Are we even surprised that a candidate endorsed by Donald Trump is up to some shady business? A congressional campaign has denied text messages that indicate plans to commit election fraud after they were leaked by a fired former campaign manager. Congressional candidate Joe Kent’s team claims the texts are fabricated, but a former campaign manager insists they were not.
The texts were first published by right-wing blog Red Voice Media, which posted screenshots of the texts on Thursday. While the article did not specify how the texts were received, it noted that “the allegations against Kent are both heavy and concerning.”
The texts were then confirmed to be authentic to The Dispatch by former campaign manager Byron Sanford. Sanford was fired by Kent in December. He told the outlet that days before being let go, Kent sent messages to current Campaign Manager Ozzie Gonzalez via the secured app Signal, alleging he would buy the votes of less fortunate folks.
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According to Sanford, Kent planned to use cigarettes and pizza to bribe homeless people and undocumented immigrants to register to vote. He then planned to sort through their ballots to ensure they chose him as their desired candidate.
When asked about the texts, Kent told The Dispatch that his campaign has “been through this before … This is why I got rid of the guy—I just simply couldn’t trust him,” he added, speaking of Sanford.
Kent maintained the claim he made to the outlet in September that his campaign was dedicated to “election integrity”—an odd claim from someone supported by Trump who has cried about a stolen election without evidence for almost two years.
But here’s the plot twist: When investigating the issue, The Dispatch found that there was more drama to the campaign than shared. Sanford admitted to falsely accusing the Kent campaign of creating other Signal messages meant to hurt his reputation. That false accusation tarnished Sanford’s credibility, raising questions on whether these newly published texts too are false. However, through weeks of consistent investigation, The Dispatch verified they were from Gonzalez’s phone.
One text read:
“I’m 1000% down to register homeless people for cigarettes. I’ve been looking for nonprofits or existing orgs that will let us piggyback off their infrastructure but we’re just going to have to do it on our own. Should not be hard. Show up at a camp with 30 dominoes pizzas. Same with every ethnic minority. The stupider the better. Central Americans are perfect”
Another indicated the campaign’s intention to illegally secure votes:
“I’m also down to take all the trash bags of ballots back to my place to make sure they voted the correct way by shining a flash light through the envelope.”
And following in the words of Trump the intent of another text couldn’t be more clear:
“I’m literally going to steal the election. I’ll collect every ballot I can with some trust worthy [sic] Patriot prayer guys and then we will sort through them in my basement and burn the bad ones.”
Gonzalez defended himself, telling the outlets that not only was Sanford lying, but he “was found with my cell phone several times when it went missing at events throughout the summer.” He added: “Most media was captured on my phone and it got passed around frequently.”
To further tarnish Sanford’s credibility, Gonzalez shared screenshots with The Dispatch that he allegedly had of Sanford’s texts in which he claimed Sanford used offensive and ignorant language, including saying “fucking kikes,” “heil fucking Kent,” and “allah fucking akbar.” According to The Dispatch, the same verification process used to confirm Gonzalez’s texts was used to confirm the messages came from the Signal account associated with Sanford’s phone number.
While he initially denied the claims, Sanford later admitted to sending the antisemitic texts.
“I’ve donated to Jewish causes and I’m a staunch supporter of a one-state solution with Israel annexing the West Bank. I used a poor choice of wording to Ozzie but that’s how you work on Joe’s campaign with his current staff,” he told The Dispatch. “The reason Joe’s people are using this is because I told the truth about his campaign.”
Whether or not Kent was involved in this attempt to “steal the election” is not clear, but what is clear is that this campaign is a hot shady mess.
But of course, it comes as no surprise because this isn’t the first time Kent has made headlines. Kent has faced criticism for being connected to not only white nationalism but supporting the neo-nazi conspiracy of “replacement theory.” The conspiracy theory suggests that white people native to their countries are being replaced by non-white immigrants.
During appearances on conservative talk shows, Kent expressed anger towards people who label those who talk about "replacement theory" as racist.
"[Democrats] are elite whites who have no issue whatsoever bringing in that unskilled cheap labor from country—you name the country, you name the ethnicity, that's going to displace, a working-class white, a working-class Hispanic, or working-class Black African American," Kent said. "And you know, they'll say oh if you even mention that, then you're some sort of neo-Nazi, white nationalist. That's the replacement theories.
"Well no, you're literally trying to replace an American—but you're not, you're doing it because you want cheap labor," Kent added.
The outlet Salon even included Kent in their list of dangerous Republican candidates, noting that the candidate for Washington’s 3rd District was backed by the "Insurrection Caucus,” including Trump allies like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, and Matt Gaetz.