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RNC speakers with a past: Allegations of plagiarism, hostility to immigrants, QAnon and anti-Muslim bias

Two speakers on the third night of the Republican convention have been linked to QAnon outlets. The evening will be keynoted by Vice President Mike Pence.
Image: Burgess Owens
Burgess Owens, the Republican candidate for Utah's 4th Congressional District seat, speaks during a campaign event in Sandy, Utah, on July 23.Isaac Hale / The Daily Herald via AP file

Critics called for one of Wednesday's Republican National Convention speakers to be removed from the lineup because of plagiarism allegations and QAnon ties — and he wasn't the only speaker with ties to the conspiracy theory and who has made controversial remarks.

Burgess Owens, a Republican congressional candidate in Utah, plagiarized numerous passages in his 2018 book, "Why I Stand: From Freedom to the Killing Fields of Socialism," according to an analysis by Media Matters.

The Utah Democratic Party has called for Owens' removal from the lineup, with Chairman Jeff Merchant saying, "People who cheat are not the type of leaders we need or want." Conservative Trump critic Bill Kristol tweeted Tuesday, "Will the RNC disinvite the plagiarist scheduled to speak tomorrow night?"

Sheryl Atkins, a Republican former Utah lawmaker, also called for the convention to boot Owens because of his ties to QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory that idolizes President Donald Trump and talks about the arrest and execution of his enemies. Owens appeared on a YouTube show affiliated with the movement this year.

He also tweeted congratulations to a Colorado congressional candidate who praised QAnon after she won her primary.

Owens' spokesman, Jesse Ranney, said Owens wasn't familiar with the show's ties to QAnon and isn't a follower of the conspiracy theory.

Atkins told The Salt Lake Tribune that the convention "shouldn't be inviting anyone to speak who has any affiliation with any of these groups or has participated with them."

Ranney called the controversies "much ado about nothing."

"Of course they don't want him to speak," Ranney said of Owens, a former NFL player. "They're desperate to try to squash diversity of thought."

The convention said Owens would discuss "How President Trump has delivered results for Black Americans."

In excerpts of his speech, Owens said the country is "at a crossroads."

"Mobs torch our cities while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism my father fought against in World War II," he was to say.

Also set to speak Wednesday night was Clarence Henderson, a conservative civil rights activist who participated in the Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch counter sit-ins in 1960.

Henderson appeared on a well-known QAnon podcast last year, where he made anti-Muslim and anti-transgender comments during a lengthy interview. He has shared similar messages on social media, where he has warned about the "Islamic domination of the West" and shared anti-LGBTQ articles.

Henderson said of Trump, "He has done more for Black Americans in four years than Joe Biden has done in 50."

On Tuesday, another speaker was abruptly yanked from the RNC lineup after she tweeted out a link to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Jack Brewer, another of the night's speakers — and, like Owens, a former NFL player — was hit with civil insider trading charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission this month, NPR reported. In his speech, he said Trump isn't a racist "and I'm fed up with how he's portrayed in the media."

And another speaker Wednesday has a history of controversial comments — legendary former college football coach Lou Holtz.

Holtz urged colleges this month to resume football games despite the coronavirus pandemic — and he suggested that some level of losses would be acceptable.

"Let's move on with our lives! When they stormed Normandy, they knew there were going to be casualties, there were going to be risks," Holtz told Fox News.

Holtz got into hot water in 2016 when he went an anti-immigration rant, and he has mocked Colin Kaepernick and other football players who have protested police violence. "I think it's ridiculous," he said of Kaepernick in 2016.

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The Kaepernick quotations were highlighted by the Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century.

"As our country mourns the tragic shooting of Jacob Blake and the murder of two Black Lives Matters protesters, Donald Trump and the RNC have made it their mission to demonize Black Americans and stoke unrest in communities across the country. Trotting out Lou Holtz — the latest in a parade of speakers with extreme views — shows just how tone-deaf and out of step the Republicans are," said the group's spokesman, Kyle Morse.

Holtz spoke about leadership in his address. "When a leader tells you something, you've got to be able to count on it. That's President Trump. He says what he means, he means what he says, and he's done what he said he would do at every single turn," Holtz said.