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Local Republicans spar over racist remarks and conspiracy theories

Conservative radio and TV host Jeff Crouere and his wife, Mimi, are distancing themselves from some of the more extreme members of the Louisiana Republican Party, including QAnon conspiracy theorist and president of the Women’s Republican Club of New Orleans, Martha Huckabay.

Huckabay came under fire for making comments in a public Facebook post, suggesting Americans focus on the “good” aspects of slavery, such as a “hard work ethic” and “love and respect” between enslaved people and those who enslaved them. The statement was first shared by the Twitter account @HellOrBywater, which tracks online activity from some right-wing extremists.

Huckabay’s statements were swiftly condemned by the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee chair Adrian Bruneau, who told Gambit Huckabay’s words were “atrocious.” Huckabay said she was taken out of context, adding “Nobody believes there is anything good about slavery.”

But on May 2, she lashed out at state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, after Hilferty pointed out there are no “good” parts of slavery during consideration of legislation by Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Meraux, to ban teaching critical race theory, which examines systemic racism. Garofalo had suggested teachers educate children about “the good, the bad and the ugly” aspects of slavery.

In a rambling Facebook post, Huckabay, whose views strongly align with the widely discredited QAnon movement, claimed Hilferty and other conservative legislators were becoming indoctrinated by Communist beliefs. She also insisted slavery resulted in “hard working ethics” and “love and respect” between some enslaved people and slave owners.

Huckabay argued Garofalo’s words were appropriate and lamented that the Republican-dominated state legislature has been infiltrated with “marxisum [sic].” She said the topic of slavery is a “one-sided” “leftist trap.”

She wrote, “Slavery goes all they [sic] way back to biblical times, and if you’ve read your Bible, you would know that many of the slaves loved their masters, and their masters loved them, and took very good care of them, and their families.”

Crouere removed Huckabay as a guest panelist for the May 6 edition of his TV show “Politics with a Punch,” which typically features an array of elected officials — both Democrats and Republicans — in addition to community leaders, comedians and media personalities.

Meanwhile, Bruneau said Huckabay has “zero clout” within the local GOP. But a number of prominent right-wing politicians, including Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and other high-ranking members of the GOP have attended events and speaking engagements organized and promoted by Huckabay.

Crouere said it’s only the second time in 19 years of hosting the show he’s had to remove someone from the panel. “I try to vet guests carefully to keep out those who will not add to an enjoyable evening,” he said.

Crouere, who describes himself as a “mainstream conservative,” has also attended and been photographed at a number of events with Huckabay and other right-wing extremists. He praised her in December for her “dynamic” leadership, saying she had done a “great job” organizing the WRCNO.

In one photo, he can be seen holding a QAnon sign with a beaming Huckabay. Crouere said he did not understand what the sign, which is adorned with a shortened version of the movement’s signature rallying cry, “Where we go one, we go all,” signified, and that he regrets posing alongside Huckabay.

“I have no connection with [QAnon], and I don’t really know what it is about, except it seems to be based on fanciful thinking,” Crouere said. “I truly think the whole QAnon movement is destructive and non-productive. It gives some Trump supporters false hope, and I think it has been very damaging.”

Despite these claims, Crouere over the years has used his media platforms to allow a number of extremists to entertain and perpetuate a variety of dangerous conspiracy theories, including many that are directly aligned with the QAnon movement.

For example, “chemtrail” activist Raphaelle O’Neill has been a repeat guest on his show “Ringside Politics,” where she discussed anti-science theories involving 5G, microwaves and weather control.

And some of Crouere’s views do overlap with QAnon tenets. He has been a vocal proponent of the “Big Lie” conspiracy, a central focus of the movement, which claims ex-president Donald Trump was not defeated in last year’s election. He also last month penned a column for The Hayride, falsely implying that Gov. John Bel Edwards did not win the gubernatorial election in 2019 against Eddie Rispone.

