To the Editor:
A sinister red haze has taken Greenwich hostage. It is dangerous to the health of our community, it effects our mood and it is eroding our quality of life. I am not referring to the recent red, smokey fog from Canadian wildfires. This red haze poses a potentially bigger threat to us that could have long lasting ramifications on how we interact as friends and neighbors, how our government works and how Greenwich is perceived. I am talking about the infiltration of Greenwich by a far-right ideology whose practitioners are intent in making our home town the battlefield on which they wage divisive, national culture wars. Unlike the acrid air from the storms to our north which will subside naturally, the toxic red haze of the far-right Greenwich Republican Town Committee (RTC) and Greenwich Patriots, will require an informed and engaged citizenry to ultimately defeat it.
What makes the perversion of the Republican Party more threatening to the health of our community than the typical political turbulence of the past? It is because this version of far-right extremism has become well organized and well funded, with a focus on taking control of the local governments, boards and committees in order to advance its own agenda. Anyone or anything that gets in its way is viewed as an enemy. We see this playing out in our own backyard in unprecedented fashion. Some of our most trusted and reliable local volunteer organizations have been targets of public attacks by these ideologues. The PTA, the League of Women Voters (LWV), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), our teachers and even librarians have been portrayed as being part of a vast left-wing conspiracy, not because they have done anything wrong, but because they do not conform to the rules that govern the alternate reality in which these groups live and wish to impose on us.
How does the behavior of these far-right groups impact our local government? Their methods are insidious and show no consideration for the difficulties or extra work they create for others. Consider the issue of Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests. This provides the public the right to request access to records from all levels of government. This is generally a good tool that if used properly can provide citizens with insight into how their government works. However, they can also be misused as a weapon who’s intent is to discover something incriminating, real or imagined, about a person or department that can be used against an intended target. Consider that our Town Attorney’s Office, School Superintendent, Board of Education, RTM Moderator, Registrars of Voters and Town Clerk’s Office have experienced an unprecedented increase in processing these requests over the past year, primarily from members of the RTC and “Patriots”. This has led to countless hours of drudgery for our town IT department, our town Attorney’s Office, our GPS Administration and other town employees, at a considerable cost to the Town in both wasted time and money.
The RTC and Greenwich Patriots have produced a steady stream of mass messaging throughout our community that echoes the divisive and paranoid themes of 1950s McCarthyism. Volunteer building committee members are portrayed as dangerous “operatives”, elected Town Democrats are “Socialists” or “Communists” and any Republicans who disagree with the current path of the party have been called “RINO’s” or “traitors”. Ubiquitous efforts to promote inclusivity like Greenwich High School’s “Names Day”, initiatives promoting diversity and equity or even the recent event at Town Hall celebrating the kickoff to Pride Month are targets of attack and ridicule. The placement of more than 40 signs with the word “Groomers” on them, on the lawn at Town Hall this past Monday was as disturbing in its audacity as its prejudice. Although a culprit has yet to be identified, it is not unreasonable to surmise that the cacophony of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric emanating from both the RTC and “Patriots” has emboldened those who saw nothing wrong with committing such a heinous and offensive act under the cover of darkness.
What is clear about these groups is that their aim is to fulfill the national Republican strategy laid out by Trump acolyte Steve Bannon called “the Precinct Strategy” which seeks to have the far-right elements of the Republican party take control of local governments from the bottom up. Madeleine Peltz of Media Matters (a media watchdog organization) has said that if this strategy is successful it “could have loyalists controlling the levels of power within the Republican party and, even more concerning, in election administration. That could be almost impossible to unwind for years and decades to come”.
The toxic red haze of the RTC and “Patriots” unfortunately appears poised to remain with us for awhile. With a Presidential election year looming and the specter of Donald Trump’s candidacy, groups like the RTC and Patriots will be encouraged to continue to dig trenches in Greenwich from which to wage their war of identity politics and angry grievances. On the heels of this weeks federal indictment of Mr. Trump in Florida, the RTC was quick to label it as “Yet another fabricated political prosecution (persecution) of the leading Presidential candidate for 2024. Donald Trump got over 70 million votes in Nov 2020. This is a 3rd world country federal justice system. You can not break the law to enforce it.” Underscoring that statement, the Connecticut State GOP used the indictment as a springboard to do what else – fundraise – claiming in an email “This is just the latest chapter in the Trump witch hunt” before finishing with a chilling, McCarthyesque warning that “If Trump can be indicted, then they can prosecute and go after any of us.”
Is this what we want our local politics to devolve into? As a lifelong Republican, I am both concerned and embarrassed. One thing is for certain, if moderate Republicans remain indifferent and continue to allow the far-right elements of the Republican Party access to the levers of power in local government, the results will be disastrous.
Quigley is a former chair of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee