Roy Moore & Ron Paul: The Politics of Secession, Nullification, and Marriage Equality

Roy Moore, the elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has been in the news lately for his efforts to block same sex marriage in the state—notwithstanding a federal judge’s ruling that Alabama’s anti-marriage equality law is unconstitutional.  Moore claims that federal courts, short of the U.S. Supreme Court, do not have the authority to interpret the Constitution against the laws and constitution of the state. Moore’s efforts are being discussed as nullification, and are even being compared to Gov. George Wallace’s attempt to prevent the integration of the Alabama public schools in the 1960s.

A slow motion showdown may be brewing over Moore’s notion of state sovereignty vs. the supremacy of federal law that extends beyond the matter at hand. Moore told Fox News Sunday that he does not recognize the authority of the federal courts regarding, among other things, marriage. If, as seems likely, the U.S. Supreme Court makes marriage equality the law of the land this term, he says he will “recuse” himself from matters involving same-sex marriage.  Contrary to some published reports, this does not mean he will defy the U.S. Supreme Court.  He knows that if he did so, he would be removed from the bench, just as he was a decade ago when he installed and refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the state courthouse in Montgomery – in defiance of a federal court order.  Moore is too wily to try that again.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

At this writing, there is a lot of legal wrangling in both state and federal courts over the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses in Alabama.  Some counties are complying with the rulings and issuing licenses to couples, and some are not.

But looking beyond the current confusion, Moore has apparently decided to use his position to speak out about what he considers a creeping federal tyranny, while taking pains not to jeopardize his seat.

Taking a similar approach is Moore’s longtime ideological ally Michael Peroutka, (the one-time presidential candidate of the theocratic Constitution Party, and recently-elected Republican member of the Anne Arundel County 1)Maryland Council).  When the Council voted on a resolution to seek federal funding for public school programs, all members (both Democrats and Republicans) voted in favor, except for Peroutka who abstained. The Capital Gazette reported, “Peroutka said he took issue with federal money being sent to local schools because the Constitution does not give the federal government the authority to “be involved in any education at all.”

“Federal programs are driving the agenda here in our local schools,” Peroutka said. “They’re driving the agenda with a lot of money.””

Michael Peroutka

Michael Peroutka

All of this may portend a struggle that will play out differently than one might think. The situation may be more complicated than just the country generally, and the conservative South in particular, reaching acceptance of marriage equality.

Groups and individuals involved in the wider movements of the Christian Right and contemporary libertarianism, on which PRA has reported over the past two years, have advocated varying degrees of nullification and secession; and have envisioned vary degrees of political tension, violence and civil war. Peroutka and Moore may lack the votes in their respective governmental institutions for nullification over marriage and other issues, but they can be voices for building a movement which could one day be capable of carrying it out.

It is not clear yet how organized or capable the movement is currently, but it is worth noting that former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)  spoke at a gathering in January at the Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, called “Breaking Away: The Case for Secession”.

“I would like to start off,” Paul declared, “by talking about the subject and the subject is secession and, uh, nullification, the breaking up of government, and the good news is it’s gonna happen.  It’s happening,”

Meanwhile, judge Moore and Peroutka seem to be taking the long view—but others are not.  Among these is another longtime Peroutka friend and ally, Michael Hill, head of the theocratic and White supremacist Alabama-based League of the South.  Peroutka, as PRA reported last year, was a member of the board of directors of the League for several months in 2014, before quietly leaving, apparently in preparation for his run for office. His membership in the League was a major issue in the campaign. Peroutka said he resigned his membership but did not renounce the League itself. After Peroutka won the election, Hill celebrated his friend’s victory.

Hill has called for the formation of death squads to kill American government officials and journalists, and for White men of all ages to become “citizen soldiers” in a great modern defense of archaic notions of Christendom.  He has as gone so far as to organize a paramilitary group.

Hill sees himself and his comrades as part of a long line of such “citizen soldiers,” invoking historic battles with Islamic armies going back to the Battle of Tours in the 8th century. His role models for warriors for Christendom, however, are the White Westerners who fought against Black liberation movements in Southern Africa in the 1970s.

“So if Western men in past times were willing to fight for their civilization in remote areas of the world,” he asked, “shouldn’t we expect them to be just as willing to fight for that civilization here at its very heart – the South? … The traditions and truths of Western Christendom are anathema to the [Obama] regime,” he concluded. “The tyrants’ regime and Western Christendom cannot coexist—that is not possible. One must win and the other must disappear. It is indeed the ultimate Zero Sum game.”

