Thursday, May 08, 2008

That old time culture war (circa 1960)

Billy James Hargis, one of the leaders of what wasn't yet called the Christian Right

Back in the early 1960s, there were religious leaders around who were very much like what we now call the Christian Right. But they weren't publicly embraced by either major party at the national level. Carl McIntyre and Billy James Hargis were two of the best known at the time. They were political. But any direct political influence they had was limited to local politics, primarily in the South. But in Southern states, they did contribute significantly to the atmosphere of hatred that was directed against civil rights activists and, by extension, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

Their legacy lives on. To illustrate, ...

I'll quote some passages from Hargis' Communist America, Must It Be? (1960). This really was "fringe" opinion in 1960. This kind of perspective is still on the fringe of reality and the fringe of decency today. But today the Christian Right is the main base of the Republican Party. And messages very much like those of the fringe rightwing radicals of the 1960s are blared daily from OxyContin radio, FOX News, various Christian Right publications and Web site, megachurch pulpits - and, more and more, in the Establishment press.

This was part of the message of Rev. Hargis in 1960:

Regardless of what the Negroes think, regardless of what the entire South thinks, segregation and racism have become one of America's great "social crises," one of the most artificial of all such social crises instigated by the Communists within America to add racial class hatred, and thus betray America into Communist hands through betrayal of the American Negro. ...

"The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People," Manning Johnson revealed, "set up the situation that erupted into racial violence at Little Rock ... the main danger and handicap to the Negro is not the southern school, but the persecution and hate complex the NAACP and the Reds [Communists] are trying to create." ... "Stirring up race and class conflict is the basis of all discussion of the Communist party's work in the South," Manning Johnson revealed ... "leaders in Moscow ordered the use of all racial, economic and social differences ... to start local fires of discontent, conflict and revolt ... black rebellion was what Moscow wanted. Bloody racial conflict would split America."
It's worth noting that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover actively promoted the notion that the civil rights movement was controlled and directed to a large degree by Communists. And this part of Hargis' tract was actually a widespread belief among Southern whites.

In the larger political trajectory, it's important to remember that Southern whites who bitterly opposed desegregation were most Democrats in 1960, Democrats who admired leaders like George Wallace, Orville Faubus, and Ross Barnett and admired them because of their opposition to segregation. With Nixon's "Southern Strategy" that he began using in 1968 and pursued relentlessly after that, the white voters who bought into this kind of paranoid and racist worldview to any significant extent mostly started voting Republican, and still do, along with some of their children and grandchildren.

Not all white Southerners became Jimmy Carter, i.e., morphed into moderates or liberals on issues affecting race relations. And when the public schools were finally integrated - it was 1970 before this was finally mandated and implemented for the whole South - a network of whites-only private schools was created so that pure white kids wouldn't be polluted by having to compete in the same classroom with African-American students. "Seg academies", they were called by those who weren't impressed with the private schools' claims.

And, in conservative Christian private schools and the really widespread Christian home-schooling movement have preserved and, within the fundamentalist/Pentecostal crowd, spread such attitudes. It's important to remember that race is a key aspect of this segregationist worldview, which has been embraced to a large extent by the Republican Party. Republican voter suppression strategies are straight out of the Southern segregationists playbook. It would be very interesting for some historian or political scientist to trace the line of descent from support for lynch-law in the South of the 1950s to support for the Cheney-Bush torture policy today. I'm very sure there is one, but I'm not aware of anyone laying out the historical connections.

It's also important to remember that segregationism was (is) not simply an attitude toward directly race-related issues. It involves a larger cultural conservatism to which Billy James Hargis was giving expression in 1960 and which has many more visible spokespeople today.

Here's an example from Hargis' pamphlet of how such attitudes were closely interwoven:

The people of the United States have ceased to be their own rulers - and the government now ruling them is heavily pro-Communist.[Remember that this was 1960. Republican Dwight Eisenhower was President and Richard Nixon was his Vice President.] Not only is America financing its enemy, and welcoming its treacherous enemies as honored guests, but America is legislating itself into enemy hands with the "blessing" of the Supreme Court. So long as they don't spell out exactly how to do it, Communists can take over America and there isn't anything in the world which the American people can do about it. Communists have more freedom in America than do the non-Communist, patriotic Christian-American people of America.
As an example of cracker Know-Nothingism, that paragraph is actually impressive. It mixes complete whack-job John Birch Society paranoia (Communists control the government), rightwing militarism (every attempt at developing peaceful relations with Communist countries is treason), racial segregationism (his 1960 readers would hear the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 in his references to Congress and the Supreme Court), a sense of doom, a bizarre inversion of what civil liberties meant in 1960, and the whiney-white-people sense of religious persecution.

I say this seriously: the ideology promoted by Pat Robertson with his conspiracy theory of history controlled by the Judeoilluminatifascistonists and his sneering bigotry come straight out of this brand of thought.

Does it seem crazy that anyone would think that mild-mannered, well-spoken Barack Obama is a closet Muslim who hates America and wants to force white people to get rhythm? To people who have stewed their minds and emotions in the segregationist-Christianist worldview, it makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes more sense than reality.

A war on Christmas? A war on Christianity? Sounds nuts? Just update Hargis' sentence: "[Athiests and Muslims and blasphemers] have more freedom in America than do the [God-fearing], patriotic Christian-American people of America." That latter class of people should presumably be distinguished from patriotic Christian-American people not of America.

I could quote more, like his attack on that Jew Commie Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and how the United Nations is a horrible idea whose UNESCO organization is "the greatest subversive plot in history". Remember how the Iraq War advocates sneered at the UN with such energy and still do? Oh, by the way, that independent minded Maverick McCain wants to set up a "League of Democracies" to basically destroy the UN. Although the Maverick slipped up recently and called his idea the "League of Nations".

Oh, heck, I'll close with a bit giving the flavor of "culture war" hostility to the UN, which jingoists and narrow nationalists in all countries see as interfering with their aims. Which was, you know, a bib part of the reason for the United Nations. Here's Rev. Hargis' take:

The United Nations bears the curse of God for its inclusion of godless nations. From its beginning, the United Nations has deliberately ignored the Lord God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ. [What? The UN admits Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and Jews?!?] In fact, the Communist co-creators of the United Nations saw to it that there should be no mention of God, nor any sign of God, anywhere in the United Nations headquarters nor in any United Nations deliberations. God is not mentioned in the United Nations Charter. United Nations meetings are not opened with prayer.
From tent revivals to official doctrine of the Republican Party: a bit of the heritage of today's "culture warriors".

If you're wondering, the Rev. Hargis went to his reward in the next life in 1979. In the decade following that pamphlet, he continued to crank out such stuff for people who wanted to read and hear it. He even established his own college, which lasted until 1977.

This obituary suggests that the Rev. Hargis was part of another tradition being carried on by some of today's Christianist Revs and the occasional Republican member of Congress,Billy James Hargis, 79, flamboyant evangelist, anticommunist by Myrna Oliver Los Angeles Times wire Boston Globe 11/30/04:

A few years after the college opened in 1971, allegations surfaced that Mr. Hargis had engaged in sexual acts with at least one male and three female students. The preacher vehemently denied the charges. Nevertheless, college leaders forced him to resign as president.
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