New conservative folk hero James O’Keefe is turning out to have been a
long time habitué of white supremacist gatherings and an associate of anti-Semites
and racists according to a new report at Salon. If so he is a perfect representative for a disturbingly big current within
modern “conservatism.” O’Keefe’s racist behavior long preceded his being busted
at Senator Landrieu’s office or his undercover film of Acorn. It seemed as if Acorn was breaking the
law, although it wasn’t. Further, there is plenty of evidence
that the film itself was deceptive. But that did not slow down his conservative cheerleaders. So current efforts to wash their
hands of Mr. O’Keefe after their collective orgasm over his Acorn stunt seem to be only because he was caught, and not because his views were held as
noxious. And yes, there is a
spiritual side to this.
A few years ago I began trying to figure out in some depth why
the modern “conservative” movement was so virulently opposed to so many of
America’s genuine traditions and to our Constitution and the principles of the
Declaration of Independence. At
one time Conservatives held a particular interpretation of their meaning, but one with
genuine substance, agree or not.
But not any longer. Now they ignore it. As I explored
the history of all this over and over again I discovered the cultural hand of the
ante-bellum South to be deeply involved. Attitudes developed in our first
“counter culture,” that of the pro-slavery South, have continued to infect the
politics, religion, and morality of the area and now our country.
Southern pro-slavery leaders had explicitly denied the
principles of our Founding. For
example, Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, said in 1861:
The prevailing view entertained by [Thomas Jefferson]
and most of the leading statesmen of the time of the formation of the old
constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the
laws of nature, that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how
to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow
or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and
pass away. . . . These ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality
of races. That was an error….
Our new government is founded upon exactly the
opposite idea; its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is
not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race –
is his natural and normal condition.
Thus our new government, is the first, in the history
of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
After the Civil War and slavery’s abolition, many white
Southerners practiced widespread murder and terrorism against their black
neighbors for over 100 years, all the way into the 1960s. In 1948 the Southern “Dixiecrat” Party
won Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana on a platform that
opposed federal anti-lynching laws, and argued for perpetual white supremacy
and denying Black Americans the vote. To see these views explicitly stated on
the Party’s documents, it wasn’t subtle, see here.
With Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” these folks (who
until the advent of Civil Rights issues had automatically voted Democratic
because Lincoln was a Republican)
were deliberately appealed to in the name of “values,” eventually
becoming a dominant force in the Republican Party and the conservative movement
considered more generally.
The Southern Baptists are the leading denomination in the religious right. They have their roots in the split within
American Christendom between Northern Christians opposed to slavery and those
in the South who thought it part of God’s Will. The split has never fully healed although in 1995 the
Southern Baptists formally repented of their defense of slavery, about 130 years after its
abolition. But insofar as it
differs from Northern Christianity, much Southern religion still proudly wears attitudes towards Biblical literalism once used to defend slavery.
This heritage is why someone like Rush Limbaugh can become a major figure in American conservatism. If Limbaugh stands for anhything, one of those things is contempt for black Americans.
I suspect their openness to the spirit behind scriptural writings and the need for their interpretation is
why many Pagans have had pleasant encounters with more liberal Northern
churches. I also suspect their commitment to so-called literal meanings is why Pagans have had such unpleasant experiences with one with Southern origins,
wherever their congregations might be located. From a Pagan perspective they worship different Gods, one a defender of slavery, the other its critic.
James O’Keefe seems to be a proud son of this anti-American
Controversy has emerged as to how deeply O’Keefe was involved with the racist conference. Did he participate or simply attend?
His supporters called out Blumenthal as a liar, which was picked up all around the conservative blogosphere.
Three follow up stories are in the Washington Independent, a piece at Salon’s ‘War Room,’ and an older piece indicating an unusual concern for race evidenced in O’Keefe’s since removed blog. When I was associated with conservative groups (yes, I was) maybe 40 years ago the only people I met who talked like this were serious racists.
At this point it is difficult for me to determine how deeply O’Keefe was involved.
Needless to say, this has relatively little bearing on the points I wanted to make as I used him as an entry point for a more fundamental discussion.