Michael Hill is treating the federal judge’s overturning of the “Sanctity of Marriage” amendment to the Alabama state constitution as the last straw. While the League says it supports judge Moore’s effort to defend the state constitution against the alleged federal tyranny, Hill declared that he no longer considers himself an American and called for violent secession of the South from “the American monstrosity.”

Hill also joined theologian Peter Leithart of Birmingham and prominent Christian Right political organizer David Lane, in explicitly declaring his opposition to “Americanism.”

“Yes, many of our citizens have, wittingly or unwittingly, embraced Americanism for either survival or profit,” Hill declared. “I have not, and I intend to convince my fellow Southerners to join my side. I do not intend to leave Alabama or the South… I intend to fight, and if necessary kill and die, for their survival, well-being, and independence.”

A Moscow – Montgomery Axis?

As it happens, the League has been receiving encouragement from elements in Russia, particularly some who support Ukrainian separatists. He addressed, via Skype, a red/brown conference of anti-globalism activists, in Moscow in December 2014.  Hill told the conference that he sees American southern nationalism as an “historic ‘blood and soil’ movement” – an overt reference to 20th century ultra-German nationalism and Naziism.

Hill reports that he also emphasized the League’s “direct Southern nationalist challenge to the political, economic, and financial engine of globalism – the Washington, DC/European Union alliance.”

While the League has been networking with separatist movements around the world for a long time, the relationship with and support for pro-Russian, Ukrainian separatists has been growing.  On his Facebook page last year, Hill cast the situation as a battle between the “decadent West,” meaning the U.S. and the European Union (EU), and supposedly traditionalist Russia—which he described as “conservative, Orthodox, anti-Muslim and anti-PC.”

“We Southerners, as Christian traditionalists,” he concluded, “ought to sympathize with those in Ukraine who would object to closer ties with the USA-EU regimes simply because of what they now stand for: multiculturalism, tolerance, and diversity; anti-Christian policies from abortion to homosexuality; open borders and the demographic displacement of native Whites; an aggressive foreign policy, including war, in the name of spreading liberal democracy. On the other hand, Russia today stands against such things.”

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The Nullification of Religious Liberty

It’s true. Religious liberty is under sustained attack in America—but not in the way the Christian Right would have us believe. A theocratic (and sometimes Neo-Confederate) movement within the broader Christian Right is targeting the religious liberty of those they don’t agree with. Marriage equality is currently on the front lines of this historic assault. And while it has not always been framed as an issue of religious liberty by LGBTQ activists and progressive allies, that is changing—even as advances in marriage equality in the courts and federal policy are causing some Christian Right leaders to discuss potential state-level nullification.

United Church of Christ's Rev. J. Bennett Guess

United Church of Christ’s Rev. J. Bennett Guess

But the narrative promoted by the Christian Right—that they are upholding religious liberty against a creeping secular totalitarianism—is unraveling. People are getting wise to how the religious liberty of those, religious or non-religious, who wish to marry the person of their choice is being stricken by organized theocratic factions bent on using any tool they can find to ensure that only their definition of marriage and of religious liberty prevails.

An historic example came last week. The mainline United Church of Christ (UCC) won their federal court challenge to a North Carolina law which banned same-sex marriage. The UCC, the first national Christian denomination to recognize same-sex marriage back in 2005, noted that North Carolina’s Amendment One not only made it illegal for their members to marry as same-sex couples, but also made it illegal for their clergy to perform the religious ceremony— even if that ceremony carried no legal weight. The federal judge recognized this infringement of true religious liberty, and made that clear in his ruling for the plaintiffs.

“We are thrilled by this clear victory for both religious freedom and marriage equality in the state of North Carolina,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a UCC national officer. “In lifting North Carolina’s ban on same-gender marriage, the court’s directive makes it plain that the First Amendment arguments… were both persuasive and spot-on. Any law that threatens clergy who choose to solemnize a union of same-sex couples, and threatens them with civil or criminal penalties, is unconstitutional.”

But even as the court victories pile up— the backlash has also begun.

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to let stand seven lower court rulings legalizing marriage equality, a leading Republican presidential prospect for 2016, and perhaps the leading politician on the Christian Right, has come out in favor of state nullification of decisions of the Court. Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) says he hopes that “somewhere there will be a governor who will simply say, ‘No, I’m not going to enforce that.’”

Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch reports that Huckabee told Iowa conservative talk show host Steve Deace that states should have also ignored Roe v. Wade, and the Court’s rulings banning school-sponsored prayer. “Well, the courts have spoken,” Huckabee declared, “and it’s an important voice, but it’s not the voice of God and the Supreme Court isn’t God.”

