Campaign check: Loeffler tries to link Warnock to Cuban dictator

The statement:

Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock “celebrated Fidel Castro and welcomed him to church” in 1995. -Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Twitter, Nov. 11

What we found:

On Oct. 22, 1995, Cuban President Fidel Castro spoke to a crowd at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, the Harlem church where the Rev. Raphael Warnock was a 26-year-old youth pastor.

PolitiFact and other news outlets have reported “there is no evidence Warnock was involved in arranging Castro’s appearance or welcoming him.” A Fox News report quoted Warnock campaign spokesman Terrence Clark: “Twenty-five years ago, Reverend Warnock was a youth pastor and was not involved in any decisions at that time.”

Sen. Kelly Loeffler links to the Fox News report in her tweet.

According to Warnock’s campaign and 1995 news reports of the event, Warnock was not on the dais with church leadership and Castro before the late communist leader made his speech.

Warnock’s campaign has not said whether he attended the event, according to a PolitiFact report.

In a Nov. 15 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Warnock said he had never met the Cuban dictator.

“I did not make any decisions regarding the program. I have never met the Cuban dictator, and so I’m not connected to him,” Warnock said.

At the time of the event, the Associated Press reported that Castro’s appearance was coordinated by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing. Founded in 1967, the IFCO’s stated mission is “to support the poor and disenfranchised in developing and sustaining community organizations to fight human and civil rights injustices.”

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Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In 1995, the IFCO advocated for the U.S. to lift its embargo on Cuba, the AP reported. The Rev. Calvin Butts, still the pastor of Abyssinian, spoke at the event and welcomed Castro before his speech.

Since her initial tweet, Loeffler has leaned into her claim that Warnock is linked to Castro. Her campaign has included the claim in an ad released Nov. 12 that has aired nearly 2,000 times at a cost of almost $1 million, reported using data from Advertising Analytics.

Her campaign repeated the claim on social media and elsewhere. She also said again that Warnock “celebrated Fidel Castro in his church,” at a November rally with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, according to the Washington Post.

On Dec. 9, “Fidel Castro” trended on Twitter. Many conservatives were criticizing a video clip from a 2016 sermon Warnock delivered shortly after Castro’s death. Warnock asked his congregation to “pray for the people of Cuba.” He also described Castro’s legacy as “complex, kind of like America’s legacy is complex.”

The clip is less than 90 seconds long, while the service itself lasted nearly two hours. Prior to that moment highlighted on Twitter, Warnock spoke at length about the United States’ history of mass incarceration. He asked those in the congregation who knew an incarcerated person to come stand at the altar. In context, his brief mention of Castro juxtaposed American outrage over political prisoners in Cuba with the lack of outrage at the issue of racial disparities in prison sentences in the United States.

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