A failed apology attempt by controversial state Rep. Nicole Klein Knight (D- Manchester) has Democratic progressives in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community angry yet again. It has also reignited charges and countercharges of “racism” and “antisemitism” within the House Democratic caucus.
All this comes as the House prepares to go back into full session on Wednesday at the Doubletree Hotel in Manchester when a divided caucus makes the Democrats’ struggle with the GOP majority even more difficult.
Rep. Klein Knight’s case first came to the fore when a group of self-styled “BIPOC Leaders and Organizers” released a January 31 letter accusing her of using racist language.
“She said ‘n*****’ multiple times to make a point,” they wrote. “This was only made worse when she defended her use of the word, despite his repeated asks for her to stop, and proceeded to call security on this same constituent.”
Klein Knight was speaking to Jonah Wheeler, an 18-year-old Black progressive activist, who told NHJournal he had filed an ethics complaint in response to the incident.
Since the release of the letter, some House members have argued that Klein Knight — a reliably progressive member — was entitled to a defense. One member, Rep. Rosemarie Rung, suggested she might be using it in “self-defense,” and urged her fellow members to think of “context.”
BIPOC progressives pushed back, accusing their fellow Democrats of racial insensitivity. And, they have repeatedly noted over the past two weeks, Rep. Klein Knight never apologized.
“Mr. Jonah Wheeler,” Klein Knight wrote in a statement, “I realized it was wrong for me to use the racist slur that you said. I immediately regretted it, and I agree that no one should use that language, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the pain it has caused.”
Wheeler was not satisfied.
“I have received a response from Rep. Nicole Klein Knight via email,” he told NHJournal in a statement. “It is not an apology. In the first sentence, she continued her defense by deflecting blame onto me once again.
“What was needed was a sincere public apology, not one that deflects blame. One that sincerely communicates empathy, remorse, regret, and a promise to learn from one’s mistakes,” Wheeler added. “I cannot accept this response as her apology. Rep. [Klein] Knight, unfortunately, continues to make matters worse.”
The same group of BIPOC progressives released a statement also condemning Klein Knight’s “apology.”
“The response did not contain an actual apology, evident by Rep. Klein Knight refusing to take ownership of her usage of the word, neglecting to communicate genuine remorse, and victim-blaming the young Black man who was harmed by her actions.”
Klein Knight did not help by tweeting a series of statements undermining her own apology.
“I feel badly [sic] for those that are so quick to judge and jump to conclusions without any evidence or full factual investigations,” Klein Knight wrote, referencing her appearance before the “Speaker’s advisory board.”
That’s the six-member bipartisan panel convened by Speaker Sherm Packard to review Klein Knight’s behavior. According to multiple sources, the panel urged her to apologize.
But for the BIPOC progressives, the issue is bigger than Klein Knight. In the letter released Tuesday, they accused their fellow Democrats of “attack[ing] the credibility and reputations of these BIPOC organizers, accusing us of having an agenda to take down the party and defaming Rep. Klein Knight.
“Two weeks later, these same Democratic representatives are still insulting and gaslighting us, choosing to betray the same organizers from whom they sought endorsements for their campaigns,” they wrote. “This situation has only revealed the depths of racism in the NH state House, and on all sides of the aisle.”
Other Democrats told NHJournal they rejected the claim of racism in their ranks, accusing the progressives of trying to deflect from the real problem: Widespread antisemitism among their ranks.
The real issue is the “climate of fear,” as one Democrat put it, among Jewish members of the Democratic caucus. Meanwhile, moderate Democrats are worried the progressives are pushing their party too far to the left, but also fearful that fighting them will lead to charges of racism.
Several forwarded tweets from Jonah Wheeler endorsing the antisemitic comments of progressive Rep. Maria Perez last October, comments that got her removed from the Progressive Caucus Executive Board.
“@mariapz1974 [Rep. Perez] is starting to scare some folks. Good,” Wheeler tweeted. And when progressive Sebastian Fuentes — one of the BIPOC leaders attacking Klein Knight — tweeted “I stand with @mariapz1974,” Wheeler added the same message to Fuentes’.
Democrats concerned about antisemitism also noted a Monday tweet from Alissandra Rodríguez-Murray, the spokesperson for the BIPOC group:
“Two weeks without an apology from @RepNicoleK and I’m done expecting one. we kicked the termite nest and uncovered racism permeating further into the party than we could’ve anticipated, and I for one am done wasting my energy on so-called allies.”
The “termite nest” reference echoes a highly-publicized statement by notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan calling Jews “termites.”
“I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-termite,” Farrakhan told a group of supporters in 2018. His comments were widely condemned, removed from Twitter, and pulled down from Facebook.
“Comparing Jews to termites is anti-Semitic, wrong and dangerous,” Chelsea Clinton said at the time.
Late Tuesday night, Klein Knight took to Twitter to repeat her charges of antisemitism.
“NO 1 reached out to me There has been 0 outreach about blatant antisemitic rhetoric. I have been targeted by certain individuals who seem to think if they label me as a racist then they will get away with antisemitism. This has been the most hypocritical soap opera ever performed,” she tweeted. “Continuous remarks about Jewish people and American Jews.”