“When Deace pressed him on the ‘maelstrom’ that would be set off if state governments simply ignored court rulings on marriage,” Blue’s article continues, “Huckabee responded that it was in fact the courts that have set off a ‘constitutional crisis’ by ruling in favor of marriage equality.”

Rachel Tabachnick and Frank Cocozzelli documented the rise of modern unconstitutional nullification efforts in a recent article in The Public Eye magazine. I followed up with an essay detailing public predictions by Christian Right leaders of violence that would likely follow from the political tensions generated if states defied federal laws, regulations and court decisions. A glimpse of how such tensions are building is revealed in how Republican religious and political leaders are now being forced to try and walk back and manage the blossoming Neo-Confederate surge. This was on vivid display at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, where radio talk show host Mark Levin explicitly warned against the Neo-Confederate temptation.

The Huckabee interview was significant, in part, because Deace is a powerful voice in Iowa where the first presidential party caucuses will be held. Huckabee, along with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) have been the main headliners over the past year at Pastor Policy Briefings, organized by the American Renewal Project, which has been one of the main organizing vehicles of the Christian Right for the past decade. Huckabee has frequently headlined these events over the years, while hosting a show on Fox News on Sunday nights. All of which may make him the most trusted and well-known political leader of the Christian Right.

Huckabee’s remarkable view also invites potentially unflattering comparisons to the segregationist southern governors of the Civil Rights era. Gov. George Wallace (D-AL) for one, drew the scorn of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famous I Have a Dream speech: “I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Although Huckabee shrewdly did not use the words—nullification and interposition were exactly what he meant.

Huckabee thus brings a decidedly Christian Reconstructionist element to the openly nullification-supportive wing of the GOP, which to date has been identified primarily with Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).

Uncoincidentally, Deace suggested in a column on The American View (the website of Neo-Confederate politician Michael Peroutka) in August that a breakup of the GOP is imminent, given the tensions between the so-called establishment and movement conservatives. He also foresees the possibility of a breakup of the U.S. itself, between what he calls “government states” and “liberty states.” According to Deace, officials of the latter “will be pressured by their constituents to defy the feds’ immoral edicts, and defend the people’s freedom instead. This will take America down a dark path it last walked in the 1850s.” He thinks a religious revival like the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries may be the only hope. Such dark appraisals are not uncommon these days.

But in the small world that is politics, these leaders and activists are part of a profound and wide-ranging ranging conversation about the religious and political future that is becoming both increasingly urgent and increasingly public. It is also clear that whatever their differences, they agree that the religious liberty of those who disagree with them on the leading issues of the culture war, are but collateral damage in the creating a more theocratic union – if in fact they think it is a union that they still want, or think is even possible.

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VVS14 Analysis: Glenn Beck, Mark Levin Try to Quell Christian Right Neo-Confederates

The Christian Right’s annual trade show, Values Voter Summit, is a good place to check the vital signs of the movement that is often—and wrongly—declared dead or dying. And this year’s conference offered a peek into the struggle by Christian Right leaders to tamp down the Neo-Confederate and secessionist ideology growing in, and threatening to break, their ranks.

Right-wing media personality Glenn Beck holds up The Bible and Rules for Radicals at VVS14

Right-wing media personality Glenn Beck holds up The Bible and Rules for Radicals at VVS14

Some critics tend to cast the Christian Right movement as monolithic, when in actuality it has always been at just as fractious and dynamic as it has been powerful and influential. And yet, its considerable successes are sometimes obscured by its leaders’ perennial fear that they may ultimately fail to “restore” their notion of the Christian Nation—and that an evil darkness will fall upon the land. (Yes, much of the public rhetoric at the Values Voter Summit was that prosaic.)

But a deepening shadow of doubt has crept across the Christian Right’s vision of a shining city on a hill since at least 2012 election. Some leaders of the Religious (and non-religious) Right are revealing their loss of faith in American nationhood, and are turning to Neo-Confederate alternatives, including support to secede from the Union (including by some candidates), and a movement to nullify federal laws, regulations and court decisions—all with the full understanding of the political tensions and violence that would likely accompany most of these efforts.

This Neo-Confederatization of elements of the political and Religious Right is such a problem that the State Policy Network of business/libertarian think tanks, (which work in close coalition with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)) issued a PR manual in 2013 which urged members to avoid language that smacks of “extreme views,” advising: “Stay away from words like radical, nullify, or autonomy,” and especially “states’ rights.”

