From Anti-War Progressive to Pro-Drone Militarist: Tulsi Gabbard’s Odd Political Trajectory

Once a rising star on the progressive left, in recent weeks Tulsi Gabbard has pivoted hard to the right, appearing on Fox News virtually daily, espousing traditionally conservative talking points.

While many on the American left have denounced the acquittal of Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse as handing a get-out-of-jail-free card to racist militias, former Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard openly celebrated the verdict. “The jury got it right — finding Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges,” said the 40-year-old lieutenant colonel, adding that the prosecution was so obviously politically motivated and his innocence so obvious that bringing charges against him should be considered “criminal” in itself.

The Rittenhouse trial was clearly flawed from the start. Among other decisions, Judge Bruce Schroeder refused to allow into evidence either video showing Rittenhouse fantasizing about killing Black Lives Matter protesters just days before the Kenosha shooting or images of him partying with the far-right group Proud Boys, flashing white nationalist hand gestures. Schroeder, who has a long history of questionable rulings, also ruled that those killed by Rittenhouse must not be referred to as “victims” in court, preferring the terms “looters” and “arsonists.”

To Gabbard, however, those questioning the verdict had merely had their minds poisoned by “pro-Antifa” mainstream media, a phrase she has repeatedly used over the past week. She tweeted:

With no evidence, mainstream media and antifa-loving politicians immediately labeled Rittenhouse a white supremacist terrorist. It’s obvious now that he was just a foolish kid who felt he needed to protect people and the community from rioters and arsonists because the government failed to do so.”

“Anyone who disagrees with pro-antifa mainstream media bias on [the] Rittenhouse trial is smeared as a white supremacist terrorist. Disgusting,” she added.

Doubling down on her stance, on Tuesday she released a video condemning those trying to view the shooting through the prism of race and racial justice. “We are all connected. We are all children of God, no matter our race, religion, or where we come from. So, please let us stop the RACIALIZATION of everyone and everything. This is what our country and world need most right now,” she wrote.

The former congresswoman’s words did not convince everyone. “Tulsi going all in on All Lives Matter,” remarked California-based media analyst Steve Patt. “I have never seen any politician move right as fast as Gabbard,” he added.

Today, Gabbard posted a clip of her on Tucker Carlson Tonight condemning the handling of the Waukesha murder case — an incident where an SUV drove into a crowd of spectators at a Christmas parade, killing six people. Gabbard argued that the incident showed that leftists are endangering America. Linking defunding the police to the release on bail of the suspect charged with multiple murders, she said:

We have politicians, we have activist judges and prosecutors who are not enforcing the law, people trying to defund the police, people who have really screwed up priorities who seem to be more interested about protecting criminals than protecting our community. “

“They are let out on to our streets, continuing their terror sprees,” she added.

Fox News star

These positions might surprise many who remember Gabbard from the 2016 and 2020 election cycles as a “rising star” on the progressive left. However, in recent weeks, she has pivoted hard to the right, appearing on Fox News virtually daily, espousing traditionally conservative talking points. In the past month alone, she has appeared on Fox shows Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, Gutfeld!, Neil Cavuto Live, Fox News Primetime, The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, and Watters World. Over the same timeframe, she has not appeared on MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, CBS or ABC.

She has spent most of her time on the network chastising the Democratic Party, despite once being DNC vice-chair. In a Fox News Prime Time segment last week titled “Dems Target their Political Enemies,” she presented her own colleagues as perhaps the greatest threat to liberty in America, warning:

You’re either with them – agreeing with them, supporting them, carrying the water for them — or you’re not. You’re either part of their team or you’re not. And if you’re not (and this is what we’re seeing happening now. It is what I’ve experienced), then they will target you, censor you, demonize you and call you a domestic terrorist and sick the attorney general on you.”

This built on a previous interview with Steve Hilton titled “Dems have become the party of hate and division,” where she warned against the ominous “darkness” of the “far-left” party, and a Tucker Carlson segment where she claimed her party was pursuing “an intentional strategy to tear us apart based on the color of our skin.”

Gabbard also openly celebrated the Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election earlier this month, which saw Glenn Youngkin defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe, telling Carlson that “McAuliffe’s loss is a victory for all Americans.” “This is where I find hope for the future,” she added.

She also condemned leftists who complain about Republicans using racial dog whistles, claiming that they were comparing the American public to dogs. “Please let us stop the racialization of everyone and everything. Racialism. We are all children of God and are therefore family in the truest sense, no matter our race or ethnicity,” she said, adding, “Please, let us not allow ourselves to be led down this dark and divisive path of racialism and hate.” Choosing to do this on Fox News — a network whose entire business model is dedicated to spreading animosity and riling up their overwhelmingly elderlywhite base against minorities and liberals — is a particularly noteworthy decision.

