2020 Democrats defend Harris over conspiracy theories about race, citizenship

A slate of Democrats running for president defended fellow White House contender Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Harris gets key union endorsement amid polling plateau MORE (D-Calif.) after right-wing personalities and bots amplified conspiracies about her.

Apparent online bots promoted theories on social media after Thursday’s primary debate falsely claiming that the California Democrat, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent, is not black and is not a U.S. citizen.

“The attacks against @KamalaHarris are racist and ugly. We all have an obligation to speak out and say so. And it’s within the power and obligation of tech companies to stop these vile lies dead in their tracks,” Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE (D-Mass.) tweeted. 

“The coordinated smear campaign on Senator @KamalaHarris is racist and vile. The Trump family is peddling birtherism again and it’s incumbent on all of us to speak out against it,” Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeO'Rourke ends presidential bid Sunrise Movement organizer: Sanders, Warren boast strongest climate change plans Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate MORE (D) said, referring to the conspiracy theory that former President Obama was not born in the U.S.

Former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry MORE, who had a contentious exchange with Harris during Thursday's debate, also likened the smears against Harris to the "birther" theories against Obama.

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"The same forces of hatred rooted in 'birtherism' that questioned @BarackObama's American citizenship, and even his racial identity, are now being used against Senator @KamalaHarris. It’s disgusting and we have to call it out when we see it. Racism has no place in America," he tweeted. 

“There's a long history of black Americans being told they don't belong—and millions are kept down and shut out to this day. @KamalaHarris is an American. Period. And all of us must call out attempts to question her identity for what they are: racist,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) tweeted.

“The attack on @KamalaHarris is racist and we can't allow it to go unchecked. We have a responsibility to call out this birtherism and the continued spread of misinformation,” Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field Tim Ryan endorses Biden for president Strategists say Warren 'Medicare for All' plan could appeal to centrists MORE (D-Ohio) said.

.@KamalaHarris doesn’t have shit to prove,” Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Overnight Health Care: Warren promises gradual move to 'Medicare for All' | Rivals dismiss Warren plan for first 100 days | White House unveils rules on disclosing hospital prices | Planned Parenthood wins case against anti-abortion group MORE (D-N.J.), one of only three black candidates in the presidential race, tweeted.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting MORE (D-Minn.), who in the senate has sought to curb the influence of Russia on social media, said "We are better than this (Russia is not) and stand united against this vile behavior."

South Bend Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE said Harris' presence in the race made for a better campaign.

"The presidential competitive field is stronger because Kamala Harris has been powerfully voicing her Black American experience. Her first-generation story embodies the American dream. It’s long past time to end these racist, birther-style attacks," he tweeted.

"This is racism. It was wrong before, and it’s wrong now. We won’t allow it again," Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee She Should Run launches initiative to expand number of women in political process MORE (D-N.Y.) tweeted.  

The conspiracy theories were mainly promoted by fringe personalities popular in far-right circles. But one about Harris not being black was boosted by Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE Jr., who retweeted one such message before taking the post down. 

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“A lot of suspect accounts are pushing the 'Kamala Harris is not Black' narrative tonight. It’s everywhere and it has all the signs of being a coordinated/artificial operation,” social media researcher Caroline Orr tweeted after the debate. 

The Democratic primary race has gotten personal in the days leading up to this week’s debate, but all candidates have sought to prove themselves particularly attuned to race as they court an increasingly diverse base.