Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / AP
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Gregory Cheadle is the Redding resident who shot to national fame in 2016 when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump saw him at a campaign rally in the Sacramento Valley city and said, “Look at my African American over here. Look at him! Are you the greatest?”
“I wasn’t offended,” Cheadle said in an interview this week. After all, he was a Republican, a Trump supporter and a candidate for Congress. “At the time, it was funny. I did not think he had any ill intent.”
Now, nearly three years into the Trump presidency, Cheadle is having second thoughts about Trump, his racially insensitive comments and the Republican Party. Last month, Cheadle left the party. He’s running for the House — for a fifth time — as an independent.
“It’s indisputable that he’s got a problem,” Cheadle said of Trump. “The problem is that he has a white superiority complex. He does not put the plight of black people on the same level as the plight of white people.”
Cheadle, 62, didn’t come to this revelation overnight. It started when Trump criticized former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick two years ago for kneeling during the national anthem. Kaepernick intended the silent protest to draw attention to racial injustice and police use of excessive force.
Trump called it unpatriotic and said players who knelt during the anthem were “sons of bitches” who “should be fired.”
Cheadle described himself as “furious” at Trump’s reaction and said the president wouldn’t use that language “to describe Kim Jung Un.”
“Here’s a man (Kaepernick) who is trying to bring awareness to the plight of black people, and he called him an SOB. That was too much for me,” Cheadle said.
“It angered me even more that he would cloak his racism under the guise of patriotism. It gave people the opportunity to release their prejudices under the guise of patriotism.”
Then came the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., when a man fatally struck a counterprotester with his car and Trump said there had been “very fine people on both sides.” And Trump’s description of Haiti and some African nations as “s—hole countries,” and his tweet that four U.S. citizens in the House who are women of color should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Cheadle said Republicans’ silence on such remarks shows “that they are of the same cloth. The white superiority complex runs so deep in our society that they want to pander to their constituents.”
Why didn’t Cheadle speak out earlier? He said he did on social media, but few reporters picked up on it. He acknowledged he had a hard enough time getting media attention when he was a House candidate.
He said he didn’t join the Democratic Party because he disagrees with the party’s stance on gun control and support of abortion rights.
“If I ran as a Democrat, I would have the same outcome now,” Cheadle said. “Leaving.”
Any way it’s sliced, Cheadle will have a hard time beating GOP Rep. Doug LaMalfa in California’s First Congressional District next year. In 2018, Cheadle finished fifth out of seven candidates in the primary with 6.1% of the vote.
He can’t exactly ride the black vote to victory. “It’s only 1% (African American),” Cheadle said. “There are great people up in Redding, but it can be pretty lonely up here.”
The oddest part of the whole episode with Trump is that it started as a joke — on Cheadle’s part. At the rally, Trump was saying he had been talking to an African American friend. Cheadle, who was in the front row, raised his hand.
“I said, ‘I’m here,’ as a joke. Everybody around me starting saying, ‘He’s here,’ and pointing to me.
“I was just having fun.”