As Kentucky Senator Rand Paul weighs the possibility of a 2016 presidential run, his past—and present—record on racism manages to catch up with him again.
For a politician who wants to be the next Ronald Reagan-type conservative visionary for the Republican Party—and recently has made overtures to minority voters and moderates on issues such as immigration reform—his most recent association with a staffer who maintains neo-Confederate sympathies could help to derail his White House ambitions.
This time, Jack Hunter—the senator’s director of new media and co-author with Paul of the book The Tea Party Goes to Washington— has drawn attention for racially insensitive statements and affiliations. Hunter, who was once a leader in the secessionist group League of the South, is one of Paul’s key foreign policy advisors, despite having no background on the subject, according to the Daily Beast. League of the South was designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as the organization’s leadership has deemed whites naturally superior. The group “advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern states from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic.”
Links to the ‘Southern Avenger’ not surprising
Known by his alter-ego the “Sothern Avenger,” Hunter repeatedly appeared in his Confederate flag mask throughout his career as a radio personality.
Further, he praised John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Lincoln, by saying the killer’s “heart was in the right place,” and by stating he celebrates Booth’s birthday every May 10 by raising a toast to the assassin.
Moreover, Hunter has expressed an antipathy towards diversity, saying the word “has become nothing more than a codeword for ‘not white,’ and it’s a shame that just because we have fair skin, we are always denied fair treatment,” he added. Further, he claimed that “black kids simply act-a-fool more than white kids,” while in 2004 Hunter said that whites are “not afforded the same right to celebrate their own cultural identity,” and that “anything that is considered ‘too white’ is immediately suspect.”
For Senator Paul, a self-professed libertarian-conservative, having ties to controversial figures such as Hunter is nothing new. Rand Paul and his father, former Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) have a long history of affiliating themselves with racists and making racially-charged comments.
Making an appeal to minority voters, Rand Paul told the Las Vegas Sun: “I think young people of all races are interested in justice; maybe not so much taxes and regulations, but they’re interested in justice and the right to privacy on the Internet.” The senator added, “Nobody should be sent indefinitely into detention, everybody should have their day in court. I think all of these things should appeal to many people who feel that government doesn’t treat people fairly. The government has a history of not treating people fairly, from the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II to African-Americans in the Civil Rights era.”
At Howard University, Paul defended the Republican Party’s stance on civil rights. “The argument I’m trying to make is we haven’t changed,” Paul said, adding that “the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights.”
Although Paul reportedly believes in equal protection under the law, he came under fire for an appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show in 2010. During the appearance, he seemingly opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and preferred that government get out of the way and allow the free market to address discrimination.
When Maddow asked Paul about segregated businesses, Paul said “I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form, I would never belong to any club that excluded anyone for race… but I think what’s important about this debate is not getting into any specific ‘gotcha’ on this, but asking the question: ‘What about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking? I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way.”
For the Paul family, argued Rand, opposition to bans on whites-only lunch counters came down to property rights. “It’s not all about race relations, it’s about controlling property, ultimately,” he said.
Like father, like son on race
When Paul ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010, he fired his spokesman Christopher Hightower for posting a note to his MySpace page on Martin Luther King Day that read “HAPPY NI**ER DAY!!!” next to an image of a lynching.
In 2008, while campaigning for his father, Paul condemned the fictitious NAFTA Superhighway, which he said would connect Mexico, America and Canada and destroy U.S. sovereignty. He also warned of the establishment of a new North American Union-minted currency called the “Amero”—which does not exist.
The negative racial attention faced by Rand Paul mirrors the problems his father Ron faced. For example, the senior Paul received donations from the white supremacist website Stormfront.org, and was endorsed by the site as well. In addition, other white supremacists and white power groups, including Skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan, have campaigned for Ron Paul.
Newsletters that were published under the former congressman’s name, including Ron Paul’s Political Report, Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report and the Ron Paul Investment Letter, which contained blatantly racist messages. For example, one article said of the Los Angeles, “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.”
Of Washington, DC, another article said “I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” Other articles insulted black Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and accused Martin Luther King of being a communist, “the world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours” and who “seduced underage girls and boys.”
Further, another newsletter referred to the King holiday as “Hate Whitey Day,” while suggesting “Welfaria,” “Zooville,” “Rapetown,” “Dirtburg,” and “Lazyopolis” as candidates for a city named for Dr. King.
Rand Paul denies his father wrote the newsletters. “And one of my heroes is Martin Luther King [Jr.] because he practiced the libertarian principle of peaceful resistance and peaceful civil disobedience,” Rand Paul offered.
New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote that while the connection between the Pauls and the neo-Confederate movement might be insufficient to discredit them, it is more than an indiscretion. “It’s a reflection of the fact that white supremacy is a much more important historical constituency for anti-government ideas than libertarians like to admit,” Chait said.
Meanwhile, the younger Paul seeks acceptance as an establishment candidate, in a party whose overtures to blacks and others may well be undermined by the racial track record of the Pauls and others.
“Sometimes conservatives get tagged as being against all government,” Paul recently said at the Reagan Library in California. “To win in California and other bluish states, Republicans will have to change current perceptions,” he said.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove