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Far-right Republicans defend Marine veteran accused of choking homeless man in New York

Ron DeSantis and other prominent figures have turned Daniel Penny into a symbol, and are even helping raise money for his defense fund

exmarine Daniel Penny
A protest in support of Marine veteran Daniel Penny in New York.MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO (Getty Images via AFP)

Far-right Republicans have found a new cause to support as the party prepares for its presidential primaries. A number of candidates have rushed to support Daniel Penny, a white Marine veteran who was caught on video pinning a Black homeless man on the New York subway to the floor in a chokehold. The passenger, 30-year-old Jordan Neely — who suffered from mental health issues — later died from compression of the neck, according to the medical examiner.

Florida Governor RonDeSantis, who announced his White House run last week, described Penny as a “good Samaritan.” Fellow Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Halley called on the New York governor to pardon him, while businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, who is also in the race, donated $10,000 for Penny’s defense.

Penny put Neely in a fatal chokehold after the 30-year-old — who busked as a Michael Jackson lookalike — started screaming inside the subway car. According to local media reports, Neely was ranting that he had no food and that he “was ready to die.” The victim, however, did not assault any of the other subway passengers. The former Marine immobilized Neely by putting him in a chokehold — a restraint that has been banned by several police departments as it can lead to serious injuries, and even death. In the video of the incident, Neely is seen to stop moving a few minutes after being put in the hold. Although the scene was caught on video, Penny was not arrested until two weeks after Neely’s death — a delay that has been widely criticized by activists and Democrats. The former Marine was charged with manslaughter and released on $100,000 bail.

Republicans from the most radical wing of the party quickly rallied around Neely, just as they did with Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager who killed two men with an assault rifle and wounded another during protests against racism and police brutality in Wisconsin. The Republican hardliners have been deploying all their media firepower to ensure that Neely is acquitted, just as Rittenhouse was.

This campaign has largely been taking place on Twitter. In a message on the social media site, Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the most radical lawmakers from the party, posted: “Jordan Neely was a violent criminal who should have been behind bars.” This was a reference to the fact that the victim had been arrested 40 times for disturbing public order, boarding the subway without a ticket and other incidents linked to his mental health issues. The Republican’s tweet was liked by none other than Twitter owner Elon Musk.

For Republicans, Neely’s death is not a sign that the system is failing to adequately treat people with mental health disorders or of the terrible conditions of the tens of thousands of people living on the streets in New York, or even of the erratic municipal policies to address homelessness. Rather, it is an opportunity to attack the Democrats and Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg, who is investigating the Neely case and is also the prosecutor who charged former U.S. president Donald Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records linked to hush money paid to a porn star during the 2016 presidential election.

Republicans have been using the case to accuse the Democrats of being soft on crime, even if crime rates in New York are comparable to what they were a decade ago, when New York was considered the safest city in the United States. “They have a playbook for winning elections that is based on really tapping into the worst parts of human nature and really driving it home with division and fear,” said Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who is New York City’s public advocate. “And, if there’s race and class played into it, then it’s like Christmastime for them.”

Penny’s lawyers opened a fundraising page on GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding website that has also hosted campaigns for the defendants charged with storming the U.S. Capitol as well as Rittenhouse. So far, it has raised more than $2 million, with donations coming from more than 40,000 people.

DeSantis shared a link to the fundraising page on Twitter, posting: “We must defeat the Soros-Funded DAs, stop the Left’s pro-criminal agenda, and take back the streets for law abiding citizens. We stand with Good Samaritans like Daniel Penny. Let’s show this Marine... America’s got his back.”

Tim Pool, a well-known far-right podcaster, donated $20,000 to Penny’s defense fund. “Penny is the Subway Good Samaritan and we are lucky to have brave souls like him who are willing to do the right thing,” he tweeted.

A fundraiser for Neely’s funeral barely raised $130,000. “A good Samaritan helps those in trouble, they don’t choke them out,” Reverend Al Sharpton said at Neely’s funeral in a Harlem church on May 19.

Beyond Twitter, message boards and forums have filled with racist and violent comments about the case. An anonymous user of 4chan posted: “One less Black bum on the streets of New York. Good job soldier.” While another called for Bragg to be hanged.

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