Republican Courtland Sykes’ Senate campaign video includes an image of a man throwing a Molotov cocktail as the Navy veteran warns that immigration is out of control.
Sykes, an Arkansas native who moved to Independence this month, released the video Tuesday to announce his candidacy in the GOP primary to challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in the race that could decide control of the U.S. Senate.
Sykes’ announcement video includes warnings about immigration, crime and the possibility of nuclear war played over violent imagery before it transitions to a series of laudatory statements about President Donald Trump.
“That man you voted for, Donald J. Trump, he’s got your back and he works every day, no agenda, just what’s best for you and me, what’s best for America. And he’s being blocked in every direction by the swamp in Washington,” Sykes states as the word “SWAMP” appears, along with video of McCaskill.
In a phone interview, Sykes pointed to Europe, where the immigration debate has intensified in recent years, when asked about his decision to pair his comments about immigration with video from a riot scene.
“Well, look, there’s a lot of folks that ... support this globalist agenda,” he said. “You see what’s going on in Europe. There’s a lot of folks that say they want to look to Europe … and basically we’re saying, ‘No, we don’t want what’s happening in Europe here.’ ”
He also pointed to violence in Mexico related to the drug trade. “There’s a war going on at our southern border that nobody’s paying attention to,” he said.
Sykes described himself as an admirer of former White House Strategist Steve Bannon, whom he met at an Eagle Forum event in St. Louis this past weekend. Bannon, who runs the website Breitbart, has made similar attacks on globalism.
Sykes said that he does not consider himself to be part of the “Alt Right,” a term often associated with Breitbart. But he does consider himself part of Trump’s “America First” movement.
Sykes’ candidacy announcement coincided with hardline conservative Judge Roy Moore’s victory in the Alabama Republican primary for Senate on Tuesday and comes at a time when Missouri’s GOP frontrunner for Senate, Attorney General Josh Hawley, has faced questions about whether he supports Trump’s agenda.
Hawley’s spokesman did not immediately comment on Sykes.
Sykes’ campaign is soliciting donations, but the Federal Election Commission’s website does not currently show that Sykes has filed as a candidate. Sykes said that he mailed the paperwork to the commission this week.
Sykes joined the Navy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and served for more than eight years, including a tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, he said. He later attended Harvard University’s Extension School, a program geared toward non-traditional students, and earned a degree in 2014, according to his LinkedIn page.
Sykes called the extension program “the working man’s degree.” Harvard did not immediately respond to requests from The Star for more information on Sykes’ time as a student.
His LinkedIn page also listed him as a graduate student at the University of London. Sykes said that he had completed a semester of online classes with the British university, but that he would be putting that on hold to focus on the campaign. His status as graduate student was removed from his page shortly after his interview with The Star.
Sykes’ page also lists him as the managing director of a military consulting firm called Talosorion, but he said in an interview that the firm, which launched this year, does not have any clients.
Sykes worked on the staff of U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican, from 2016 to early 2017, focused on military and veterans issues.
He said he split his time between Arkansas, his native state, and southern Missouri while working for Westerman. Sykes said that he moved to Jackson County this month.
The Star was unable to find much evidence of Sykes’ ties to Missouri apart from a business filing with the secretary of state’s office in February that lists him as the registered agent for a Springfield company called Daventry LLC. The P.O. box address for the business is the same as the one on his campaign website.
At Harvard, Sykes met his fiancée, Chanel Rion, a pro-Trump artist. Sykes’ campaign website includes a section lauding her work.
“Chanel has become widely known as the best political illustrator in the country for constitutional conservative and anti-leftist causes and as President Trump’s most talented and stalwart graphic warrior against leftism,” the website states.
Rion’s professional website includes a cartoon promoting the baseless conspiracy theory that Democratic staffer Seth Rich was murdered by Hillary Clinton. Fox News currently faces a lawsuit from Rich’s family for a now retracted report on the case.
Other cartoons show Clinton in prison garb, portray Muslims as a threat to the United States and depict former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump fired, as a snake. Another cartoon labels U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who survived years of torture during the Vietnam War, as a traitor because of his vote against a Trump-backed health care bill.
“She wanted her illustrations to be a reflection of how she saw the other side,” Sykes said about his fiancée’s cartoons, noting that she gained popularity during the 2016 election.
But when pressed on the cartoons’ content, he replied, “I won’t speak for Chanel. These illustrations are 100 percent hers.”
Democratic leaders reacted to Sykes’ campaign announcement with joy because of the perception that it’ll hurt Hawley.
Former state Democratic chair Roy Temple quipped on Twitter that Sykes’ candidacy and Moore’s victory would cause Hawley to wet his bed. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also put out a release promoting Sykes’ candidacy as an indication that Hawley had failed to clear the field.
But neither the Democratic committee, the Missouri Democratic Party nor McCaskill’s campaign had any immediate comment Wednesday on Sykes’ hardline positions and the possibility that he could be the next senator from Missouri.
“There is nothing more Anti-American than the modern day democrat,” Sykes tweeted last month after counter-protesters in Boston caused the cancellation of an event that the city’s mayor and others considered a hate rally.
“I wasn’t in Boston,” Sykes said when asked about the tweet. He said claims from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and others that the August “free speech” rally was a hate event were false.
“It wasn’t anything nefarious. They just wanted to promote the Republican Party and they were shut down,” he said.