What Happened to Tulsi Gabbard? Maui’s former congress member, who once embraced aloha, has careened to the extremist side of American politics, boosting Trump & the GOP’s lawless insurrection

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About five years ago, as managing editor of  The Maui Independent, I wrote four articles praising Hawai‘i’s former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, defending her from attacks that she had veered from Democratic Party orthodoxy, especially as it concerned war and peace.

In 2017, I wrote: “Fueled by the aloha spirit, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard spoke on Maui last night condemning America’s fixation with regime change. As for President Trump she blasted his “reckless” decision to launch missiles on Syria. Gabbard declared support for investigations into Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia and criticized his refusal to release his tax returns.”

This favorable position has changed, especially after Gabbard announced her exit from Democratic Party, and reported that she was heading to Arizona to campaign for that state’s far-right, election-denying gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and Arizona Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters, who wants to privatize Social Security and attributes America’s gun violence problem to Black people.

Before she announced she had quit the Democratic Party, Gabbard had been praised by Russian media. “Russian state TV pundits push for Trump-Gabbard ticket in 2024” ran a headline in The Washington Times.

Vladimir Solovyov, who hosts the show Vecher (Evening) on Russia’s Channel One played a clip of her on Fox News in March giving her view of Biden’s comment that Vladimir Putin “cannot stay in power.” Solovyov said he was going to show a clip of the interview with “our girlfriend Tulsi.” After the clip ended, journalist Vitaly Tretyakov asked, “Is she some sort of Russian agent?” It prompted Solovyov to joke “yes.”

In April, Russian state TV host Evgeny Popov declared the time had come to “again help our partner Trump to become president.” “Tulsi Gabbard would also be great,” political scientist Dmitry Drobnitsky added. “Maybe Trump will take her as vice president?”

After Gabbard endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, Hillary Clinton inferred, without naming her, that Gabbard was a “favorite of the Russians,” and was sued. Days ago retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Alexander Vindman condemned Gabbard on Twitter as “an agent of Russian disinformation. Your side is Russia and authoritarianism.”

Although I did not think so at the time, it seems Gabbard’s critics were more astute than I. Gabbard’s isolationist foreign policy definitely benefits Russia’s expansionist aims. And it is no coincidence that that among Gabbard’s leading campaign contributors was Putin defender Sharon Tennison of the Center for Citizen Initiatives. “Putin isn’t the problem, friends,” Tennison wrote. “Putin is a straight, reliable and exceptionally inventive man.” Forbes reported Tennison contributed $2,000 to Gabbard’s legal expense fund when she sued Clinton (unsuccessfully).

So who is Kari Lake, and what exactly has the new MAGA-like Tulsi Gabbard chosen to rush to Arizona to campaign for?

 It seems like a peculiar alignment because Gabbard has, in the past, said that she is opposed to several issues that Lake supports, like outlawing abortion and the building a wall on the Mexican border.

Tulsi on Maui in 2017

“What I have seen in (Kari Lake) is a strong spirit and a courageous heart,” said Gabbard on October 18. “A backbone that will not waver.” Gabbard added one of her favorite cabal talking points: “Kari Lake isn’t afraid to call out the warmongering elitist cabal of permanent Washington and the Military Industrial Complex, and their propagandists in the mainstream media.”

I was unable to find any quote by Lake mentioning either the Military Industrial Complex or any warmongering elitist cabal.

Endorsed by Trump, Lake is an “election denier.” “If you’re watching this ad right now, it means you’re in the middle of watching a fake news program,” Lake said in an ad. “You know how to know it’s fake? Because they won’t even cover the biggest story out there: the rigged election of 2020.”

This is the candidate who Gabbard praises for her  “a backbone” who reposted that Covid was a cover for “overthrowing our election” and “they made the entire (pandemic) happen” to take out Trump.

A former Fox-10 TV news anchor, Lake has repeatedly called Joe Biden “the illegitimate president,” and said that Democrats “have a demonic agenda.” As for her opponent for governor, Lake proclaims,  “I think she should be locked up.”

According to polls, Lake is likely to be Arizona’s next governor. This Trump toady praised by Gabbard for her “courageous heart,” told Tucker Carlson (who parrots Russian propaganda) she was “excited,” to comment on former fascist party member Giorgia Meloni’s election victory in Italy.

“This is someone I can relate to,” Lake said, after trying to “find any straight up information,” on Italy’s most far-right leader since Mussolini. “Everything was she’s a fascist, she’s a racist,” she continued, not bothering to learn that in 2006, Meloni told a reporter she had a “serene relationship with fascism” as a chapter in Italy’s history. Lake then made the bizarre comment: “If they’re not calling you slurs, if they are not attacking you, then you’re probably not truly representing the people of your country.”