At the Values Voter Summit, we saw a continued effort to hold the fractious Christian Right movement together, and sharp warnings to those who are considering or turning to these Neo-Confederate options. All of which suggests that the leaders may be more worried about their cohesion than meets the eye.

But rather than deliver the main message themselves, the conference leaders left it to popular, non-evangelical co-belligerents: New York right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who is Jewish, and Mormon right-wing broadcaster Glenn Beck.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, staged a conversation with Levin during a conference plenary which offered some thoughts about how to proceed in the face of Christians being “silenced,” and their religious freedom being “under assault” from so many directions.

Perkins observed (at about 17:30 in the YouTube video) that President Obama has described Islam as a religion of peace, and that the problem we have with Islam is not just far away but right here at home.

“How can we fight an enemy,” Perkins asked, that “transcends not only our international foreign policy but our domestic policy. We are at risk here at home, and we cannot come to the point where we can truly speak the truth because political correctness has basically blinded us to that truth.”

“Well, we need to reject political correctness,” Levin replied on cue. “We need to reject the attempt by the Left to keep us in little boxes, or to move us out to extremes. We are the heart of America,” he declared, jabbing his index finger into the air for emphasis.

“Our belief system is the heart of America. We are the majority of America. And they treat us like we are some minor cult. We are not some minor cult. I don’t need to be lectured by Barack Obama about any damn thing let alone religion or Islam…. I think we need to fight this effort to silence us…. We need to speak out. We need to stand up.”

Levin’s solution is to cast the Religious Right as mainstream America.

At VVS14, right-wing radio host Mark Levin chastises the growing Neo-Confederate movement among the Christian Right

At VVS14, right-wing radio host Mark Levin chastises the growing Neo-Confederate movement among the Christian Right

“You know, I view the political spectrum quite differently,” he explained. “We are in the middle! You’ve got the radical leftists who’ve taken over the Democrat Party [sic]. You have… this Neo-Confederate group out there,” he said, pointing and waving to his right, “that doesn’t really believe in the Constitution and keeps talking about secession and so forth. We are traditional conservatives who embrace the Constitution, who embrace our heritage. This president does not—from his values to his comments to his attacks on my country—does not represent me, period!”

Likewise, Glenn Beck urged the evangelical conference attendees not to succumb to the temptation of “rage” at anti-Christian persecution and the threats to religious freedom in our time. Jesus, he said, was about a “revolution through peace and love” not violence. “Which spirit is leading you,” he wondered. “Which spirit is leading all of us?” You could hear a pin drop in the carpeted room as Beck failed to answer his own rhetorical question.

That the popular Beck was featured to deliver this sermon suggests that conference leadership recognizes they may have led their people over a hate and fear mongering bridge too far. Part of their task now seems to be to bring them back from the Neo-Confederate temptation.

Pointing to the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., Beck said “the Lord would never tell us to do something out of hate, or vengeance, or rage.” He emphasized the need to come together as Americans in the face of the external threat of ISIS, and not to hate one another. Not even LGBTQ people, he said.

Like Levin, Beck sought to position the Christian Right and the conservative movement generally—not as the Right, but as ideologically middle America. He did it in a sly slam on the Tea Party (at about 43:35 in the YouTube video), in which he held up a copy of legendary progressive and civil rights movement organizer Saul Alinsky’s 1971 book, Rules for Radicals—which had been promoted by Tea Party leaders—notably Dick Armey (head of the Koch brothers bankrolled group Freedom Works)—as a manual for anti-establishment disruption.

Beck didn’t mention any of this back story, but stuck to the old Manichean story line. Alinsky had jokingly dedicated the book to Lucifer, giving Beck the opening to read from the book’s dedication, which he said offers a “tip of the hat to the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that at least he won his own Kingdom—Lucifer.” He claimed that “for many in America, this [Rules for Radicals] is their Scripture.”

We have a choice, he declared, between The Bible and Rules for Radicals.

In fairness, Alinsky was obviously being humorous and provocative, and was not really dedicating his book to Satan. But Beck’s target was not Alinsky so much as the colorfully disruptive and often overtly hate-mongering Tea Partiers, many of whom are conservative Christians, with whom VVS leaders seek to contrast themselves as the mainstream of the GOP (if not America itself). They wish to be seen not as the party of mean spiritedness—but as the standard bearers of religious freedom.

Whether they can sufficiently recover to make the center hold, or whether the Christian Right has tea-partied itself into a stupor of permanent neo-Confederate division, remains to be seen.

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