The Other Louisianan with a Tawdry History of Speaking to Racist Groups

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tags: racism, Scalise, Tony Perkins

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and chair of the Religion Department at Dartmouth College, is author of more than a dozen books, including "Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter."

With the recent revelation that Steve Scalise, Republican U.S. representative from Louisiana’s first Congressional district, addressed an anti-Semitic, white-supremacist group in 2002, the second most uncomfortable man in Washington these days has to be Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council. If reporters start digging into Louisiana politicians’ associations with white supremacist groups, Perkins’s name will surface rather quickly.

   Scalise, who was recently chosen majority whip for Republicans in the House of Representatives, has acknowledged that he spoke to an organization called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). The group is run by David Duke, a former grand wizard for the Ku Klux Klan who has mounted several statewide campaigns for political office. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled EURO a hate group for its racist and anti-Semitic views. Scalise, who as a state legislator twice voted against a state holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., has apologized for the incident, although a blogger for the New Orleans Advocate said that Scalise once told her that he was “like David Duke without the baggage” of direct association with the Klan.

   And what about Perkins, perhaps the shrillest voice for the Religious Right in the post-James Dobson era? Back in Louisiana in 1996, Perkins was head of Woody Jenkins’s campaign for the United States Senate. In the course of that campaign, Perkins purchased David Duke’s mailing list for $82,500, although he later claimed that he never used the list. Perkins and Jenkins then apparently filed false statements with the Federal Elections Commission in an effort to hide the link with Duke. The campaign was fined $3,000.

   Even if we grant Perkins the benefit of the doubt—and take his word that he didn’t realize that the mailing list he purchased was Duke’s—the head of the Family Research Council might have a more difficult time explaining his speech in Baton Rouge before the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) on May 17, 2001. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the CCC is a direct descendent of the White Citizens’ Council, a white supremacist group which in turn was formed immediately following the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. The White Citizens’ Council, with its rabidly segregationist agenda, was widely known throughout the South as the “uptown Klan.”

   In 2001, the same year Perkins addressed the CCC gathering, the organization’s website read: “God is the author of racism. God is the One who divided mankind into different types. . . . Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God.”

   I’ve found no record of Perkins’s remarks on May 17, 2001, but a local newspaper ran a photograph showing Perkins, then a state representative, standing at the lectern in Bonanno’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge, a big smile on his face and a Confederate flag hanging directly behind him. According to the photo caption, Perkins is surrounded by officers of the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens.

   Perkins, who touts himself as “pro-family” and whose anti-gay rhetoric regularly lands him on Fox News and other media outlets, doubtless felt right at home with the CCC. The organization’s Statement of Principles reads in part: “We believe in the traditional family as the basic unit of human society and morality, and we oppose all efforts by the state and other powers to weaken the structure of the American family through toleration of sexual licentiousness, homosexuality and other perversions, mixture of the races, pornography in all forms, and subversion of the authority of parents.”

   The scandal here is not Perkins’s opinions, and certainly not his prerogative to hold such views. The scandal is Perkins’s persistent efforts to portray himself and his offensive views as Christian. The fact that media outlets (including Chris Matthews at MSNBC) repeatedly turn to Perkins as a spokesman for “Christian” values is equally repugnant.

   With the unveiling of Scalise’s ties to white supremacists, Perkins’s tawdry associations may soon come to light. People of faith can only hope that Perkins’s day of reckoning occurs sooner rather than later.

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