Former Trump chief strategist and convicted felon Steve Bannon, who has had Lake and Gabbard on his “War Room” podcast, praised Lake as “the most unique” candidate to come out of the pro-Trump movement.

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, meanwhile, has called Lake a threat to democracy.

Kari Lake has parroted Trump’s authoritarian talking points, calling the “evil” reality-based media “enemies of democracy,” and claiming, “We are truly fighting pure evil right now.”

Lake has suggested surveilling K-12 classrooms with cameras. Not for children, mind you, but to spy on teachers – “We have the right to know what’s being taught in them,” she pronounced.

When 50,000 people marched in Phoenix in 2018, to support higher teacher pay and school funding, Lake tweeted – “nothing more than a push to legalize pot.” She supports cutting funds for public education and adopting a Christian nationalist curriculum, which promises “patriotic education.” “I believe in the Hillsdale College 1776 curriculum,” she said. This conservative propaganda re-writes history, suggesting federal civil rights laws opening up lunch counters and outlawing discrimination in restaurants, hotels and theaters, were “government coercion.”

She daily stokes fear – “If the far-left wins, I fear we won’t recognize this state by 2024,” and tweeted “The CCP is working with the Mexican Cartels to poison Americans with Fentanyl. Joe Biden’s inaction on the border makes him complicit in this Narco Terrorism.”

Lake wants early and mail-in voting restricted. “This is about fascism and authoritarianism,” former Marine and Democratic candidate for secretary of state, told The Guardian about voter suppression. “We’re at the precipice, we’re standing on the edge of the cliff.”

Lake has referred to abortion as “the ultimate sin.”  Discounting any woman’s right to choose, she posted “Roe v Wade and the Culture of Abortion is over. A new chapter of Life has begun. A chapter where we help women become the Mothers they are meant to be. Thank you, God.” All this from a former “Obama-supporting Buddhist,” one former colleague described her in a Phoenix magazine profile.

So the question arises, why would Gabbard want to stump for someone with such extremist views? Is it a step in aligning with Trump for 2024 – along with Lake? “Trumpism has found its leading lady,” noted The Atlantic. “Lake has made MAGA her own.”

An article in The Independent – “Tulsi Gabbard’s ties to secretive cult may explain her perplexing political journey,”  featured an interview with Gabbard’s aunt, Dr Caroline Sinavaiana Gabbard. She reported: “Once again I find my niece’s apparent penchant for parroting extremist toadies such as Tucker Carlson and vile ‘strongmen’ such as Vladimir Putin, to be problematic and deeply troubling.”

Gabbard grew up in Hawai‘i, in a conservative household that shaped her beliefs, with parents who were adherents of the Science of Identity Foundation (SIF), an offshoot of the Hare Krishna movement, led by an authoritarian figure, Chris Butler.

According to Honolulu magazine, SIF started as a small religious sect on Maui in the 1970s, and Butler founded the Down to Earth health food chain.

Revered as God’s voice on earth, Butler pronounced gay people were evil and that women are sub-human and should be controlled by their husbands. Known as Guru Dev Srila Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa, Gabbard has referred to Butler as her guru.

Cult expert Rick Alan Ross describes SIF as “the fringe of the fringe.” Ross told Meanwhile in Hawaii “some people consider him (Butler) a psychopath.”

A former SFI member in a 2017 Medium post had warned, “I am concerned about the control I know Chris Butler has over her, the influence he has over her ability to make decisions, decisions that could become law and impact a whole lot of people.” The article author described Butler as an “abusive, misogynistic, homophobic, germophobic, narcissistic nightmare.”

Prof. Sinavaiana, who calls Science of Identity Foundation (SIF) the “alt-right of the Hare Krishna movement,” also reported that when Gabbard ran for president in 2020, virtually her entire campaign staff were members of the SIF. She wrote on Facebook, “An alarming pattern of Tulsi’s priorities is becoming increasingly clear and problematic.”

As a Hindu, Gabbard is a fan of India’s ultra nationalist, authoritarian ruler Narendra Modi. While she has criticized the US government’s prosecution of Julian Assange as an “indefensible & a direct attack on freedom of the press & freedom of speech,” Gabbard has been silent on the Modi government’s assault on media freedom.

A global press watchdog named Modi, one of 37 world leaders deemed “predators of press freedoms.” His government’s assault have included the arrest and imprisonment of journalists, the filing of fake criminal cases against dozens of reporters, the use of intrusive surveillance such as Pegasus spyware against journalists, the banning of television stations on national security grounds, the unprecedented use of internet blackouts, a ban on news event-related visits to Kashmir by the international media, the introduction of new laws to censor digital news content via the Information Technology Rules, 2021, and the trolling and harassment of journalists – especially Muslim women.

On Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Gabbard has rejected support for Ukraine proclaiming: “Warmongers argue that we must protect Ukraine because it is a “democracy.” But they’re lying. Ukraine isn’t actually a democracy.” Actually Ukraine is considered a flawed democracy, with 95 percent of the population supporting Ukraine becoming a fully functioning democracy.

Gabbard has called the invasion a “proxy” war between the U.S. and Russia. Former President Donald Trump advisor Fiona Hill noted in Politico how some are echoing the Kremlin’s propaganda. “We’re not in a proxy war with Russia, just like we weren’t in a proxy war with Germany during World War I when we were trying to get German forces out of France and Belgium. It wasn’t a proxy war either when we were trying to get Germany out of Poland and all the other places that it invaded in Europe during World War II. We are trying to help Ukraine liberate itself, having been invaded by Russia.”

In her full statement regarding her decision to leave the Democratic Party, Gabbard displayed her right wing credentials with a litany of position statements including embracing evangelicals with a rant about the Democratic Party’s supposed disdain for religious freedom (“leaders are hostile toward people of faith”) and, as an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, supporting the gun lobby (Democrats “hate the Second Amendment”).

And it doesn’t end there. Gabbard is amplifying GOP propaganda about a supposed war on white people, declaring that the Democratic Party  “blatantly foments anti-white racism.”

Gabbard also accuses Democrats as being “anti-woman” because they support transgender rights. She even joined the crusade against critical race theory, which Republicans love to decry as an effort to rewrite American history.

Gabbard attacks the Democratic Party as warmongers, yet the only wars the US has fought in the last two decades were started by Republican presidential administrations, and rubber-stamped by Republican congressional majorities. During Trump’s reign more Special Forces troops were deployed than by any other president in history. In 2020, they were deployed to 154 countries, or roughly 80 percent of the world’s nations.

Gabbard also criticized the Biden Administration’s October arrest and indictment of several pro-life activists who had blocked access to an abortion clinic and prevented a patient and an employee from entering. Gabbard suggested security agencies have been “weaponized” against Americans.

Having being attacked early in her political career as an anti-gay bigot, which she once suggested was a relic of her past, she supports Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, suggesting  it was too moderate in censoring the discussion of sexuality and gender identity in public schools. “I was shocked to learn that it only protects kids from kindergarten till third grade,” Gabbard said in a video message. “Third grade? What about 12th grade or not at all?”

And campaigning in Arizona, she compared President Biden to Adolf Hitler. “Even Hitler thought he was doing what was best for Germany, right? For the German race.”

In the past, Gabbard had adopted several important progressive positions. Calling for the legalization of marijuana, she expressed support for the Portugal model of decriminalizing and regulating all drugs. She supports a single payer universal health care plan, called for Wall Street reform,  sponsored legislation to require GMO labeling, and criticized Monsanto for falsifying pesticide safety studies. Gabbard believes sex work should be decriminalized and has warned about the power of big tech companies to limit free speech. She supports making community college tuition free for all Americans.

As Gabbard has steadily marched into the conservative fold, one wonders about her agenda. Shaped by growing up in a fundamentalist Hindu cult, Gabbard has taken a favorable stance toward authoritarian figures like Syria’s Assad, India’s Modi and Russian’s Putin. Could this future include an alignment with Donald Trump, who she once called “Saudi Arabia’s bitch?”

Echoing Russian media, an Epoch Times article praising Gabbard on November 11, was headlined “Could Tulsi Gabbard Be Trump’s VP?” Newsweek reported in October – “Tulsi Gabbard Favored Over Mike Pence To Win 2024 GOP Nomination.”

“I think she’s going to be Trump’s VP… that’s where this is going,” said Fox News host Greg Gutfeld.”

Gabbard was once a shining beacon of hope, challenging America’s thirst for regime change around the world and our establishment’s war machine fed by corporations and media giants. She railed against neocons in both the Democratic and Republican party. And she rightfully warned about overreaching intelligence agencies and Big Tech companies who threaten our civil liberties, and co-sponsored an amendment to the Patriot Act.

But then, as her presidential campaign floundered and failed to catch fire, she shifted to the right, wholly embraced by Fox as a Democrat politician they could count on to parrot their propaganda. It worked – for her.

Applauded by the alt-right, she began sowing the seeds to eventually
denounce the party she once admired. And so, at the age of 41, a liberal returned to her reactionary roots as a fundamentalist extremist.


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Jon Woodhouse

Jon Woodhouse is the Managing Editor of The Maui Independent, which is owned by Progressive Source Communications. Moving to Maui 42 years ago, he feels blessed to live here. He writes about music for The Maui News and worked for the Hawaii Department of Education up until late 2019. Jon is the author of Music Legends on Maui: Conversations with Icons of Rock, Country, Jazz, Blues, Hawaiian, Soul & Reggae in Paradise

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