President Joe Biden himself has also been a key target of Gabbard’s ire. In September, at the height of the Haitian migrant scandal, where Border Patrol Agents were filmed whipping black people trying to cross into the United States, Gabbard attacked Biden from the right, claiming that his “open border policy” was hurting America and helping gang members and sex traffickers enter the country. Going further, she presented Trump as a sensible leader, praising him for his efforts to shore up the southern frontier with Mexico (In reality, “open borders” Biden has deported nearly 1.3 million people in less than a year in office — nearly three times the figure Trump achieved in four years).

This was not the only recent shot Gabbard has aimed at the 46th president. Earlier this month, she directly accused him of “undermining the fundamental principles of our country” and “tearing our country apart.” Four days later, she warned Fox viewers that his Build Back Better bill will allow “unelected bureaucrats” to “stick their noses into every aspect of our lives, furthering this cradle-to-grave mentality of government dependence that makes us lose even more of our autonomy.” “Government is already too big and powerful as it is. The Build Back Better bill will only make it worse,” she concluded, using classic conservative rhetoric.

From anti-war hero to drone queen

Perhaps the most surprising shift in her metamorphosis into boilerplate conservative is her seemingly shifting stance on war. Appearing on Fox News just after the Biden administration was forced to admit that a drone strike it ordered on “terrorists” in Kabul actually targeted ten civilians, she vehemently defended the policy. Clearly not expecting such an answer (the segment was titled “Afghan Disaster: Who Is Getting Fired?”), host Tucker Carlson looked surprised as Gabbard launched into a spirited defense of both drones and the endless war on terror.

“I think it’s important for the American people to understand that Islamist jihadists are continuing to wage war against us,” she said. Then, barely acknowledging that the slain Afghan children were not terrorists, she added:

We have to work to defeat them militarily and ideologically. And militarily, we have two choices in how we do that. Number One: We can continue to invade and occupy in nation-building [sic] countries around the world — just as we did in Afghanistan at great cost. Number Two: We can take a targeted approach using airstrikes, using our special forces to go in and go after these terror cells.”

“We’ve seen a near-180 from Tulsi Gabbard this year. Her opinions on many subjects are now indecipherable from Fox News — which is why they’ve been inviting her on regularly,” Lee Camp, a political comedian who has followed Gabbard’s career trajectory closely, told MintPress, adding:

Many of her tweets seem to pretend race is not an issue in America — a country with overwhelmingly white-supremacist foreign and domestic policy. Much of her ire and concern has shifted from those without healthcare to those refugees coming through our “open borders.” Tulsi now feeds into the toxic nationalism and xenophobia that has allowed the American empire to abuse other peoples and cultures for generations (ironically including white America’s annexation of her home state of Hawaii).”

Gabbard’s heel turn accelerated in the fall after she returned from active deployment on what she called a “Special Operations mission to go after al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists,” in the Horn of Africa. Many congratulated her on her promotion to lieutenant colonel, but others were surprised to hear that the U.S. military was at war in Africa at all.

All this seems a far cry from the woman who resigned from the DNC in 2016 in order to stand with Bernie Sanders. Gabbard consistently shared anti-war opinions on potential conflicts with Russia or Syria, to the point where she was constantly accused of being an agent of both governments. She also gained plaudits and followers after condemning the Saudi war on Yemen and attacking establishment figures like Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris when few others would.

Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., holds hands with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, during a town hall at Gettysburg College, April 22, 2016, in Gettysburg, Pa. Evan Vucci | AP

On race, too, she has taken an even more abrupt rightward shift. In 2017, she demanded that America must “dismantle the systemic racism that causes Black men to disproportionately receive harsher sentences compared to other races and ethnicities for the same types of crime.” Yet when a movement emerged raising these same points, she attacked it, siding with Rittenhouse.

Likewise, on immigration, only last year she condemned Trump for the policies she now says were correct. During the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination debates, she said:

Our hearts break when we see children at these detention facilities who’ve been separated from their parents, when we see human beings crowded into cages in abhorrent, inhumane conditions. We can have both secure borders as well as humane immigration policies. We have to stop separating children from their parents, make it easier for people to seek asylum, make sure that we are securing our borders and [sic] by reforming those laws.”

While it is certainly possible to hold left-wing economic views without subscribing to liberal social values (many Americans do just that), claiming that Biden’s border policy, which is demonstrably far more authoritarian than Trump’s, constitutes an “open border” is harder to understand, as is scaremongering about the perils of big government.

A big fan of Modi, Sisi, Apartheid

While many have been surprised by Gabbard’s rightward shift, there were a number of warning signs in her past that suggested her progressive, anti-war bona fides were not as rock solid as they might appear. Tulsi is the daughter of Republican-turned-Democratic State Senator Mike Gabbard, who came to prominence nationally as a leader in the anti-LGBT movement. In the 1990s, he was president of the group “Stop Promoting Homosexuality America” and host of the radio show “Let’s Talk Straight Hawaii.”

Tulsi took after her father in many respects. One of her first political gigs was working for an anti-gay group that promoted conversion therapy. “As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists,” she said. To be fair to her, her public pronouncements on the subject have greatly changed since then. In 2013, she joined the LGBT Equality Caucus and consistently voted for increased rights for sexual and gender minorities.

