Jack Hunter, the Rand Paul social media staffer who wrote columns attacking Abraham Lincoln and defending Southern secession under the name “Southern Avenger,” tells the Daily Caller that he’s leaving the senator’s staff and returning to punditry to clear his name and avoid dimming Paul’s rising star. Even though Paul defended Hunter when the Washington Free Beacon broke the news of his long career of neo-Confederate race-baiting, Hunter says he must leave the senator’s payroll “to avenge his own honor,” the right-wing site reports.
“I’ve long been a conservative, and years ago, a much more politically incorrect (and campy) one,” Hunter told W. James Antle III of the Daily Caller News Foundation in an email (Antle identifies Hunter as a friend). “But there’s a significant difference between being politically incorrect and racist. I’ve also become far more libertarian over the years, a philosophy that encourages a more tolerant worldview, through the lens of which I now look back on some of my older comments with embarrassment.”
News of Hunter’s resignation broke just as the Washington Free Beacon was publishing more samples of his racist commentary, from a CD he once sold on his own website, “Southern Avenger Smash Tracks: 20 Essentials, Vol. 1.” In one, Hunter compares Lincoln to Adolf Hitler and the South’s Civil War defeat to the Holocaust. “The sadistic policies and tactics of Abraham Lincoln destroyed the America of the Founding Fathers,” Hunter declared in one track. “And as I gaze at the picture on my wall of my great grandfather, who fought bravely against that sick bearded bastard, I still dream of what could have been — our glorious Confederate States of America….The reason we Southerners remember the war is because it does matter — just like slavery, just like the Holocaust.” In another track he says whites deserve a “long overdue” thank you from African Americans for ending slavery. “If it weren’t for white people, who knows how long slavery would have lasted?” he asked. “The very fact that slavery still exists today in African countries like Ghana and Sudan really makes one wonder.”
The Daily Caller’s tenderly written tribute to Hunter, composed before the latest Free Beacon revelations, let the former Paul staffer cast his Southern Avenger persona – in which he frequently appeared in a wrestler’s mask emblazoned with the Confederate stars and bars – as mere radio shock-jock pageantry. It also featured testimony to Hunter’s integrity by integrity-impaired GOP leaders like South Carolina Sen. Mark Sanford. “In all my dealings with Jack Hunter, I have found him to be most impressive, most professional and a committed conservative,” Sanford told Antle. “I think a lot of this has less to do with Jack Hunter than Rand Paul and 2016.”
Lucky Rand Paul gets to have it both ways: He stood up to those Northern aggressors and refused to fire Hunter, but he will carry less of Hunter’s baggage into the 2016 GOP presidential primary than if his neo-Confederate staffer fought on.
Still, he will carry some. Hunter’s editor at the Charleston City Paper, Chris Haire, revealed Thursday that his former columnist recently asked him to take down “dozens” of the controversial posts he’d written over the years, after he’d gotten wind of the Washington Free Beacon’s efforts to expose his pro-secession writings. Haire refused, but offered to publish “a column detailing how he’d changed his mind,” an offer Hunter declined. Calling Hunter’s request “cowardly,” Haire offered this assessment of his former writer’s real views:
The Jack Hunter of the Charleston City Paper years was every bit as radical as the Jack Hunter of [radio station] 96 Wave. While a member of the City Paper’s stable of freelancers, Jack wrote in support of racially profiling Hispanics, praised white supremacist Sam Francis, blasted the House of Representatives’ apology for slavery, claimed that black people should apologize to white people for high crime rates, defended former Atlanta Braves pitcher and racist John Rocker and Charleston County School District board member Nancy Cook after she said some mothers should be sterilized, argued that Islam was an innately dangerous threat to the U.S, professed that he would have voted for a member a British neo-Nazi political party if he could have, considered endorsing former Council of Conservative Citizens member Buddy Witherspoon in his bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler and Ike Turner, and continued to profess the erroneous claim that the primary cause of the Civil War was not the fight over slavery, ignoring the decades of American history leading up to war and South Carolina’s very own Declaration of the Immediate Causes for Secession, which clearly note that protecting slavery was the preeminent motivation of state leaders….
[I]t was my opinion then and it is my opinion now that Jack is the most common kind of racist, the one that doesn’t realize that he is one.
For his part, Hunter insists he’s not a racist, and says he’ll even retire his “Southern Avenger” persona because it “has now been so mischaracterized” (he doesn’t venture to say what the proper characterization might be.) He depicts the Washington Free Beacon’s story as another effort by neoconservatives to damage Rand and Ron Paul, although he doesn’t have the courage to spell out what the schism is about: Ron Paul’s skepticism about U.S. support for Israel and his broader anti-interventionist foreign policy views, which his son has blunted in the service of mainstream political success.
“It was enraging to watch neoconservatives, liberals and even some actual racists speculate about what I believe, based on what they were eager to portray me as believing. Not surprisingly, their speculations almost always suited their own political purposes,” Hunter told Antle. “The neoconservatives, who first ran and promoted this story, would much rather argue about the Civil War than the Iraq War.”
(Slight digression here: What is it about the modern GOP that so many of its leaders are correct on the righteousness of either the Civil War or the Iraq War, but rarely both?)
Will the Hunter flap hurt Rand Paul if he runs for president in 2016? For better or worse – better with the far-right GOP base, worse with the general electorate – Paul has his own record of civil rights skepticism and states’ rights support. Early in his Senate run he went on record with Rachel Maddow opposing the Civil Rights Act because it infringed on the right of private businesses to discriminate. And just two weeks ago, defending Hunter, he endorsed a view of Abraham Lincoln as a tyrannical, racist hypocrite that’s a staple of the neo-Confederate attack on our 16th president (minus the “John Wilkes Booth Was Right” spin that Hunter gave it).
Both Paul and Tea Party darling Sen. Ted Cruz were in Iowa this past weekend to speak to the state’s powerful religious conservatives (the National Review’s Robert Costa said Cruz, who “had more of the pastors swooning…won Round One.” Paul currently holds a slight lead in Iowa polls of the GOP field, and the state party is led by two Ron Paul 2012 staffers, but the white state that gave Barack Obama his big 2008 win might not be the best place for a full-throated states’ rights campaign. Maybe that’s why Paul made a point of meeting with black and Latino ministers during his visit. He continues to be an advocate of GOP minority outreach, while also defending his neo-Confederate aide Jack Hunter. We’ll see if that’s a winning formula for 2016, but it’s probably an easier needle to thread without Hunter on his staff.