No, all right wingers are not racists, but if you open your ears and listen to what the fringe hate groups that even the likes of Sean Hannity and Fox news can’t deny are racist are saying, if you take the time to read some of their broadsides and books (and especially their footnotes and bibliographies), you would realize two things.
First, that that there is a not-so-golden thread running through American history that connects a certain brand of White Protestant Supremacism with a broad trend of rural populism.
Second, that a lot of modern mainstream Republican wisdom comes down to pretty much exactly what Cliven Bundy said—that a dependence on the “free stuff” that the government hands out is just a more insidious form of slavery.
“The specter of slavery,” I wrote in my book The New Hate, “has been a perennial theme in American political polemics, from rants against the British during the run-up to the Revolutionary War to Henry Ford’s International Jew.” Here’s Herman Cain, back in 2011: “Our tax code is the 21st century version of slavery. The IRS has become the overseer of the American people.” And here’s former US Representative Allen West, in 2012: “the Democratic appetite for ever-increasing redistributionary handouts is in fact the most insidious form of slavery remaining in the world today, and it does not promote economic freedom.” Both of those guys are black, so they couldn’t be racist, right?
Setting aside the irony that Bundy’s issue with the government is that it expects him to pay for what he’s helped himself to for so long, it’s no wonder that he compares himself to Rosa Parks. George Zimmerman’s defenders did the same thing.
The most damning thing that can be said of Bundy is that he is NOT an outlier.
Rand Paul of all people should have suspected that he might have had something colorful to say about slavery, dependency, and “the Negro”—Paul’s own father built much of his political brand on his Civil War revisionism, not to mention his infamous newsletters.
And if Sean Hannity was charmed by Bundy’s white hat and homespun diction, he should have noticed that the private army of hard-eyed militiamen that coalesced around him espoused a lot of the same Posse Comitatus ideas that inspired Timothy McVeigh and his friends to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Bundy’s own refusal to recognize the federal government “as even existing” should have been a red flag—it hearkens back to the Fourteenth Amendment denialism that has been at the heart of white nationalist “Patriot” groups for decades.
I saw it coming, but the fear and loathing of the populist right is my bread and butter. The folks at Media Matters and the SPLC weren’t the least bit surprised either when things went south in Clark County, Nevada—but they take these people seriously, perhaps more seriously than the Republicans and their partisans at Fox News take themselves.
The right’s cognitive closure about race is as thorough-going as its cognitive dissonance about themselves. It’s like the man said: people who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it. Especially when that history is your own.