There's something you may not have noticed about Katrina Pierson.
The improbable Donald Trump surrogate got pummeled this week by the press after trying to pin a U.S. Army officer’s death on President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Pierson's gaffe, worsened by the fact that Obama did not hold national office in 2004 when Cpt. Humayun Khan was killed in a suicide attack, only momentarily drew attention away from her boss, who has continued feuding with the captain’s Gold Star parents despite the pleas of his subordinates and party leaders. (Pierson later admitted she made a mistake.)
The daughter of a poverty-stricken 15-year-old mother, Pierson’s personal success story contrasts sharply with that of Trump, who is reckoned to have received around $40 million in his mid-twenties from his father, Fred Trump Sr.—roughly $200 million in today’s money.
Pierson, who is half black, claims to have grown up on welfare, surrounded by gangs, drugs, and gun violence. In 1973, the year before Trump inherited his immense fortune, his father was embroiled in a Justice Department lawsuit for allegedly instructing employees to reject rental applications from poor black families, as four superintendents testified in court, according to records from the time.
It may be Pierson's history that, based on a review of her tweets over the past five years, has instilled in her views that clash with those of her employer.
A onetime Democrat, Pierson supported Obama’s first bid for the presidency. Trump, on the other hand, endorsed Sen. John McCain in 2008—after it became clear Clinton’s campaign, to which Trump’s family had contributed thousands of dollars, would not withstand that summer’s Democratic convention.
Pierson’s support for Obama waned following the great American-flag-pin controversy of 2008, an issue then-Illinois Sen. Obama flubbed with a number of contradictory statements. (During a primary debate Obama claimed he’d never refused to wear a flag pin, but he later admitted he’d intentionally stopped wearing them after he noticed a lot of pin-wearers “not acting very patriotic.”) Setting off on a radically different path, Pierson became a Dallas Tea Party activist working on behalf of Ted Cruz, who in January 2011 announced he was seeking to replace retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Less than a year after Cruz proclaimed his candidacy, a 17-year-old black high-school student named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Although Pierson stood with the Texas senator to declare election victory some 10 months later, their personal views about Martin’s death differed greatly.
Less than a month after the shooting, Pierson, who appears repelled by black activists who adhere strictly to nonviolent tactics, called for the arrest of Zimmerman, even as her candidate cautiously ridiculed the dead teenager’s mother, portraying Stand Your Ground laws as particularly beneficial to black communities.
“Trayvon was a citizen, and his liberties were violated,” Pierson told a follower on Twitter. She further accused Florida police of lying and intentionally botching their investigation. Asked a few months later by a conservative radio host her thoughts on the case, she wrote: “I've never seen so much hate & disrespectful treatment of a dead teenager, not even the [C]olumbine boys.” She went on to characterize the treatment of Martin as worse than “the 9/11 hijackers.”
Pierson would later question Cruz’s position on Stand Your Ground after a black woman in Florida fired a warning shot into a wall behind her abusive husband and was handed a 20-year prison sentence. After nearly two years in prison, an appeals court judge vacated Marissa Alexander’s charges, ruling undue burden had been placed on the mother to prove abuse at the hands of her husband.
In the media, Pierson is oft-criticized and labeled a “racist” for using the word “Negro” in referencing Obama. Her predilection for the term, however, is likely founded in a strong affinity for Malcolm X, whose speeches are rife with the word in an era before its use was considered uncouth. (By and large, black Americans discontinued use of the term in self-reference in the 1970s. By the 1980s it was completely taboo.)
Trump and his supporters frequently reject as “political correctness” the pejoration of certain words—selectively, those referencing race, ethnicity, or religion—while ignoring naturally occurring semantic shifts, the result of various socio-cultural factors over time.
Pierson was also chastised after she called for a ‘pure breed’ leader in a 2012, a reference to Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose fathers were born abroad. Several left-leaning outlets misconstrued—perhaps intentionally—her remark as a racist attack on Obama’s biracial heritage. “I myself am a half-breed,” she told CNN in her own defense.
Ironically, the mother of the candidate she now works for, Mary Anne Trump, was born on a remote Scottish island in 1912.
Pierson’s inherent contradictions persist through her wonder of X, whose political activism cannot be honestly divorced from his religious beliefs. On one hand, Pierson regards the civil rights leader, an orthodox Muslim, as the quintessential freedom fighter. On the other, she claims Islam’s practitioners “[prey] on the weak and use political correctness as cover.”
In a tweet, circa May 2015, Pierson claimed the Latin Church’s medieval crusades were actually the fault of bloodthirsty Muslims.
Pierson has referred to X as the “first” black Tea Party leader. “X warned blacks about white liberal control,” she has repeatedly said. Her retelling of X’s views, however, is a corruption. His broader point was that at least black Americans knew where white conservatives stood—against them.
A quote attributed to X painting white conservatives as “wolves” and white liberals as more devious “foxes” is occasionally wielded by white supremacists who embrace the analogy as true to this day.
While Pierson once used an image of Martin Luther King Jr. to advertise her 2014 primary campaign against Texas congressman Pete Sessions—she lost the election but captured more than 36 percent of the vote—when not campaigning she’s repeatedly expressed a distaste for King’s adherence to nonviolence. She has rebuked him for being “too moderate” and “submissive”—an apparent euphemism for X’s own criticisms of King, whom he often referred to as an “Uncle Tom pacifist.”
After seeing a video of Danny Glover telling students at Texas A&M University that the Second Amendment was founded by colonists to control slaves—in fact, the threat of slave rebellion intensified after British officers offered freedom to slaves who fought against their former masters, who in turn formed armed militias to enforce plantation security—Pierson told a follower that Glover should read up on X who “encouraged blacks to get guns.”
At least with regards to Twitter, there is one issue on which Pierson has remained completely silent: Black Lives Matter. Her boss, however, has been very vocal in expressing his fierce opposition to the movement. In an interview last month, Trump told the Associated Press that “a lot” of his supporters believe it is “inherently racist” to even utter the phrase “black lives matter.”
It’s hard not to wonder exactly what passes through Pierson’s head when she hears the man she’s backing for president of the United States continually berate black activists. (Trump's campaign did not yet respond to our request for an interview.) Unfortunately, due to Trump’s apparent use of nondisclosure agreements to prohibit his employees and volunteers from ever disparaging him in public, it’s possible we may never know.