During the 2008 presidential election season, controversy erupted when it was revealed that Democratic candidate Barack Obama was a long-time member of a church headed by "Black Liberation" theologian Jeremiah Wright. The dissemination of Reverend Wright's inflammatory remarks about America caused a media firestorm and forced Obama to resign his membership in the church. With the media currently homing in on sexual harassment allegations against 2012 GOP frontrunner Herman Cain, the candidate's relationship with his own Wright-like figure -- radical Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Chairman Roy Innis -- has been totally overlooked.
On October 31, the Washington Post reported that Prosperity USA, a private charity run by two top Cain campaign aides, gave up to $100,000 to Roy Innis' organization shortly before Cain appeared as a featured speaker at CORE's January 2011 dinner "honoring" Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the donation was backed by a $150,000 loan to Prosperity USA by two individuals identified in financial documents only as "Marek" and "O'Keefe." Prosperity USA is already facing scrutiny for a separate $37,372 donation to the Cain campaign that may have violated campaign finance laws (under federal law, non-profit charities are prohibited from making donations to political campaigns).
While it is not known what Cain said that night at the CORE dinner, his attendance at the event raises a number of troubling questions because of the extreme ideology and political shilling of Roy Innis.
Innis' history is intimately tied to that of the Congress of Racial Equality. Founded in 1941, CORE was a prominent organization involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Members of CORE suffered brutal beatings during the Freedom Rides, helped organize the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King delivered his unforgettable "I Have a Dream" speech, and led efforts to desegregate public schools in Chicago.
But things quickly changed in 1968 when CORE activist Roy Innis took control of the organization. On the topic of integration, the new CORE chairman outlined a policy of extreme Black Nationalism, declaring, "In America today, there are two kinds of black people -- the field hand blacks and the house n**gers. We of CORE, the nationalists -- are the field hand blacks. The integrationists are house n**gers." But radical ideology was secondary to Innis' true focus: profit-seeking. In the words of Mother Jones, "CORE is better known among real civil rights groups for renting out its historic name to any corporation in need of a black front person. The group has taken money from the payday-lending industry, chemical giant (and original DDT manufacturer) Monsanto, and ExxonMobil." Put simply, Innis is no stranger to right-wing power circles. He has given anti-environment speeches for the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity astroturf group and serves on the National Rifle Association Board of Directors. In 2010, Innis even received the Conservative Political Action Conference's highest honor, the John Ashbrook Award (when fellow NRA board member David Keene was still organizing CPAC).
James Farmer, the founder of CORE, has accused Innis of running a "fraudulent" organization and called him "an American Idi Amin." Farmer wasn't choosing his words carelessly. Innis has a shameful history of defending people accused of racism against African-Americans and is even connected to human rights abusers abroad. Innis was a "supporter" of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who was responsible for the deaths of up to 500,000 of his countrymen. Innis awarded Amin a lifetime CORE membership and claimed, "Ugandans are happy under General Amin's rule of Africa for black Africans." "He has the ability to make decisions, unlike other leaders who theorize but do not execute," Innis also said of the infamous Last King of Scotland. In return, Amin awarded Innis Ugandan citizenship in 1973. Asked how he could support Amin, a known admirer of Adolf Hitler, Innis said, "We have no records to prove if Hitler was a friend or an enemy of black people."
On the night of the 2011 MLK dinner, Innis had kind words for Cain as well, saying, "In this case we are even more pleased to bring the Tea Party people to our dinner as they have exemplified the spirit of Dr. King and are living the legacy that he helped establish in American politics." This wasn't exactly high praise given the other "Tea Party people" Innis has honored. In 2008, Duane Chapman (aka Dog the Bounty Hunter) spoke at CORE's 2008 MLK dinner after he was heard in a leaked voicemail calling his son's girlfriend a "n**ger." Other past attendees have included far right-wing Austrian politician Jörg Haider (who has been described by the Anti-Defamation League as "the Austrian David Duke") and conservative radio host Bob Grant, who famously called Martin Luther King "a scumbag."
Why would Cain possibly want to associate with a man as bigoted and infamous as Innis -- even going as far as to offer a quid pro quo in the form of a large donation to CORE in return for Innis' blessing?
Only the two men know for sure, but we should recall that in January 2011 when the CORE dinner took place, Herman Cain was a political unknown who had just launched a presidential exploratory committee. By associating with Innis, Cain further cemented his access to the highest echelon of Republican powerbrokers. This would include, of course, the NRA and its board, which features some of the powerful activists and politicians in the Conservative Movement: Grover Norquist, David Keene, Joe Allbaugh, and U.S. Representative Don Young (R-AK), to name just a few. It is mere coincidence that just three months after the CORE dinner Cain spoke at the 2011 NRA annual convention and called for pro-gun activists to "abolish" our government?
Innis has described Cain as "an idea that was trying to be expressed for a long time by black America but was stifled by the left-wing establishment." Certainly, no one has been less "stifled" in his dealings with corporations and right wing interests than Innis -- a logical mentor for "The Pizza Guy." But the bottom line is that to become a big name in the Republican Party, Cain had to pay homage to the rogues gallery that comprises the National Rifle Association Board of Directors.
This is the third in a series of articles I have written profiling the rogues gallery that makes up the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Learn more at www.MeetTheNRA.org.