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From left, Bonnie Perdue, wife of Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., at a campaign event for Loeffler in Marietta, Ga., on Nov. 11, 2020. (AP) From left, Bonnie Perdue, wife of Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., at a campaign event for Loeffler in Marietta, Ga., on Nov. 11, 2020. (AP)

From left, Bonnie Perdue, wife of Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., at a campaign event for Loeffler in Marietta, Ga., on Nov. 11, 2020. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher November 13, 2020

No proof Georgia Senate hopeful Warnock ‘welcomed’ Fidel Castro to his church

If Your Time is short

  • Warnock was the youth pastor at a New York City church when the communist Cuban president spoke there in 1995.

  • There’s no evidence Warnock was involved in arranging the speech or in welcoming Castro.

When Fidel Castro, the late communist leader of Cuba, spoke at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City in 1995, he was welcomed by cheers from a crowd of 1,300 and a hug from Harlem’s Democratic congressman, Charles Rangel. 

"We have one of the great leaders of the world with us today," said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Calvin Butts, who was then interrupted by more cheers. 

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, then the youth pastor at Abyssinian, was not on the dais. 

But 25 years later, his connection to the church has been injected into a Jan. 5 election that will help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. 

Warnock, now pastor of the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, is the Democratic challenger to Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga. With a guilt-by-association attack, Loeffler made this claim in a Nov. 10 tweet:

"@ReverendWarnock celebrated Fidel Castro & welcomed him to his church. It’s another example of what we’ve been saying all along: He’s the most dangerous and radical candidate in America."

Warnock’s campaign has been vague about whether he attended the event, which was front-page news in the New York Times on Oct. 23, 1995. 

But there is no evidence Warnock was involved in arranging Castro’s appearance or welcoming him. And a Fox News article about Warnock and the event, which Loeffler included with her tweet, says only that Warnock worked at Abyssinian at the time.

The pivotal Georgia runoffs

After President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, Democrats will control the White House and the House. Control of the Senate, where Republicans currently have a 50-48 edge, won’t be known until after two Georgia runoff elections Jan. 5. Runoffs are being held because no candidate in either race on Nov. 3 captured more than 50% of the vote.

Loeffler was appointed on an interim basis in December to replace GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned with health problems. She finished second to Warnock on Nov. 3. In the other runoff, first-term GOP Sen. David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker; Perdue edged Ossoff on Nov. 3. 

Featured Fact-check

If Democrats win both seats, they would effectively control the Senate, because as the next vice president, Kamala Harris could vote to break any ties.

The Castro event and Warnock

Castro appeared before 1,300 "admirers" at Abyssinian on the evening of Oct. 22, 1995, after speaking earlier in the day at the United Nations, the New York Times reported at the time. He "held forth as if he were on a balcony overlooking a plaza in Havana, drinking in the cheers and applause that greeted his nearly every remark." 

Loeffler has repeated her attack on Warnock in a TV ad, on a website her campaign created to attack Warnock and at a campaign rally with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rubio also linked Warnock to the Castro event in a tweet, but didn’t go as far as Loeffler did in her claim.

Her campaign referred PolitiFact to a press release that recounted the New York event and repeated the attack, but did not offer evidence for her claim that Warnock "celebrated" or "welcomed" Castro.

Warnock campaign spokesman Terrence Clark told PolitiFact that Warnock "doesn’t agree with the dictator’s beliefs and actions. He also wasn’t making decisions about who spoke at the church when he was a youth pastor."

Clark would not say whether Warnock attended the event. He also said Warnock would not be available for a five-minute phone interview that PolitiFact requested.

We did not get replies to a call and email we left for Butts, who is still pastor at Abyssinian. 

Our ruling

Loeffler said Warnock "celebrated Fidel Castro and welcomed him to his church."

Warnock, now the pastor of a church in Atlanta, was the youth pastor at a New York City church when Castro spoke there in 1995. We found no evidence that Warnock celebrated or welcomed Castro or that he was involved in arranging his appearance.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.

Our Sources

Twitter, Kelly Loeffler tweet, Nov. 10, 2020

Fox News, "Georgia Senate candidate Warnock was youth pastor of church that hosted, praised Fidel Castro in 1995," Nov. 10, 2020

Email, Kelly Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson, Nov. 12, 2020

Email, Raphael Warnock campaign spokesman Terrence Clark, Nov. 12, 2020

New York Times, "Castro Back In Fatigues, And Harlem," Oct. 23, 1995

Kelly Loeffler campaign, news release, Nov. 10, 2020

Washington Post, "Harlem warmly embraces Castro," Oct. 23, 1995

C-SPAN, Video of Fidel Castro appearance, Oct. 22, 1995

Baltimore Sun, "Pastor set to tackle issues," Sept. 28, 2001

Kelly Loeffler campaign’s RadicalRaphael.com, "‘LoveFest’ for Castro," accessed Nov. 13, 2020

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More by Tom Kertscher

No proof Georgia Senate hopeful Warnock ‘welcomed’ Fidel Castro to his church

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