- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Veterans groups who declined donations from GOP front-runner Donald Trump are now being flooded with nasty messages from the businessman’s supporters online, who want to punish them for challenging their candidate.

In January, Mr. Trump refused to attend a Republican debate hosted by Fox News after the network refused his demand to remove Megyn Kelly as the moderator. Instead, Mr. Trump hosted his own fundraiser to raise money for veterans groups.

But several veterans organizations saw the fundraiser as a political move and refused to accept Mr Trump’s pandering donations.

Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, slammed Mr. Trump in a tweet at the time, saying “We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.”

The statement prompted Trump-supporting Internet trolls to bombard Mr. Rieckhoff with hundreds of disparaging and even threatening comments.

“We’ve gotten a flood of nasty attacks … many scary and threatening emails, [the] worst social media trolls I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Rieckhoff told the Daily Beast. “Showing what happens when you simply say no. This it the climate he’s created with his followers.” 

Mr. Rieckhoff said he was called a “[expletive] scumbag,” by one commenter, then told by another to “get off your [expletive] and get the funding or get fired.” “Keep your mouth shut and take the money,” another Trump supporter said. “I hope your [expletive] get audited,” another, another Trumper said, according to the Daily Beast. 

Other veterans groups that went on the record against Mr. Trump were also dogged by the candidate’s supporters.

“The next day, people called our office — that were very vile: People were issuing threats, they were calling our members [expletives]. We had a very vitriolic response. They were saying things like, ‘We’re going to take down your group,’ even up to what could only be interpreted as physical threats: ‘You better watch out the next time you hold an event,’ ” said the executive director of a veterans advocacy group who wanted to stay anonymous, so as to spare his organization the “annoyance” of enduring it again, the Daily Beast reported.

“It was a distraction, and it was an annoyance that made staff incredibly uncomfortable,” the executive director said. “It was disturbing.”

Mr. Trump has a controversial history with veterans. In the 1980s, Mr. Trump tried to convince the city of New York to throw disabled veteran street vendors off Fifth Avenue, accusing them of being an eyesore on the street outside his famous Trump tower.

“While disabled veterans should be given every opportunity to earn a living, is it fair to do so to the detriment of the city as a whole or its tax paying citizens and businesses?” Mr. Trump wrote in a letter to the New York State Assembly in 1991. 

A number of veterans organizations in Iowa have benefitted from Mr. Trump’s January fundraiser including Puppy Jake, which provides service dogs to vets, and Support Siouxland Soldiers. Both organizations received six-figure checks from Mr. Trump.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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