A direct mail flyer circulating through portions of Mobile and Baldwin counties accuses a Republican Senate candidate of attacking the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, something which the candidate denies.
The flyer, sponsored by a group called “M PAC,” shows a picture of rioters scaling the Capitol wall nearly two years ago and accuses Mobile Republican Pete Riehm of being involved. Underneath the image is a quote Riehm gave to a local TV station that day, “Hopefully they realize we are very unhappy. And if they feel threatened now, wait until we come back.”
Riehm, in a news release Sunday and in statements to AL.com on Monday, called the mailer an attempted “character assassination.” He was in Washington, D.C., with a group from South Alabama, but has repeatedly claimed no involvement in the subsequent riot that has led to more than 920 people being arrested and charged with crimes.
“It doesn’t anger me about character assassination because it’s all false,” said Riehm, who is challenging incumbent Democratic State Senator Vivian Figures for the District 33 seat in a highly watched race during Tuesday’s General Election.
“Everyone knows the truth of what happened that day and it’s all well documented what I said and did in context,” Riehm said. “It has even gone through a trial. I did absolutely nothing wrong and never participated in violence nor condoned violence.”
Riehm called on Figures to denounce the mailer’s content for what he calls an “outright lie” of linking him to the rioters in Washington, D.C.
Figures, who denies any involvement on sending out the mailer, said it’s not up to her to denounce the mailer’s contents, but it’s up to Riehm.
“What I saw on the mailer, he did go to Washington, D.C. (on January 6, 2021),’ Figures said. “He did say, ‘and if they feel threatened now, wait until we come back.’”
Jan. 6 involvement, trial
Riehm, 62, a longtime conservative commentator in South Alabama, helped to organize a bus ride to the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to protest the presidential election. About 30 people traveled to Washington, D.C., and attended the rallies before the riot began. Riehm has said that the group left the Capitol grounds once violence began. No one was involved in the riot and were not arrested.
But the trip to Washington, D.C. led to a federal court battle after Riehm’s parent company, NAI Global, attempted to terminate him. The termination was because of Riehm’s trip, and his subsequent comments about the rioting that he made to local news outlets.
Federal court records say the FBI interview Riehm in Mobile. NAI Global then contacted NAI Mobile and requested they terminate him and issue a statement condemning the violence on January 6. Neither happened, and then NAI Global terminated its agreement with its Mobile branch.
NAI Mobile then filed a breach of contract within the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, which went to a jury trial earlier this year. A jury ruled in April in favor of NAI Mobile – now CRE Mobile – and rewarded the company $1.25 million in lost profits and rebranding expenses.
Riehm, who has attempted to separate himself from January 6 and the federal case during the campaign, said the direct mail piece was an attempt by a Figures campaign supporter “designed to deceive the voters” at the end of the campaign.
“Fortunately, since we began this campaign, I have campaigned in every community and constantly made myself available to voters,” said Riehm. “The citizens of District 33 know me and what my beliefs are which is not something my opponent can say.”
Riehm, to AL.com, accused Figures of “playing games” about not knowing who sent the mailer. M PAC, with an address in Birmingham, is not listed as a registered political action committee on the Alabama Secretary of State’s website. According to the Riehm campaign, the PAC’s mailing address is a parking lot shared by a UPS store and a gas station.
“I think it’s pretty typical of her,” Riehm said. “It’s a non-answer, and a non-action and doing nothing … kind of like what she does in Montgomery and everywhere,” said Riehm, claiming that Figures is absent from the district.
Figures, 65, who has held the Senate seat since 1997, said she’s not certain what Riehm means about being absent from the district.
“I am present in every way when it comes to my responsibilities and duties as a state Senator,” she said. “How else could I Have been as effective as I have been in achieving success on those issues that matter to those I serve if I haven’t been present?
Figures questioned what Riehm has done for District 33 “before he decided to run for this office?”
Controversial mailers have dominated the campaign for the District 33 seat as the candidates have not debated or participated in any joint forums.
Last month, Figures blasted Riehm’s campaign for sending out a campaign mailer accusing Democratic lawmakers in Montgomery of redrawing legislative districts to shift portions of fast-growing, Republican-leaning Spanish Fort into District 33.
Figures’ campaign has since issued a mailer accusing Riehm of a blatant lie, since the Democratic Party holds no government authority in Montgomery. Republicans, since 2010, have enjoyed a legislative supermajority and were led the most recent redistricting.
“He only sent it to the constituents in Baldwin County to cause division,” Figures said of that flyer, issued in October.
Riehm has since said that campaign mailer was “poorly worded” and that it should have accused Democrats and Republicans of coordinating together on redistricting.
Senate District 33 is considered a Democratic-leaning district that is 61% Black. Since 1978, either Figures or her late husband, Michael, have held onto the Senate seat.
But portions of Spanish Fort were added into it via redistricting, and Riehm is hopeful that with a strong Republican turnout on Tuesday – and with some support from Black voters — he can pull an upset.
“We’ve very optimistic,” Riehm said. “I think we got a real chance and I’m confident we’ll prevail and these last minute smears are indicative that she knows she’s in trouble.”