Donald Trump’s Sordid History of Smearing Native American Gaming Operations
Donald Trump’s recent swipes at Native Americans might seem like an outgrowth of his disdain for Mexican immigrants, but his quarrels with American tribes goes back to his career as a casino owner. The New York Times took the lead in point out Trump’s past media attacks on Indian tribes, when it detailed several examples back in August.
The most egregious case happened when Donald Trump was fighting against attempts by the St. Regis Mohawk at Akwesasne tribe’s attempt to build a casino in the Catskills in 2000. At the time, Donald Trump was still the majority owner of the Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal, and Trump Marina (now Golden Nugget).
Donald Trump’s Anti-Mohawk Ads
The Atlantic City casino executive bought air time to launch an attack ad in New York City newspapers. The ad “hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia”, then suggested violent criminals “were coming to town”. The advertisement clearly suggested the St. Regis Mohawks were the violent criminals.
The commercial asked viewers: “Are these the kind of neighbors we want? The St. Regis Mohawk record of criminal activity is well-documented.”
The advertisements were discussed in the book “Enduring Legacies”, a book about ethnic identities in America, by a group of professors from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Arturo J. Aldama, Elisa Facio, Daryl Maeda, and Reiland Rabaka). The book explained that while some members of Akwesasne Mohawks had engaged in illegal activities, the implication that all members were criminals was “something of a racial slur“.
Donald Trump’s ads amounted to a smear campaign against the St. Regis Mohawks at Akwesasne, “clearly informed by the racist attitudes prevailing in the area“.
At the time, Native American casinos were beginning to stake their claim to their share of the American gaming niche. Many white Americans in New York State had begun to notice and resent their growing economic prosperity, after generations of relative poverty.
Trump’s advertisements were cited statistics from the New York Institute for Law and Society, which presented itself as a scholarly institution. New York’s Lobbying Commission began to scrutinize the ads. Under questioning, Donald Trump admitted that he was the primary sponsor of the Institute.
St. Regis Ads
To defend themselves, the St. Regis Mohawks took out newspaper ads to counter the smear campaign of “racist and inflammatory rhetoric of this sham Institute.”
The ad continued, “How dare they smear a nation and brand us all as criminals?”
When Trump was called to a New York State Senate subcommittee hearing to discuss what had happened, he claimed he was taking a stand against organized crime. He warned a stunned group of state senators, “You’re going to have the biggest organized crime problem in the history of this country. Al Capone is going to look like a baby.”
FBI Sides with Native Americans
In rebuttal, the St. Regis Mohawks called an FBI official to witness. The FBI agent said he had studied tribal gaming and “found no evidence of skimming, money laundering, theft, or any other criminal activity in Indian gaming”. Fifteen years later, Trump’s predictions till have not come true.
Eventually, Donald Trump admitted he made a “tremendous amount of money in Atlantic City” and he simply wanted to stop a potential competitor from establishing itself in a nearby market. The smear campaign was about maintaining his market share, so Trump was willing to make tenuous charges against an entire race of people.
Trump Tries to Revise History
For his part, Trump claimed he was attacking the St. Regis Mohawks only. In fact, he stood by the facts in his newspaper and television ads, then later claimed he was only attacking the Indian tribe’s past–not its people.
In an attempt to revise history, the (now) Republican presidential candidate said, “I wasn’t knocking the Mohawks; I was knocking their record. That’s not because they’re Mohawks. That’s because their record is bad and was proved to be bad at the time.”
In fact, at the time Donald Trump agreed to pay fines and run a set of ads which apologized for the earlier ads. Even then, Donald Trump was unwilling to give a full apology. Instead, he apologized in a backhand fashion for breaking lobbying laws by hiding who was behind the commercials, then expressed regret “if anyone was misled concerning the production and funding of the lobbying effort.”
What It Says about Trump
These days, Donald Trump is taking shots at a different group of Native Americans. When asked recently about President Barack Obama’s decision to officially rename Mt. McKinley in Alaska the original Native American name “Denali”, Trump said he would reverse the decision. Then he defended the decision by saying the name “Denali” insults the state of Ohio (thousands of miles away), because that’s where President McKinley was born.
The current swipes at Alaska’s Inuit Indians are nothing to compare to the 2000 smear campaign in New York. Donald Trump is running for president, so he’s behaving himself–or what goes for good behavior from the GOP candidate. The most important fact the 2000 incident points out about Donald Trump might not be his reflexive racism, but his obsession with money, his obsession with money and status, his (seemingly) patholigical lying, and his need to smear his enemies.
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