“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
— Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white supremacist high school dropout charged with the murder of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, likely acted alone.
But there are lots of people with blood on their hands, including white nationalist groups and conservative activists and politicians who have colluded with these groups to sustain a climate of hatred.
According to the Guardian, three 2016 Republican presidential candidates — former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — have received contributions from Earl Holt III, president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization with a long history of promoting white supremacy.
Many of the themes championed by the council mirror those in Roof’s 2,500-word manifesto that was published online. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a child of immigrants from India, had a woman with ties to the council on her campaign re-election advisory committee. Haley later had this woman removed after her ties to the council became public. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has also received contributions from Holt, who is said to have given nearly $60,000 to Republican candidates.
To be sure, politicians have aided and abetted white supremacists from the earliest days of the republic. America, after all, was built on a foundation of racial hatred.
But the Guardian’s revelations describe a pattern that dates back more than 50 years. Republican politicians have turned racial pandering into an art form.
For example, Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the same town where three civil rights workers were murdered less than 20 years earlier for having the gall to attempt to register blacks to vote.
George H.W. Bush ran a campaign with the picture of a black ex-con who had raped a white woman upon his release. The former prisoner, Willie Horton, had been released as part of a statewide program in Massachusetts to decongest prisons.
Bush’s not-so-veiled message to whites: Expect wanton rape of your wives and daughters if my opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, is elected.
The message was right out of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” a 1915 film that glorified the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and lamented the death of slavery and the period of reconstruction (South Carolina native Lee Atwater, the architect of this notorious campaign, apologized to black folks a few years later as he lay dying of cancer).
But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Bush son George W. Bush borrowed a page from daddy’s playbook by kicking off his campaign for the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary at Bob Jones University, an institution that forbade interracial dating (until recently). Later, during the South Carolina primary, Bush campaign workers reportedly spread rumors that John McCain had fathered a black child (actually he had adopted a Bangladeshi child).
And in this so-called post-racial Obama age, conservative politicians have been in rare form. They have worked hard at casting President Obama as the quintessential “other,” first labeling him as a Muslim and then working hard to convince the American public that this Hawaii native and son of a woman from America’s heartland wasn’t even born in this country.
John Sununu, a former governor and White House chief of staff, called him lazy. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused him of “shucking and jiving.” During the 2012 election, candidate Santorum said he didn’t want to continue giving blacks “other people’s money.”
Newt Gingrich angled for an invitation to the NAACP national convention so he could lecture black folks about the merits of hard work. Following the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney claimed he lost because of the alleged gifts Obama gave to minorities.
To be sure, some good has happened in the aftermath of this tragedy. After waffling for a couple of days, Haley and some other Republicans have called for the confederate flag to be removed from the dome of the South Carolina capitol. Alabama’s governor took the bold step of ordering confederate flags removed from state capitol grounds this week.
Still, when I hear people like presidential candidate Rick Perry try to explain away the church murders as an accident by a doped-up gunman, I wonder how long the voices of reason and good sense can prevail.
Some, it seems, insist on seeing us perish as fools.
Wave columnist Lekan Oguntoyinbo is an independent journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.