Trigger warning: graphic violence and extreme racism. Also, Republicans.
There was a subtle visual gag in an episode of The Simpsons where a Fox News chopper flies by the camera with a “new” slogan emblazoned on the side:
This is more or less how I feel about political conservatism. I don’t believe that racism and political liberalism are antithetical – indeed, the racism one hears from liberals is often the most frustrating in that it is subtle and well-meaning, but no less damaging. That being said, there is a special relationship between conservatism and racism – a relationship we are beginning to understand. Conservatives will complain until they are blue in the face* that they are not racist, that liberals are the “real racists”, that calling someone “a racist” is just as bad as being racist… there are any number of weasel phrases. The fact is, however, that insofar as contemporary conservative ideology when followed to its natural conclusion will result in the continued (or exacerbated) disadvantage of non-white folks. The policies are racist, without necessarily meaning to.
And whether or not you fully accept the idea that non-human things (ideas, institutions, behaviours) can be racist in the absence of conscious hatred, you simply cannot ignore that when you scratch the surface of a racist extremist, you find a conservative. Sometimes you don’t even have to scratch:
An Arizona man who on Wednesday reportedly killed four people, including a 47-year-old grandmother and a 15-month-old infant, and then took his own life was also a former Republican Party official, a former white supremacist neo-Nazi and the founder of a border patrol vigilante group that advocated using violence on immigrants. On Thursday morning, police in Gilbert, Arizona confirmed that J.T. (Jason Todd) Ready had committed suicide after killing his girlfriend, 47-year-old Lisa Mederos, along with her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend and her granddaughter, according to The Arizona Republic.
By running unopposed in 2006, Ready successfully secured a position as Maricopa County Republican precinct committeeman in a west Mesa district. In 2007, he gave a speech at a neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) rally as a “Arizona Republican activist.” Later that year, Ready created a profile on NSM’s neo-Nazi New Saxon website.
Even after exposing himself as a white supremacist, Ready shared the stage with state Senator Russell Pearce at an anti-immigration rally in June 2007. Pearce later said that he had been unaware of Ready’s neo-Nazi connections. In an interview with Fox 10, Ready called Pearce, who sponsored Arizona’s anti-immigration SB1070 law, a “surrogate father” who “enlightened him.” Ready had claimed that he had been with Pearce’s son, Josh, when the younger Pearce got a racist tattoo on his neck and chest — an iron eagle with a swastika.
Seven months after Ready distributed racist and anti-Semitic materials at a Republican Committee meeting, Arizona congressmen John Shadegg, Jeff Flake, and Trent Franks wrote to the chairman of the local Republican Party and asked that he be ousted as precinct committeeman.
So while accounts differ (and I have little doubt that Russell Pearce is a) not a neo-Nazi, and b) is lying through his fucking teeth to avoid being associated with someone he was close to), something needs to be made absolutely clear up front: J.T. Ready was too racist for the Republican party and was kicked out because of his extreme views. It would be a lazy bit of reasoning to say that Mr. Ready’s racism was a mainstream Republican, and therefore Republicans are neo-Nazis. As much as I loathe the Republican party, they have not yet gone fully down the slope toward Nazism. If and when they do, however, Arizona will be the first state to make it official.
That being said, the beliefs that Mr. Ready had were not nearly so antithetical to GOP policies that the remaining Arizona Republicans would like to insist they are. For all their lazy smears about how universal health care is the path toward “National Socialism” (and therefore Nazism), it is the Republicans whose policies proclaim the kind of “American exceptionalism” and overt white supremacy that was the hallmark of the Third Reich. For all their head-fakes toward “freedom”, they are an authoritarian bunch where a guy like J.T. Ready felt at home enough to become a relatively high-ranking operative. His activities were not subtle, either – setting up an armed anti-immigrant militia is not the action of someone who is looking for a mutually-beneficial solution to the issue of undocumented immigration – it is the action of someone who thinks that the white race owns America, and everyone else had better bow down to his rifle.
And of course, as is always the case in these kinds of situations, we are being exhorted not to demonize him:
NSM member Harry Hughes reacted with shock after Wednesday’s killings. “I think this is horrible,” he told The Arizona Republic. “I want everyone to know J.T. Ready was the last person on Earth I’d figure to have done anything to hurt a child. It really caught me off guard. Despite all the rhetoric and the stuff we’re going to hear about him being the evil Nazi, he was a good man.”
The person you are defending, Mr. Hughes, is an open and notorious neo-Nazi (by his own admission) who wanted to murder people for crossing the border illegally. There is nothing of “a good man” in that description. Contrast Mr. Hughes’ pleas with the next paragraph of the story:
Heather Morton, who knew Ready and the victims, said that he had been so “cruel and controlling” that Lisa Mederos’ daughter, Amber, had moved out of the house a few months ago with her daughter and fiance. All of them were victims of the shooting. Morton recalled that Ready often ridiculed the infant for being half Hispanic. “He said, ‘She’s 50 percent ugly,’ that’s how he described her,” Morton said.
No, Mr. Hughes. Your friend was not a good man. He was a twisted man with beliefs sadistic enough to mock the heritage of an infant child for the arch crime of not being ‘fully white’, whatever that means.
It is not fair to say that the Arizona Republicans supported Mr. Ready’s beliefs. It is fair, however, to say that they need to take a serious and sober look at the fact that a man with such an evil ideology felt at home with them. If they do not recoil from the self-annihilating path they’re on, then there will be many more J.T. Readys coming from the party.
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*A phrase, incidentally, that is really only possible for those who have pale skin.