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The Right Plays the Race-Card, Randall Robinson Unwittingly Indulges Them

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On this blog, veteran civil rights activist Randall Robinson referred to "reports" of poor New Orleans blacks "eating human corpses to survive." I haven't seen these reports. I've looked endlessly. They don't exist. Robinson must either source these "reports" or retract them immediately because they are profoundly destructive to a cause he's fought his whole life for.

By raising the specter of cannibalistic blacks, Robinson indulged the racist right's wildest fantasy. Beneath the din of wall-to-wall cable news coverage, and far to the other end of the ideological spectrum, a faction of the right seems titilated with the prospect of a public backlash against looting inner-city blacks. For this group, it's almost as if the images being beamed from New Orleans -- supplemented by Robinson's "reports" (see here and here for examples of right-wing sites salivating over his post) -- are the realization of National Alliance founder William Pierce's tract about a future American race-war, The Turner Diaries.

As Piece wrote in chapter 13, "We also found gruesome evidence of one way in which the Blacks have solved their food shortage: cannibalism. They began by setting up barricades in one main street to stop cars driven by Whites, apparently as early as Tuesday of last week. The unfortunate Whites were dragged from their cars, taken into a nearby Black restaurant, butchered, cooked, and eaten."

The conservative American Spectator's executive editor George Neumayr practically plagiarized the Turner Diaries when he wrote:

More than the physical foundations of New Orleans will need to be rebuilt over the next few years. Its politically correct culture in which pathologies are allowed to fester in the name of "progress" forms much of the debris that must be cleared away if civilization is to return to New Orleans. A city which boasts as one of its businesses memorial "death t-shirts" -- clothing made popular by the frequency of gangland slayings in New Orleans that say things like, "Born a Pimp, Died a Playa" -- was headed for collapse even without a hurricane, and had become, as the exodus of cops illustrates, unlivable.

Pat Buchanan came to a similar, though less vitriolic conclusion in his piece, "Who Lost New Orleans?":

From TV pictures of the 20,000 crammed into the Superdome and the hundreds hauled off rooftops, most of them, it appears, were African-American. Conversely, TV footage of looters happily at work – taking not just food and water, but jewelry, guns, electronics, and booze – reveals them, too, to be disproportionately African-American.

Buchanan went on to blame "race demagogues" for defending New Orleans looters against conservative demands for a more, shall we say, aggressive response: "I hope the looters are shot," declared the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan. That same day, WorldNetDaily's Les Kinsolving -- the right-wing Helen Thomas -- asked Scott McClellan, "What is the president's reaction to the 1968 statement of Philadelphia's Frank Rizzo that all looters would be shot, and then three looters were shot, and the looting in Philadelphia stopped?" The following day, right-wing columnist Mona Charen wrote, "If police officers are authorized to shoot looters, this intelligence will spread quickly among the criminal population. The free-for-all will come to an abrupt end."

Despite Buchanan's surrender to race-baiting, there was one element of his argument which will prove prescient: "Rancorous argument is about to begin, and deep divisions are about to be driven into our society." In other words, when the flood is drained and the chaos begins to fade, those voices which urged violence against the "looters" will grow louder. And they will resonate with a fragment of the conservative base. Stoking fears of restive inner-city blacks has been a hallmark of Republican campaigns since the days of Barry Goldwater. My sense is that the "war on terror" and its bearded, olive-skinned bogeyman, has brought only a momentary respite from the right's traditional racial demagogy -- blacks and Mexicans as "looters." If American fears of radical Islamic terror begins to fade by 2008, look for the GOP to start dealing the race-card again.

The backlashers will be back. To Robinson -- someone whose work I have admired -- I say, let's not give them any ammo they don't already have.

(By the way, I have some good news to report. David Duke's Louisiana headquarters have been destroyed by Katrina.)