Phyllis Burnett, the president of the Glen Cove Kiwanis Club, is one of the many Black residents of New York’s 3rd Congressional District. She said only one thought crossed her mind when she read about Rep.-elect George Anthony Devolder Santos in the New York Times article that uncovered lies about his education, professional and personal background: He may not have gone to college, but he definitely went to Trump University.
Burnett’s horror was shared by other New Yorkers who read of the multitude of Santos’ lies about his background, but especially people living in the 3rd District. The breaking news story indicated that someone they had just elected as their new congressman was not who he had claimed to be. In fact, if what they were reading was true, Santos was a serial liar, who had completely misled voters.
To many residents of the district, this revelation was beyond belief. How could someone running for one of the most hallowed offices in the land have lied to voters so brazenly, so boldly?
But for several people of color in the community, the reason for Santos’ successful duplicity was clear: It was the result of lowered standards of integrity ushered in by former President Donald Trump and the Make America Great Again movement.
“(Santos is) following in the footsteps of the very infamous 45th,” said Burnett, referring to Trump by his presidential number. “When you’re a chronic liar, you believe your lie and you live your lie, just like the 45th does.”
In addition to the numerous assertions Santos has made about himself, some of which he’s admitted are “embellishments” and others which are alleged, are his dangerous, and sometimes confusing, positions on race in America — which some 3rd District residents claim he also learned from Trump. On the one hand, Santos has claimed to be of African descent, while on the other, he posted a highly offensive meme of Barack and Michelle Obama with chimpanzee faces on Twitter in November 2020.
Pastor Linda B. Vanager, who leads Hood African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Oyster Bay, said she believes Santos’ lies show deep-seated emotional and psychological issues. She also agreed that Santos likely got his inspiration from Trump, who has made a habit routinely of defending his widespread lies with an admixture of bluster, name-calling, and claims of victimhood.
“It’s just so sad that in this day and age, at this time when we’re trying to live in unity and peace with one another, that (Santos) is lying to his constituents,” Vanager explained. “How could one put his or her trust into George Santos now, knowing that he is a liar, when there are issues of importance that have to be addressed, and not knowing whether or not he’s sincere in wanting to help out.”
During the Congressional election for Speaker of the House, Santos also was alleged to have flashed a white power symbol while casting his vote for Kevin McCarthy. The “OK” symbol that he appears to have made uses three outstretched fingers to create a “W” for white, with the thumb and pointer finger forming the top of a “P” for power.
“Santos gives people what Donald Trump gave them — the basis of understanding themselves of the premise that I am white, this is my country, and this candidate is going to ensure my white identity in the world,” the Rev. Roger Williams, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Glen Cove, said. “He can lie all he wants, he can demean the truth all he wants, but as long as he gives them that he’ll be fine.”
While it is unclear whether Santos is of African descent, having also claimed to be white when he admitted to committing check fraud to the Brazilian government in 2010, he certainly lied about his Jewish heritage. He asserted that his maternal family were Ukrainian Jews who had escaped the Holocaust, which subsequent independent genealogical studies have proven to be false.
Ravin Chetram, the vice president of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce, declared that he found Santos’ lies “disgusting,” and that someone with even a shred of empathy would know not to do that. Santos’ manipulation of his ethnicity hurts not just him personally, said Chetram, who is of Guyanese descent. Rather, he said, it is an insult to every resident of color in the 3rd District.
“In my opinion the only thing worse than a white supremacist is a non-white white supremacist,” Chetram explained. “To have someone who we all resent so much representing us in the Third District, it’s nauseating.”