Villanueva makes ugly, baseless claim against county watchdog

Since Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva took office, Inspector General Max Huntsman has not hesitated to challenge the sheriff for misconduct.

As the sheriff’s department’s top watchdog, Huntsman pushed back against Villanueva’s resistance to his oversight, chastising the sheriff for, among other things, refusing to comply with subpoenas he issued for investigations into the department, maintaining a code of silence on gang-like groups of deputies in its ranks and clogging its office during shootings of deputies.

Villanueva, in turn, conducted a criminal investigation of Huntsman and vilified him as a political tool of the County Board of Supervisors. The sheriff also lambasted supervisors and members of the Sheriff’s Civilian Supervisory Board who, like Huntsman, strongly criticized him.

But Villanueva took his attacks to a new level this week when he made an extraordinary accusation against Huntsman, claiming – without any evidence – that the inspector general is a Holocaust denier.

Villanueva made the comments during an interview Tuesday with the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, which had invited him to participate in its endorsement process in the upcoming sheriff’s race. The Editorial Board operates independently of the Times newsroom.

“You realize that Max Huntsman, one, he’s a Holocaust denier. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. I have it from two separate sources,” Villanueva told the board. When asked for evidence, Villanueva declined to identify the alleged sources, saying, “I think we have the information and in due course we will release it.”

The sheriff did not respond Friday morning when asked to explain his baseless claim regarding Huntsman.

In a letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors, Huntsman said he was contacted by a member of the Times editorial board regarding Villanueva’s remarks, which he called false.

“The words are such an offensive allegation that I wanted you to hear from me that I never denied the Holocaust,” Huntsman wrote.

The claim to the Times editorial board was an explicit riff on more vague comments the sheriff made about Huntsman. Villanueva has made it a point in the past to refer to Huntsman by his full name, Max-Gustaf Huntsman. And during an interview last month on KFI-AM, the sheriff said, “He dropped the Gustaf for some reason, and there could be a story behind it, I understand it’s in the works.”

In his letter to the board of supervisors, Huntsman wrote that Villanueva “hisses to his most extreme supporters that I am German and/or Jewish and therefore un-American” and then offered a personal family history.

Huntsman explained that his German father developed a deep distrust of authority because he grew up during the Holocaust. He said his grandfather had been drafted into the Nazi army, but was not allowed to carry a gun because he had previously employed Jews.

After the war, Huntsman wrote, her father came to the United States, but abandoned the family shortly after Huntsman was born. “He gave me the name Max-Gustaf and so I don’t use it. I will never deny that the Holocaust happened and I won’t regret that in some sense my mother and I had paid a small portion of the penance the human race owes for this sin.

He pointed out that during Villanueva’s first year as sheriff, the son was hired as an assistant despite posts on his Instagram account shedding light on the Holocaust.

“The allegation comes from a man devoid of honesty and honor,” Huntsman wrote to the board. “So maybe it goes without saying that such a claim doesn’t make sense on his part.”

This Villanueva broadside was particularly ugly in the sheriff’s longstanding feud with Huntsman, which has been building since the start of the sheriff’s tenure. It comes as the sheriff launches his re-election campaign and is part of a larger campaign strategy of attempting to defame and discredit critics and journalists with ad-hominem and unsubstantiated attacks.

“This is yet another example where, instead of providing a vigorous defense of political positions and practices, the sheriff smears yet another official with whom he disagrees,” said Brian Levin, executive director from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “Accusing someone of being a Holocaust denier, if in fact it is false, opens up a potential libel suit by the Inspector General.”

Los Angeles Times

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