FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Largely abandoned by the national Republican Party but eager to reinforce President Donald Trump’s tacit support for his candidacy, Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore on Tuesday touted the endorsement of a super PAC his campaign described as having been founded by “seasoned campaign veterans” who helped power Trump’s victory in 2016.
But the organization now backing the controversial candidate ahead of the Dec. 12 special election was founded just weeks ago by a 24-year-old aspiring political operative who acknowledged to NBC News Tuesday that he’s trying to disassociate himself from white nationalist organizations he appeared to have affiliated with in the past.
The situation speaks to the degree to which Moore’s campaign is understaffed and underfunded, seemingly unable to perform a basic check of a previously unknown political entity, IndianaFirst, or its leader, Caleb Shumaker, who has had ties to a fringe party considered a hate group by leading civil rights organizations.
The Moore campaign press release announcing support from the IndianaFirst Super PAC quoted Shumaker, listed as the organization’s president, praising Moore as a threat to the “do-nothing agenda” of “Washington elites,” and vowing that his organization would work on the ground to power him to victory.
Moore is also quoted in the release as being “honored” to receive the group’s endorsement.
“IndianaFirst is committed to the success of President Trump’s America First agenda,” he said. “Republicans from across America are recognizing the incredible significance of this race for the future of conservatism and continue to unite in force around our campaign.”
The IndianaFirst PAC appears to have been formed during the week of Nov. 9, the same date their website was registered. According to Federal Election Commission requirements, it would need to register within 10 days of raising or spending more than $1,000 and file a separate statement to clarify that they’re an independent expenditure-only group. No such filings existed as of Tuesday afternoon.
The group said it would run digital ads and “mobilize a volunteer strikeforce” for get-out-the-vote efforts in key counties.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Caleb C. Shumaker briefly served as chairman of the National Youth Front, an offshoot of the American Freedom Party, a white nationalist group. A YouTube video posted to the account of a Caleb Shumaker laments “a nation ethnically fractured by a failed utopian social experiment of massive immigration and multiculturalism,” and ends with the declaration that “America is ours.”
Reached at his home in Indiana, Shumaker alternately disavowed the white nationalist views and denied he had ever expressed them himself. He acknowledged joining the National Youth Front, saying he was “pro-American,” but said he left the group when the American Freedom Party “got involved.”
“I left due to the direction they were going with their ethnocentric views,” he said.
He denied being the voice in both the YouTube video and an interview posted online with someone identified as Caleb Shumaker, who states unequivocally at one point, “I am a white nationalist.”
“I got some stuff taken down" from the Internet Shumaker told NBC News, because "it wasn’t from me.”
The Moore campaign did not offer additional comment on the group’s endorsement, which received coverage in Alabama and national media outlets. Separately, though, the campaign refused the endorsement of Matthew Hale, a white supremacist imprisoned for plotting to kill a federal judge.
In the interview, Shumaker said he founded the PAC this month to educate voters about key issues. He said he initially helped Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ahead of the Indiana presidential primary in 2016 but now considers himself “a Trumper.”
“I think Roy Moore is a great conservative," he said. "I think he has served the people of Alabama well and served the people well even when it’s unpopular."
NBC News' Carrie Dann contributed to this story from Washington.