He also spread unsubstantiated rumors last summer about a nefarious plot to attack the French Quarter by Black Lives Matter organizers and Antifa “terrorists.” The demonstrations were peaceful, and the only violence that occurred was when New Orleans police officers launched tear gas and shot demonstrators with rubber bullets on the Crescent City Connection bridge. — SARAH RAVITS

Public Library expands hours and services

The New Orleans Public Library is expanding services effective May 17 after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions.

Guests will be able to walk in without making appointments, and hours will be expanded.

“People can come in like normal, but we’ll still have limited capacity,” said Emily Painton, director of public services. “We’ll keep social distancing. The capacity is pretty big at most of our libraries.”

Throughout the pandemic, the library has continued to provide services for New Orleans residents through virtual events and contactless pick-ups and drop-offs for borrowed books at all of its locations. That will also continue for the foreseeable future, Painton says.

But she says the library will have more in-person programs soon, including tai chi classes and “micro” cinema showings.

She admits it’s been challenging for library staffers to plan events too far in advance because state and city guidelines have waxed and waned throughout the pandemic.

Still, she says, she is looking forward to lifted restrictions and the ability to host more people in-person. “We’re excited,” she said. “It’ll be incremental, but I’m hoping this will feel better to everyone.”

The library will be open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Martin Luther King Jr. Library will be open for contactless pick-up and drop-off on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The City Archives & Special Collections are open by appointment Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

— SARAH RAVITS

Sex work decriminalization bill fails to make it out of committee 

Many sex workers and allies turned out in full force to voice their support for a bill to decriminalize sex work in Louisiana, but that effort failed to get out of committee May 4.

After nearly three hours of discussion, Rep. Mandie Landry, a New Orleans Democrat, voluntarily deferred the bill when she saw it was unlikely to pass.

After nearly three hours of discussion, Landry voluntarily deferred the bill when she saw it was unlikely to pass and later. She said she was disappointed “but change takes time.”

The bill could technically be rescheduled for a later House Administration of Criminal Justice committee hearing, but Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said it’s unlikely they’ll have time for another lengthy debate on the topic this session.

Landry told Gambit she should still have time this session to bring forward a measure that would create a task force — made up of sex workers, law enforcement and health care workers — to study the issue.

The bill would have kept law enforcement from prosecuting prostitution and other related offenses, as currently defined by state law, including purchasing commercial sex, soliciting, inciting or promoting prostitution. Trafficking, when someone recruits, transports or solicits another person through “fraud, deceit or force” to provide labor would remain illegal.

Supporters testified it would help sex workers who are assaulted while working feel more comfortable reporting abuse to the police, because they wouldn’t have to have to worry about facing legal consequences for telling authorities they engaged in sex work.

They also pointed out that having a criminal record can affect many facets of a person’s life, including seeking other employment and applying for housing. 109 people submitted “green cards” into the record, signaling their support of the bill.

Opponents included some religious leaders and some anti-sex trafficking groups who said they worried decriminalization would lead to an increase in trafficking. Seventeen others submitted cards in opposition of the bill.

Sheri Lochridge, the anti-human trafficking team leader for Covenant House New Orleans, a homeless shelter with religious ties, said she supports decriminalization of prostitution as defined under state law, but doesn’t agree with decriminalizing soliciting, inciting or promoting prostitution. She said those laws “have been used to protect our most vulnerable populations from traffickers who often prey on them and to bring justice to those who have already been victimized.”

Andrew Lewis, former coordinator for the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force, said human trafficking does occur in Louisiana, but there is discrepancy in how it is reported because it’s subjective.

“If a nonprofit or law enforcement agency believes that all sex work is trafficking, they’ll report it to [the Department of Children and Family Services] as such,” he said. “This inaccurate information might increase their funding, but it leads to a reduction in funding and attention for our fight to end actual human trafficking.”

While the measure failed, Landry said Louisiana was the first state in the country to consider a bill to decriminalize sex work.

“[Sex workers] have never ever had their voices heard in this building,” Landry said.

—   KAYLEE POCHE

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