Perhaps even more alarming are her links to far-right Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary movement. Modi, a Hindu nationalist, first came to worldwide attention while he was chief minister of Gujarat state during the massive wave of anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002 that saw over 2,000 killed and 200,000 Muslims driven from their homes thanks to RSS handiwork.

As prime minister, Modi has led drives to strip millions of Indian Muslims of their citizenship and overseen other anti-Muslim violence. Members of Modi’s cabinet have floated the idea of genocide against India’s Muslim population (thought to be nearly 200 million).

Gabbard, a practicing Hindu, gifted Modi her childhood copy of the sacred text “The Bhagavad Gita,” condemned the U.S.’ 2014 decision to block his entry into the country owing to his history of inciting religious violence, and voted against a House resolution condemning his attacks on Muslims. Senior members of the RSS — an organization often compared to the Ku Klux Klan or Hitler’s brownshirts — attended Gabbard’s Hawaii wedding.

Gabbard Wedding RSS

Hindu extremist and BJP spokesperson Ram Madhav at Gabbard’s wedding. Source | Pieter Friedrich

Whether Modi has influenced Gabbard’s views on Islam is unclear. However, what is evident is that her beliefs about the religion drive much of her domestic and foreign policy positions. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, she fumed that President Barack Obama was not nearly tough enough on Islamic extremism, telling Fox News that “radical Islamic ideology” had to be defeated militarily, not just ideologically. She also constantly attacked Obama on his deal with Iran, calling the Islamic Republic “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.” On U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, however, her position was completely the opposite, saying that it was “understandable” if they developed atomic weaponry.

Another Middle Eastern dictatorship she supported was Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt. In 2015, she traveled to Egypt to meet Sisi, who has already suggested he might rule for life. There, she offered a glowing endorsement of his autocratic rule. “President el-Sisi has shown great courage and leadership in taking on this extreme Islamist ideology, while also fighting against ISIS militarily to keep them from gaining a foothold in Egypt,” she said, urging the U.S. to recognize him and “stand with him in this fight against Islamic extremists.”

This rhetoric is a far cry from the image of a sober, war-skeptical outsider many of her champions presented her as. While she does challenge many U.S. policies, it does not come from a position of being against war (she is, after all, a high ranking member of the U.S. military). “When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove… When it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk,” she explained, while failing to recognize that the war on terror is inextricably linked to regime-change wars and that one begets the other. Iraq, of course, supposedly started because of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in 9/11 and terrorism, but quickly morphed into a regime-change war lasting two decades, destabilizing an entire region and turning it into a breeding ground for radical Islamic terror.

On Israel, Gabbard has also been a loyal ally and was even chosen to speak at Christians United for Israel, a far-right pro-occupation organization. There, she shared a stage with Benjamin Netanyahu, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. So forthright was her support for the Apartheid State that the next year she received the Champion of Freedom award from the controversial Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an acolyte of mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Nevertheless, she still managed to cultivate an image of being against war and empire.

Playing both sides

Gabbard has been courted by the right-wing for a long time, so her recent shift should perhaps not have come as such a surprise. A favorite of individuals such as Mike Cernovich, Richard Spencer and David Duke, she even went to Washington to interview for a position in the Trump administration. This was reportedly presidential advisor Steve Bannon’s idea. “He loves Tulsi Gabbard. Loves her…[he] wants to work with her on everything,” a source close to Bannon told The Hill.

Last year, she also sided with notorious right-wing organization Project Veritas to promote the idea that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) had cheated her way to election victory, stuffing ballot boxes with votes. In this light, then, her decision not to vote to impeach Donald Trump (an action that infuriated her own party), might seem less like a principled stand and more like a long-term strategic move.

American politics is often compared to the charade of pro wrestling, with participants secretly working together to put on a show for the public. Gabbard’s latest heel turn is merely the latest in a long line of metamorphoses from conservative anti-LGBT campaigner to progressive anti-war activist to boilerplate Republican. Her latest actions might disappoint some on the anti-war left. However, a closer look at her past suggested her opposition to militarism was always limited in scope. Unfortunately, the United States is so starved of genuine anti-imperialist leaders that many are willing to compromise to an incredible degree.

“Gabbard has switched from championing the oppressed to championing the oppressors. It’s tough to say whether she ever truly believes anything she says or merely points her trajectory towards the greatest number of clicks and attention,” Camp told MintPress, adding:

Rather than stick to her (supposed) beliefs, she has now recalibrated to the Fox News audience. Most of our ruling elite in both parties are sociopaths who don’t actually have empathy for others. Perhaps Gabbard has always been just more of the same.”

From Anti-War Progressive to Pro-Drone Militarist: Tulsi Gabbard’s Odd Political Trajectory

Feature photo | Tulsi Gabbard speaks to U.S. Army Soldiers on April 8, 2021, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Photo | James Sheehan | U.S. Army

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