After Alabama’s GOP cast a vote of no confidence in Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, her leading opponent, Harmeet Dhillon, decided Monday to address questions about her Sikh faith.
“I would like to take a minute to address concerns that have been raised by a small handful of Alabama Republican Party activists regarding my faith and how that would impact my ability to champion our nation’s Judeo-Christian values that are encapsulated in our Party Platform,” Dhillon said in a mass email to Alabama’s Republican Party steering committee.
Dhillon went on to bash McDaniel’s leadership, contrasting it with her job fighting “the woke mob” as a civil rights and constitutional lawyer and the need to battle “cultural Marxists.”
Dhillon never explicitly mentioned that she is Sikh, but she emphasized the importance of faith to the Founding Fathers, saying “they considered religious liberty to be so foundational that it is the very first item referenced in the very first amendment of our Bill of Rights.”
Her supporters have publicly said that they see an attempt to undermine her with Christian conservatives — the base of the GOP, especially in Alabama.
Alabama Republican and former secretary of state candidate Chris Horn acknowledged in an interview that he had talks with other Republicans about Dhillon and her religion, but he said they were not motivated by religious bigotry. He also criticized Dhillon for not explaining more about Sikhism in her email.
As one of the party’s most recognizable Black Republicans in the state, Horn told NBC News that he was asked by about a dozen fellow Republicans about Dhillon because they thought she was Black as well. So, he said, he discussed what he knew of her, shared via text message a video clip of her leading a Sikh prayer at the 2016 Republican National Convention and answered questions as best he could.
“It’s OK to be a big tent party and ask questions,” he said. “So she’s a Sikh. What does that mean? How does that impact policy? Maybe she would be an awesome, great and wonderful chair. But I do know Ronna McDaniel has been proven that she’s been investing in the faith-based communities, and communities of color in urban areas and she has worked very hard.”
But some Dhillon supporters say other Republicans have been more overt in criticizing Dhillon’s religion, and they’ve accused McDaniel supporters of smearing her rival, which McDaniel denied through a spokesperson. Dhillon declined comment through a spokeswoman.
Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue posted a tweet on Monday that referenced the RNC video clip being shared and said it was an exercise in “religious bigotry.”
In another tweet, on Jan. 1, he posted an image of a text message from another RNC member who accused a different supporter of McDaniel’s of “whipping votes … by attacking” Dhillon’s faith.
That RNC member who texted Yue confirmed having the discussion but didn’t want to speak with NBC News on the record publicly accusing a fellow Republican of engaging in religious bigotry, whom NBC News was unable to reach.
In Louisiana, which approved a no-confidence vote in McDaniel on Saturday, RNC member and Dhillon supporter Roger Villere told NBC News that there was a “whisper campaign, and it’s despicable” concerning Dhillon’s religion. He didn’t name names or give specifics.
In a written statement Wednesday, McDaniel referenced her own faith as a Mormon in disavowing any attacks on the Sikh religion.
“I wholeheartedly condemn religious bigotry in any form,” she said. “We are the party of faith, family and freedom, and these attacks have no place in our party or our politics. As a member of a minority faith myself, I would never condone such attacks. I have vowed to run a positive campaign and will continue to do so.”