Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) is running for re-election in upstate New York in a moderate district based around Utica and Binghamton.
Earlier this month, according to photos and a Facebook post, she took a trip south to New Orleans for a fundraiser hosted by local businessman Fouad Zeton, and she also spent time with someone else: Charles Marsala.
Marsala was an extreme long-shot candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016, but he fancies himself a New Orleans history buff. He also has reportedly associated with Holocaust deniers, shared white nationalist propaganda, accused people opposed to Confederate monuments of being a part of a Rothschild conspiracy, and argued that Confederate leader Jefferson Davis empowered slaves with job training.
Tenney is pictured smiling with Marsala with her thumb up in a photo attached to a Facebook post Marsala wrote on October 12.
“Late night coffee at Café du Monde in New Orleans with Lt. Heavyweight Boxing Champion Fouad Zeton and Upstate New York Congresswoman Claudia Tenney. Fouad hosted a fundraiser for Claudia,” Marsala wrote. “We explained Jackson Square, Washington Artillery, took a picture at the 300th Anniversary sign, and then…. Fouad, who was known as the ‘Syria Destroyer,’ took us to his place off Bourbon Street by Pat O’Brian’s for great gyros. Great hospitality and an equally wonderful Congress Woman.”
Below it, he shared Tenney’s campaign website.
In 2016, Charles Marsala ran for U.S. Senate as David Vitter (R-LA) was retiring, finishing 20th in the blanket primary. He is the former mayor of Atherton, California and a financial adviser, and is also the operator of the “Experience New Orleans Heritage” Facebook page which advocates “using monuments to educate.”
He described Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate General G.T. Beauregard as “the most liberal and progressive of the men of the era.”
The website “The 1868 Society of New Orleans” spotlighted him “liking a post claiming that African-Americans should be “thankful” that their ancestors were “saved by slavery and not eaten by their kinsmen.” The 1868 Society website, which describes itself as “a diverse group of historians, artists, community leaders, and New Orleanians of all backgrounds dedicated to a critical understanding of our city’s unique history,” has tracked Marsala’s other exploits. It points out that Marsala: agreed with a white nationalist podcast host that removing Confederate monuments is a form of “white genocide,” associated with Holocaust deniers, and asserted that efforts to remove Confederate monuments were Rothschild-funded Maxist plots.
Marsala has been a prominent opponent of local efforts to take down Confederate statues. He was a part of the secret all-white committee the incoming New Orleans Mayor formed to give advice from the pro-monument side of the debate.
Shortly before he posted about how he spoke with Rep. Tenney about New Orleans history, he appeared in an interview in which he said the movement to remove Confederate monuments could be blamed on socialists seeking to influence the 2020 election, and thought there could be common ground to “back away” from racist or white supremacist material.
“All this seems to be to enlarge the socialist movement in New Orleans, politically, for the 2020 election,” Marsala said in the October 5 interview that as a way to find common ground with the people who wanted to remove the Confederate monuments, “can we work together to use the monument to educate, and back away from anything that seems to say racism or white supremacy.”
Marsala, according to the 1868 Society of New Orleans website, was asked why he defended white supremacy, and he answered that he defined the term as “buying a Mercedes, Porche, Ferrari, or Royals Royce, etc because you believe Europeans make better cars.” He and his fellow Monumental Task Committee also distributed material from Identity Acadia, a white nationalist group.
Marsala published a video about Davis in which he spoke with Wendi Berman, who co-produced a documentary about Jefferson Davis. In the video’s description, Marsala said Davis was best known for empowering slaves by preparing them with professional careers.
Charles Marsala of AWE News discusses Jefferson Davis with Wendi Berman at the Jefferson Davis Monument located in the Mid-City area of New Orleans. Davis is best know for empowering slaves in preparation for professional careers after plantation life starting in the 1840s at Hurricane Plantation. [sic, emphasis added] During the Civil War, Davis adopted an abused black child.
Marsala recently complained on Facebook that the movie “First Man” — the Neil Armstrong biopic, “introduced ‘White Privilege’ as a racial issues [sic] into the story as all the astronauts were white males.” He noted, “Seems everything today is reviewing race.”
