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

Critics are calling for one of Wednesday’s RNC speakers to be removed from the lineup because of plagiarism allegations and QAnon ties — and he’s not 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 his removal from the lineup, with chair Jeff Merchant saying, “People who cheat are not the type of leaders need or want.” Conservative Trump critic Bill Kristol tweeted on Tuesday, “Will the RNC disinvite the plagiarist scheduled to speak tomorrow night?”

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A Republican and former Utah lawmaker, Sheryl Atkins, also called for the RNC 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 earlier this year.

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

Owens’ spokesman, Jesse Ranney, told NBC News that Owens was not familiar the show’s ties to QAnon and is not a follower of the conspiracy theory.

Atkins told the Salt Lake Tribune the RNC “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 the candidate, a former NFL player. “They’re desperate to try to squash diversity of thought.”

The RNC 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.”

Also set to speak Wednesday night is Clarence Henderson, a conservative civil rights activist who participated in the Greensboro, N.C., 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’s shared similar messages on social media, where he’s warned about the “Islamic domination of the West” and shared anti-LGBT articles.

Henderson said in his remarks about 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 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month, NPR reported. In his speech, he said Trump is not a racist “and I’m fed up with how he’s portrayed in the media.”

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

Earlier this month, Holtz urged colleges to resume football games despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — and suggested 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 has mocked Colin Kaepernick and other football players who’ve protested police violence. “I think it’s ridiculous,” he said of Kaepernick in 2016.

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The Kaepernick quotes 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.