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Councilman retweets Swedish anti-immigrant firebrand, and that ruffles feathers online

Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau raised some eyebrows late last week when he retweeted a Swedish anti-immigration commentator.
Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau raised some eyebrows late last week when he retweeted a Swedish anti-immigration commentator.

Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau raised a few eyebrows on social media over the weekend when he retweeted a nationalist, anti-immigrant post from Sweden. But the councilman said that doesn’t reflect his own opinion.

The original Dec. 14 Twitter post from Peter Imanuelsen, a self-described right-wing political commentator who goes by @PeterSweden7, bemoaned the effects of immigration on the Scandinavian nation and criticized the Swedish government’s immigration policies. “The Swedish gov are (sic) deliberately trying to erase my home and culture,” Imanuelsen wrote.

Brandau retweeted Imanuelsen’s tweet without comment. On Monday, he explained that the post caught his attention because of his own interest in “the collapse of European culture.”

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Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau Bee file photo The Fresno Bee

“If you check, I follow Der Spiegel (a leading German news magazine) and Bild (a Berlin-based daily newspaper),  and others,” he said. “I follow what’s happening in Europe. It’s not a stretch for me to be interested in opinions from Sweden.”

Brandau does not follow Imanuelsen on Twitter, and said the tweet probably appeared in his own Twitter feed through someone else he follows. “I don’t really remember. I’m just like everybody else; I check in maybe a half dozen times a day on Twitter and see things other people have tweeted,” he said.

I retweet lots of people I wouldn’t agree with on other subjects; it’s just lots of opinion. We have a society that’s based on open discussion.

Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau

Imanuelsen’s Twitter feed and other online activities reflect an aggressive anti-immigration stance, particularly toward Muslims in Sweden. It’s a significant swing of the ideological pendulum from August and September 2016, when he issued a flurry of anti-Semitic tweets in which he denigrated Jews and said he didn’t believe in the Holocaust by Nazi Germany before and during World War II. “I don’t like fascism, but I think Hitler had some good points,” he tweeted on Aug. 7, 2016. “I am actually pretty certain that the holocaust never actually happened.” Imanuelsen has since deleted those tweets and declared that he no longer holds those beliefs.

Brandau’s retweet nonetheless caught the attention of Fresno’s political left. Kiel Thomas Lopez-Schmidt spotted Brandau’s tweet and posted it on his Facebook page. “No big deal, just one of our Fresno City Council members RTing (retweeting) an European white nationalist saying white nationalist stuff. …” Lopez-Schmidt’s post garnered 56 comments as of Monday afternoon, as well 49 reactions, including 20 who selected the “angry” emoji to show their feelings. And Twitter user @JePahl_White tweeted at Brandau: “Do you know you’re re-Tweeting a white nationalist? As one of your District 2 constituents I am HIGHLY offended. …”

Brandau said Monday that he wasn’t aware of Imanuelsen’s background on Twitter, “and for the purposes of that retweet, I don’t even care.” He added that his Twitter profile notes that things he retweets are not endorsements of the original content. “I retweet lots of people I wouldn’t agree with on other subjects, it’s just lots of opinion,” he said. “We have a society that’s based on open discussion.”

There is no parallel to be drawn, Brandau added, between the anti-immigrant perspective reflected by Imanuelsen’s tweet and his own views on immigration.

Do you know you’re re-Tweeting a white nationalist? As one of your District 2 constituents I am HIGHLY offended. ...

Twitter user @JePahl_White, tweeting a response to Councilman Steve Brandau

On Monday, Brandau took to Twitter again, tweeting a link to a 10-month-old New York Post opinion piece by columnist Rich Lowry declaring that “actually, Sweden is having big trouble with Mideast refugees.”

There is considerable racial and ethnic diversity across the northwest Fresno council district that Brandau represents: Based on enrollments of elementary and middle schools for the council district north of Shaw Avenue and west of Blackstone Avenue, more than half of the population is Hispanic or Latino. At 24.7 percent, the white population amounts to less than one-quarter of the district, followed by Asians (including India and portions of the Middle East) at 10.6 percent and African-Americans at 8.5 percent. People who identify with two or more races are just over 2 percent of the population in Brandau’s district.

Brandau said he’s aware of the online backlash, “but I don’t respond to local antifa types reacting to my tweets; it’s like water off a duck’s back.” “Antifa” is a shorthand term for “anti-fascists,” and is an umbrella description for far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.

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