Kelly Wong

Media Matters / Andrea Austria

Research/Study Research/Study

Right-wing media start racist smear campaign against new San Francisco Elections Commissioner Kelly Wong

Pundits on Fox and elsewhere are claiming San Francisco’s first noncitizen elections commissioner is a CCP agent

Right-wing media reacted to the appointment of Kelly Wong, an immigrant from Hong Kong, to San Francisco’s election board with racist smears — including by invoking the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory. Pundits have falsely claimed Wong is an "illegal" who doesn't know English, and some said she is seeking to manipulate elections in favor of Democratic candidates on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. Some right-wing media figures even said all Chinese nationals, including Wong, are “under compulsion to commit espionage” and should be deported.

  • Attacks on Kelly Wong, first noncitizen appointed to the San Francisco Elections Commission, come amid “great replacement” conspiracy theorizing and increased anti-Asian American hate crimes

    • Immigrant rights activist Wing Kwan (Kelly) Wong is reportedly the first noncitizen appointed to the San Francisco Elections Commission. Wong legally immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong — where she participated in pro-democracy protests against China — for graduate school in 2019. In her application to the San Francisco Election Commission, Wong said witnessing the “gradual erosion of freedom” in Hong Kong inspired her to apply for the position. [SF Standard, 2/21/24; San Francisco Board of Supervisors Rules Committee Agenda Packet no. 240013, 1/22/24, page 16]
    • Wong, who is fluent in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, has said that she wants to use her position to combat “language and cultural barriers” that prevent the city's immigrant and non-English speakers from exercising the right to vote. “Even though I’m fluent in English, I still encounter challenges in navigating a new system, let alone participating in political conversation and activities,” Wong told KQED. [KQED, 2/15/24]
    • Wong can serve as a commissioner because San Francisco voters approved a charter amendment in 2020 allowing noncitizens to serve on city commissions. President of the Board of Supervisors Aaron Peskin said Wong’s appointment aligns with what San Francisco voters want and will help bring “a diversity of voices that represent different segments of society to the conversation.” [SF Standard, 2/21/24
    • Attacks on Wong come as right-wing outlets try to tie Chinese migrants to the great replacement conspiracy theory ahead of the 2024 election. Outlets like Fox News are drawing on out-of-context statistics about Chinese citizens who are seeking asylum and national security fears about China to push the white nationalist conspiracy theory, which claims liberal elites are encouraging nonwhite immigration to replace white people and ultimately control the country. They have suggested Democrats are working with the Chinese Communist Party to drown out Republican votes. [Media Matters, 1/12/24; America’s Voice, 3/23/23]
    • In recent years, there has also been an increase in hate crimes and racism against Asian Americans, which researchers have connected to right-wing narratives about the COVID-19 pandemic. A study from California State University, San Bernardino, found hate crimes against Asian Americans in America’s 16 largest cities increased by 150% from 2019 to 2020, which coincides with right-wing figures dubbing coronavirus the “China virus” and “Wuhan Virus.” [NBC, 3/9/21]
  • Right-wing pundits lobbed racist attacks at Wong

    • Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo repeatedly called Wong an “illegal.” Bartiromo incorrectly identified Wong as an “illegal” immigrant during February 20 interviews with Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN). Bartiromo finally corrected the record about Wong’s immigration status on February 23, after once again calling Wong an “illegal in America.” Bartiromo stated, “I don't know if it's fair to say she's illegal because she is here on a student visa, we are told.” [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 2/20/24, 2/20/24, 2/23/24]
    • Conservative radio host Sebastian Gorka incorrectly called Wong a “Chinese national [who] can’t speak English” and questioned what her appointment means for U.S. elections. After fellow radio host Jennifer Horn blamed Democrats for the increase in Chinese migrants on the southern border, Gorka joked, “They need them for the election board.”  [Salem Media, America First with Sebastian Gorka, 2/21/24]
    • One America News host Dan Ball told Wong to “speak English” after she was sworn in in Mandarin. “Look, there's nothing racist about me saying you should speak English. You're in America. You just got appointed to an elections commission where we're doing one of our most sacred American rights: voting,” Ball complained. “You should be a citizen, and you should speak our fricking language.” [One America News, Real America with Dan Ball, 2/23/24]
    • Turning Point USA co-founder Charlie Kirk attacked Wong for giving a speech in Mandarin. “Welcome to America. That is your election official,” he said. Kirk later clarified that he was attacking Wong because she is a noncitizen, saying: “We’re not making fun of people that speak Chinese and they are here legally — that’s something that’s a separate conversation, and I hope you learn English.”  [Rumble, The Charlie Kirk Show, 2/20/24]
  • Right-wing media tied Wong’s appointment to the great replacement conspiracy theory

    • Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo repeatedly referenced the great replacement conspiracy while discussing Wong during her February 20 show. During a February 20 interview with Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), Bartiromo remarked that “one of the overall motivations of this administration is to get these illegals to become voters.” Later, Bartiromo’s guest Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) suggested that “blue city” mayors are using sanctuary city policies “because they don't want to lose their electoral power.”  [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo2/20/24, 2/20/24]
    • Bartiromo asked author Gordon Chang if “the ultimate goal” of Democrats is to “put a noncitizen" like Wong “in charge of the Federal Elections Commission.” She added: “Next thing you know, foreigners, illegals — who knows how many came to the border — will be voting in our elections.” Chang responded, “Yeah. We’re gonna have 1.4 billion Chinese eventually who are going to vote for the president of the United States. [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 2/21/24]
    • One America News host Kara McKinney said San Francisco was “handing over the keys of the kingdom to those not interested in its long-term survival” and that Wong was helping Democrats “keep the demographics replacement going without having their coalition fray.” McKinney suggested immigrants “have no desire to ever assimilate in a meaningful way” because they “see the U.S. as a giant economic zone with no history, culture or tradition of its own worth preserving.” [One America News, Tipping Point with Kara McKinney, 2/19/24
    • Real America guest Drew Hernandez connected Wong’s appointment to “the replacement migration agenda.” Hernandez told the host of One America News’ opinion show, “We're starting to see all of the pieces come together.” [One America News, Real America with Dan Ball, 2/23/24]
  • Right-wing media questioned Wong and other Chinese immigrants' loyalty to America

    • Former Defense Secretary Mike Pompeo said he “cannot tell you how crazy” and “dangerous” it is that “a non-U.S. citizen, Chinese ethnicity, [was] now sworn in to be in the middle of American elections.” He continued, “Imagine an American non-Chinese, of American ethnicity, right, somebody who was Italian like me became part of the Chinese election system? It wouldn't happen.” [Fox News, Sunday Morning Futures, 2/25/24]
    • Author Gordon Chang told Newsmax that Wong “is a Chinese national and every Chinese national is under a compulsion to commit espionage,” and that America has a “legal right permitted by the constitution to eject Chinese nationals.” Chang also told Fox Business that Wong “should not be there” because China “requires every national to commit acts of espionage.”  [Newsmax, American Agenda, 2/21/24; Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 2/21/24]
    • Right-wing radio host Michael Savage warned Newsmax that Wong “could put voting locations in Beijing and say it's perfectly fine because the people go back and forth out of China.” Host Rob Schmitt responded by insulting San Francisco, stating, “Out of that dump, nothing surprises me.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 2/21/24]
    • QAnon conspiracist Mel K. said Wong’s appointment shows “the Chinese Communist Party has fully infiltrated the state of California and certainly New York City.” “Chinatown is literally the town of San Francisco,” Mel K. stressed. “The politicians in both states are fully compromised,” she said. “They keep winning because our election system is not being, you know, cleaned out.” [Rumble, The Alec Lace Show, 2/20/24; The Daily Beast, 9/21/21]
    • San Francisco Republican Party Chair John Dennis said on NewsNation that Wong’s appointment is part of a conspiracy “to stave off growth in the Republican Party in San Francisco.” After host Leland Vittert asked why San Francisco’s Elections Commission appointed a citizen from “one of our geopolitical enemies,” Dennis said Democrats are using Wong’s appointment and climate change money to stop the Republican Party. [NewsNation, On Balance with Leland Vittert, 2/20/24]
    • While discussing the supposed threat of a communist China, Fox host Maria Bartiromo asked Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO), “Why is a Chinese national on the board of the Federal Elections Commission in San Francisco?” Schmitt said it was “unbelievable” and complained, “These people view themselves as global citizens, they don't view our borders as arbitrary lines on a map. ... This is how civilizations ultimately lose their way.”  [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 2/20/24