also support — and I’ve told people in my district — I support common sense measures,” Wright said.
Wright said the bill signed into law was “watered down” and pro-gun groups had largely dropped their opposition to its passage. Early on in the process, it was stripped of a provision requiring universal background checks.
Wright said his support for Burlington’s gun-related charter changes also hurt his standing with the NRA. Those charter changes stalled when the Legislature declined to take them up citing potential constitutional issues, which Wright said he’d raised when the changes were put before city voters.
Wright said he only co-signed the legislation with other Burlington representatives because he won’t oppose the will of city voters, who overwhelmingly supported the charter changes.
The Democrats running in Chittenden 6-1 also condemned McGarghan’s Tweets. Rep. Joanna Cole, D-Burlington, the other incumbent, called McGarghan’s Tweet about the president racist and “beneath human decency.”
Democrat Carol Ode said McGarghan’s “angry words only serve to divide us.”
DISCLOSURE: Carol Ode is a member of the Vermont Journalism Trust board.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story former candidate for state representative Michael Ly’s name was misspelled.