‘Southern Avenger’ Comes Clean: Former Rand Paul Aide Warns GOP Away From Racist Rhetoric
Jack Hunter, a former staffer for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) who was outed as conservative mascot “The Southern Avenger” by the Washington Free Beacon last summer, wrote in Politico’s new magazine venture on Monday that he regretted many of his past views, and challenged fellow conservatives to disavow the racist-tinged rhetoric he now fears will cost Paul mainstream viability.
In a piece entitled, “Confessions of a Right-Wing Shock Jock,” Hunter wrote that while Paul knew of his persona as the Southern Avenger, the Senator did not know of his previous statements, including toasting to John Wilkes Booth, calling for Spike Lee to be whipped, and more:
Sen. Paul had known that I used to wear a Confederate wrestling mask as part of an old radio shtick, and I still sometimes used the Southern Avenger moniker—it was my Twitter handle and appeared on my Facebook page. But he hadn’t known about the many stupid and offensive things I’d said.
[…] It was painful to revisit because it sounds awful to me today, so I could only imagine what it sounded like to African-Americans in 2000. I recall making equally insensitive comments about illegal immigrants and Muslims. Whenever I put on that wrestling mask, I took on a persona that was intentionally outrageous and provocative. I said many terrible things. I disavow them.
But let’s be honest: My commentary wasn’t all that different from what more mainstream conservatives were saying—at the time and still today…Most conservatives are not, and never were, racists. But many have displayed a disregard for minorities for a very long time and in a plethora of ways. I certainly did. Minorities think we don’t like them. Not enough conservatives have tried to convince them that’s not true. Some seem comfortable doubling down on the same old insensitivities as a matter of being more right wing-than-thou.
It’s a problem. It’s also a dead end for the GOP.
Hunter described his drift toward fringe right-wing politics, which began with his father listening to Rush Limbaugh, continued into a secessionist league that would eventually be categorized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and then into a minor wrestling career, in which he said the Confederate flag was less a sincere statement of racist beliefs than an over-the-top gag on political correctness.
The issue of illegal immigration led him to the Paul tribe’s distinct brand of libertarianism, as he respected that Paul the Younger made economic arguments rather than scapegoating immigrants. It was through his association with Paul, he said, that he began to view issues like states rights and immigration with more maturity, and became embarrassed of his earlier views. He explicitly compared this haunting by his past statements with a similar incident of racist newsletters from the early 90s that popped up occasionally to bother presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX).
Hunter seemed most apologetic for the idea that he has made it more difficult for Senator Paul to join the mainstream of the Republican Party, and he encouraged conservatives like him to better mind their rhetoric:
Liberals like Chris Matthews are absurd when they suggest that every disagreement with President Obama is somehow racist. But too many Republicans have dismissed the idea that racism is actually a problem. When I was Rand Paul’s social-media director, I noticed that whenever my boss would make a statement about racial injustice in our legal system, some conservatives bristled at the suggestion that our government was somehow mistreating African-Americans. The same conservatives who say they believe government treats everyone badly were not willing to see how that was true for black Americans. They either don’t see it or don’t want to see it.
I used not to see it. For that, I am very sorry. If Republicans are going to make inroads with minority voters, they had better open their eyes too.
[h/t Politico Magazine]
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