Tenney, shown in the photo with Marsala and Zeton, did not reply to repeated requests for comment through her campaign on her discussions with Marsala. Marsala did not respond to requests for comment about his post, nor his thoughts about Rep. Tenney. Ellen Foster, the campaign manager for Tenney’s Democratic challenger Anthony Brindisi, did get back to ThinkProgress about Marsala.
“It’s not surprising that Claudia Tenney would associate with someone like this,” Foster said in an emailed statement. “After taking money from a lobbyist convicted of fraud, a congressman who settled a sexual harassment complaint with taxpayer money, and multiple people who have used racial slurs against the Obamas, this is par for the course with her.”
Zeton, the host of the fundraiser, is a New Orleans restauranteur and “well-known local political donor” who attended Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 and told Quartz about his support for Trump: “Putin will respect Trump, he did not respect Obama.”
It’s not as though the subject of fundraisers has not come up in the campaign before. Tenney has regularly attacked her Democratic opponent, Anthony Brindisi, for fundraising in New York City with the “liberal elite,” “liberal maniac Alec Baldwin,” and “Nancy Pelosi’s liberal allies.”
SPOTTED: @ABrindisiNY is fundraising in NYC today with the liberal elite coughing up 25k per ticket. Brindisi's secret fundraisers with @NYGovCuomo & NYC special interests show just how duplicitous & out-of-touch he is with #NY22 families. pic.twitter.com/5hUY31eXzr
— Claudia Tenney (@claudiatenney) September 24, 2018
.@ABrindisiNY is in NYC raising $$ with liberal maniac Alec Baldwin- the latest in a string of Hollywood celebrities raising money for Brindisi. Meanwhile, NYC socialists are being bused into #NY22, knocking doors to convince voters Brindisi is a Republican. Desperate. pic.twitter.com/2TRHlJ2OEb
— Claudia Tenney (@claudiatenney) October 24, 2018
DARK MONEY: @ABrindisiNY Are you having fun in DC at your fundraiser rubbing elbows with Nancy Pelosi's liberal allies? How much DC special interest money will you accept today??
— Claudia Tenney (@claudiatenney) September 12, 2018
In addition to raising money in New Orleans, Tenney held a fundraiser at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. in 2017. When House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) came to Binghamton earlier this month to raise money for Tenney, protesters lined the sidewalks while both Tenney and Ryan ducked away from attention.
UPDATE: In the evening after this article was published, Marsala contacted ThinkProgress for the first time and in a phone conversation Friday morning provided additional information and context.
This article has been updated to clarify that the New Orleans mayor who formed the group that provided advice about removing monuments was not in office when she formed the group, and also to include an additional citation from the Times Picayune about the group’s membership and secretiveness. Marsala told ThinkProgress that he did provide advice and was consulted by the mayor about monument removal but was not on a committee.
When asked about his decision to like a post about slavery being better than staying in Africa, Marsala added that compared to being “castrated” or being eaten, “American slavery might have been the better alternative.”
Marsala denied that he did anything more than think what a white supremacist would think was the definition of white supremacy when he gave the quote about it being like buying a European car because you think Europeans make better cars.
He also disputed the 1868 Society report that he associated with Holocaust deniers (specifically Mark Cvitanovic, from whom the site reports Marsala got ideas about Mayor Latoya Cantrell being controlled by Agenda 21). However, Marsala did not dispute that he had done several interviews with the Daily Kenn (including one in which he interviewed someone for the site), a website run by someone who denies the Holocaust.
After speaking with ThinkProgress, Marsala deleted the reference on his YouTube interview about Jefferson Davis being best known for empowering slaves. “I have deleted most of the title and description of the Jefferson Davis video on You Tube,” he told ThinkProgress in a follow-up email. He did not refute his perspective that Jefferson Davis was one of the most progressive men of his time and thought slavery was wrong.
Marsala also told ThinkProgress that he and Rep. Tenney did not speak about monument removal during their conversation in New Orleans in October. He said he did not know her prior to meeting her after her fundraiser, told her about his position on the environment, and then told her about some of the local buildings and monuments they were near. Rep. Tenney’s campaign still has not replied to ThinkProgress about the nature of their conversation.