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The Indian American Who is Drawn to Scandal-scarred Republicans Emerges as a Key Player in the MAGA Movement

The Indian American Who is Drawn to Scandal-scarred Republicans Emerges as a Key Player in the MAGA Movement

  • Vish Burra, who worked for Steve Bannon and was the director of operations for disgraced Congressman George Santos, is currently executive secretary of the New York Young Republican Club.

Viswanag (Vish) Burra’s association with Republican lawmakers like disgraced Congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.), and scandal-scarred Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), has put him in the spotlight as a key player in the MAGA movement and the so-called new right. The Indian American political operative, currently executive secretary of the New York Young Republican Club, worked as director of operations for Santos and was the main organizer of a rally to support former president Trump before his hush money trial began in New York City on April 15.

Vish Burra, center, with Rep. Matt Gaetz, left, and President of the New York Young Republican Club Gavin Mario Wax, right. Top photo, Burra at a MAGA rally in New York City. (Photos, New York Young Republican Club Facebbok.)

While several news outlets reported about the dismal crowd size of Trump supporters outside the Manhattan Criminal Court, Burra, 31, of Staten Island, maintained the rally was larger than expected. He told Politico that the rally was planned and announced “over the weekend,” and despite the short notice, there were significant number of people present. “It’s 9 a.m. on a Monday in New York City, and you’re asking Republicans to show up, mostly people who generally work,” he told Politico. 

In an interview last January with liberal political news and opinion website Talking Points Memo (TPM) Burra said he was drawn to work for Santos as the “controversy surrounding his “lies about his personal history and campaign finances intrigued” him. He “finds excitement in turmoil and relishes in disputes,” he said. During the time when Santos was surrounded and hounded by reporters, Burra could be seen standing firmly behind his boss. His bald head, beard, and broad shoulders were hard to miss. 

From Drug Dealer to IT Analyst

Burra, son of South Indian immigrant parents, was raised in Staten Island, and “attended one of the city’s three prestigious specialized public high schools before being transferred to another program, where he earned his GED,” according to Wikipedia. Recalling how he struggled to focus his energy as a child, he told TPM that he was “smart enough to be above the others,” but was “too interested in other shit to sit down and study. Throughout his graduation years, he built “a drug peddling empire,” he told TPM. However, “it all came crashing down in the middle of 2014, when he was caught with almost two pounds of marijuana and a tiny amount of hallucinogens,” he added. He got three years probation. After that he “quit pushing and learned to do IT work, like his father and other members of his family,” he told New York magazine. In 2016, he was working as an IT analyst when he began paying attention to the election.

Before all that, Burra wasn’t political at all. He voted for Barack Obama in 2012, he told New York magazine, “because he was Black and I was Brown,” and he hoped for “some real change.” Instead, “Obama ended up being like George Bush in blackface,” he said.

Disillusioned by the Democratic Party, Burra started to like what he was hearing from candidate Donald Trump and “soon began ‘shitposting’ on his Facebook page about it,” he told New York magazine. “I’ve had layers of red-pilling experiences,” he said.“Donald Trump running for president was like the capstone that made it all make sense.” He told TPM he was “moved by Trump’s contradictory brand of hyper-capitalist anti-establishment populism.” 

Scandal Addict 

TPM said  Burra’s politics “exhibit the aggressiveness, twisted humor, and thirst for attention, which is  characteristic of the online alt-right during the Trump era.” 

In a interview with YouTuber Silas Amunga, last year, Burra discussed what it means to be involved in Republican politics as a child of South Indian immigrants. “Talking about the quiet part out loud, we are not the demographic that should be at the forefront of defending these, quote en quote, ‘values,’” Burra said in the interview with Amunga. “So, when we do it, it’s like an extra shitpost.” 

Burra previously worked for Steve Bannon, and was “the guy you went through if you wanted to check out the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop,” the New York magazine reported. He also did crisis comms for Matt Gaetz, and, “along with Santos, was part of a mini-MAGA cabal that took over the New York Young Republican Club.” Bannon eventually fired him because he chose to go to a Young Republicans party one night instead of working.

