Back when Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly ran for office in 2020, a black and white photograph surfaced of someone in a Nazi uniform, taken from a yearbook dating from the time the former astronaut attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
The costumed Nazi was Mr. Kelly, dressed “as Hitler,” said the National File, a right-wing online publication that also broke the story about another controversial photograph, one from Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook showing two men, one dressed as a Ku Klux Klansman and the other in blackface.
Mr. Northam first acknowledged he was one of the men in racist garb, then denied it. Mr. Kelly, on the other hand, denied it was him from the start, and his campaign provided statements from former Kingspoint classmates saying the pretend Nazi wasn’t him.
And there the matter seemed to die. No alternative to Mr. Kelly was ever named, but the word of several classmates settled things in his favor, according to most media and various fact check outlets that also spoke with some former classmates.
In fact, the matter remains alive in a state lawsuit Mr. Kelly and his campaign filed against Flyover Media, the parent company of National File. On the current timetable, Mr. Kelly would be deposed on the matter early next year, according to Tom Pappert, the editor-in-chief of National File and a named defendant.
Mr. Kelly’s campaign, a plaintiff along with the senator, did not respond to a request for comment.
National File and Mr. Pappert stand by the story, which generated a flash of publicity while Mr. Kelly campaigned against Republican incumbent Martha McSally, a race Mr. Kelly won in November 2020 that filled the seat vacated by the late John McCain. Because that was a special election to fill McCain’s seat, Mr. Kelly will face a re-election campaign in 2022.
“The so-called fact-checkers simply acted as scribes on behalf of the Mark Kelly campaign,” Mr. Pappert told The Washington Times. “Their idea of debunking something is to have some former classmates come out and say, ‘it wasn’t him,’ and then Facebook and its fact-checkers go, ‘that’s proof.’”
The lawsuit was filed on Oct. 26, 2020, in Arizona state court in Pima County, a heavily Democratic area that includes Tucson. Mr. Kelly and the campaign are represented by Perkins Coie, a firm headquartered in Washington that often represents Democratic politicians. National File and Mr. Pappert, who are based in Kansas, have private attorneys.
Neither the defendants’ attorneys with Udall Shumway nor Sarah Gonski, the Perkins Coie associate who filed the original lawsuit, responded to requests for comment on the case.
Mr. Kelly graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy in 1986 and went on to a distinguished career both as an aviator in the U.S. Navy and as an entrepreneur. As that background may suggest, some of the people who sprang to his defense were very accomplished people, including Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding.
Mr. Pappert pointed to the timeline contained in the lawsuit, which says that roughly one hour after National File asked the Kelly campaign about the photo, it responded with a comment from Ms. Boykin that said Mr. Kelly was not the person in Nazi garb.
Neither Ms. Boykin nor the other former classmates who denied the photo was of Mr. Kelly offered an alternative or identified the costumed person at the party in their public statements. The Washington Times reached out to three of those classmates, including Ms. Boykin, but they did not respond.
The article remains online, although its removal, monetary damages and lawyers’ fees are requested in the lawsuit.
• James Varney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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