Detailing how he began working for Gaetz, Burra told New York magazine that after Banon fired him, he was “blacklisted from Fox,” and “needed his voice back.” So he joined Gaetz, as the Congressman “needed somebody who was going to essentially build him a podcast or show out of his congressional office.” He also traveled the country with Gaetz on a tour “to gain his reputation back inch by inch.” As the scandal was dying down last March, Burra left Gaetz’s team, as “the thrill was gone,” he told New York magazine. “If the FBI and the DOJ are no longer coming after you, it’s not a fun job any more.”

Vish Burra, second from left at the Young Republican National Federation’s Spring Conference in Tampa, Fla., April 14. (Photo, New York Young Republican Club Facebbok.)

He then did communications “clean-up duty” for Carl Paladino, the Republican from western New York, he told New York magazine. He “controlled the message,” he said, adding that he’s “very good at dealing with people and getting them to feel what I wanted them to say is actually what they wanted to say the whole time.” 

Then it was onto Santos. “George has been a good friend of mine and good friend of the club [Young Republican Club] for a long time already,” he told New York magazine. “He’s just a nice guy, very funny, really smart, easily likable. His check always cleared with the club.” So they supported him. After he won, they celebrated his victory, as “they were with him since day one,” he recalled.  But days later, as his lies began to unfold, Burra said he wanted to work for Santos. Describing him as a “scandal addict,” New York magazine notes that Burra “only signed up to work for Santos after he was exposed as a fraud.”

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The Trump Connection

Soon after President Trump took office in 2017, Burra delved deeper into politics. He attended his first gathering of the Staten Island Young Republicans and also visited the New York Young Republican Club. According to Burra, despite its illustrious past, the New York Young Republican Club was “underutilized” during the start of the Trump period, with stuffy, rarely attended gatherings. “That’s where I started making my plans, and my moves, and started using my street smarts and my guile to like organize and get in front of people … just kind of like showing that I’ve got the verve, I know what you want, and you’ve got to roll with me to get it,” said Burra.

Speaking about what appealed to him about Trump, he told TPM that he supported Trump’s tough attitude on immigration and made the argument that the immigrants of his parents were fundamentally different from those whose immigration Trump would like to restrict. But he admitted that he he never “bought into” the concept of discrimination,” because although Staten Island is predominantly white, he never encountered employment barriers there.  “The justifications and the reasons why immigration made sense in my father’s time is not the situation today,” she said. “The mentalities are different of, like, the immigrants who come today and the immigrants of before.” His father came to the U.S., “landed in New York, decided he never wanted to leave and wanted to build here,” Burra told TPM. “Immigrants that come today come here because the dollar converts better in their local currency, and then they decide to invest that back home,” he continued. “And then when they retire they go and live there like kings.”

He wasn’t drawn to Trump and the MAGA movement just because of the way it was structured, he told TPM. The opposition of his family and family also led him to embrace it. He recalled how some of his close friends “revolted” and referred to him as a “racist” when he voiced doubts about Trump’s Democratic Party opponent Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. “Then I thought, OK, he needs to win to show he’s right because I think I’m right.”

Taking Republic Politics to the Forefront

The New York Young Republican Club is “an opportunity for the far-right smashmouth brand of Republican politics to take the forefront and clear the brush,” Burra told New York magazine. “We should be in leadership on how to, like, actually move the machine forward and then, once you move the machine forward, everyone can play nicely,” he said. “The machine needs to move forward and we are the ones who are really good at that and have the gall to do it.”

Last year, at the club’s holiday gala, remarks by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene created controversy. Referring to allegations that she and Bannon had organized some of the protests on Jan. 6, 2011, she remarked that if the two had organized it, they would’ve won. “Not to mention, it would’ve been armed,” she added. Though Green rattled many in the party, Burra loved it. “I like to keep consistency with the brand and, in New York, the young guys on this side of the football punch really hard, and talk really loud, and talk a lot of smack — and that’s the brand,” he told New York magazine. “We invited Marjorie hoping she would fill out the brand that we have set up and she hit a grand slam.”

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