Republican candidate Joe Miller. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) (Rick Bowmer)

"Absolutely moronic": Inside the mind of a Tea Party Senate candidate

Joe Miller tells Salon about "religious apartheid," discrimination and his opaque stance on the Civil Rights Act

Josh Eidelson
March 10, 2014 9:15PM (UTC)

After shocking pundits in a Tea Party-fueled primary upset in 2010, only to lose to incumbent Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign that November, Joe Miller is now running in another GOP Senate primary, this time aiming to oust Democrat Mark Begich this November.

In a CPAC interview with Salon, Miller defended accusing Obama of “apartheid” against religious groups; said private employers “have the right to do what you want with respect to your business,” including discrimination; and warned of “turnkey tyranny” under NSA surveillance. A condensed version of our conversation follows.


Why run again?

The country’s facing problems that are similar to what we saw in 2010, but worse… A debt, of course, which is now over $17 trillion. Huge unfunded liabilities…

We now have documentation that our government was involved in the surveillance of our phone calls. Clandestine agencies have admitted to metadata gathering. You know, there are NSA whistleblowers who have suggested that in fact most digital cell phone calls are recorded. You’ve got all sorts of aggressive action taking place at the federal level which is really, I think, a violation of what the founders intended with the Fourth Amendment – unreasonable search and seizure. And I agree with what some have said, that this is essentially turnkey tyranny. That you’ve got a government with now so much information that’s gathered unconstitutionally, that it does pose a threat to freedom…


The expanse of the federal government in ways that the founders didn’t intend… intruding on states’ rights -- another area that gives me great cause for concern.

And when I look at Alaska and how that race is shaping up, and we see two other candidates in the Republican primary that really represent more of the same – we call them establishment candidates, some call them RINOs – we had no choice but to run.

In the struggle over the future of the Republican party, what are the centers of power now?


The nation to a certain degree faces a duopoly where both parties are effectively doing the same thing, and that’s growing the expanse of power in Washington, D.C.…

There’s an enormous degree of power that’s exerted against both parties by multinational corporations. You see that with the [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. You see that with respect to, you know, crony regulations and statutes that are embedded in the laws at the behest of lobbyists. You see that even down to the impact that we’re seeing today economically in the country, with middle class having immediate net worth that is lowest in decades…


The people aren’t being properly represented.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed the Senate – would you have voted for it?

No. I would not have. No, I think that private employers should be able to make decisions as to what they do in their private businesses, and I think the people then are entitled to make decisions as to whether or not they use their services.


They can boycott. I think the market can have a proper impact in determining whether or not a business succeeds, based on those decisions that are made. But I mean, right now, what we see is we see this conflict between, you know, the First Amendment and other concerns, where [groups] believe that they have a Free Exercise right – and I think justly so – to decide what they’re going to do in their private business. And I don’t think, for example, somebody that is a traditionalist, that believes in traditional marriage, that runs a bakery for weddings, should necessarily be compelled to do something that’s against their conscience. And I think that’s effectively what the First Amendment was designed against, is someone being forced to violate conscience. So I would’ve voted against it for that reason.

Should a hotel be able to turn away a couple because they’re gay?

I believe that if you’re a private employer, you have the right to do what you want with respect to your business, and that the people of the country then have the right to do as they will, with respect to whether or not they boycott or take other action to financially penalize. I don’t think the government has a role in that.


And you know, what we’re in today, with free enterprise, this is effectively no longer a pure free enterprise system. What we have is a government that’s picking winners and losers. And any time that the government is engaged -- whether it be with respect to enforcing the type of protections that you’re talking about, or whether it’s creating regulations to freeze others out of the market, or creating subsidies, or some sort of tax shelter for the big business so that others can’t succeed, where others don’t have those type of benefits -- I think it’s an improper role of government. I take more of what you might call a federal libertarian perspective with respect to that.

States, on the other hand, have a wider breadth of action, you know, within the parameters of the Constitution. And if somebody wants something like that -- if they want an environment where those types of laws are enforced, then they should be encouraged to move to a state that provides for that. But we’re becoming an increasingly diverse country, and I don’t think anybody – even in your readership – would disagree with that. That the country – I’m not going to call it necessarily “polarized,” but there are different expectations of government, there are different worldviews, there are different values. And the more heterogeneous we become, the more difficult it is to impose a one-size-fits-all solution.

So instead, why don’t we take kind of the direction that our founders intended? And that was, you know, the laboratories of democracy. Different states offering different approaches. And the states that prevail and succeed, obviously that’s a model that can be adopted by other states. But I really do think fundamentally that’s where we’re at. And I think that, at the federal level, the better thing is not to impose the one-size-solution-fits-all, but to reduce the involvement of the federal government, in favor of the people in the states.

So at the federal level, then, should it be legal for that hotel to turn someone away because they’re African-American?


Again, that’s all I’m going to say about it. The state has the right to act. The federal government should be more of a libertarian stance. And that’s all I’m going to talk about on that issue. I’m a state’s right advocate in those areas.

So should a restaurant then be able to turn someone away because they’re African-American?

Again, I’ve said my piece on that.

And so would you repeal the Civil Rights Act?


Again, I’ve said my piece on the issue.

And --

And of course not. I would not. I’ve said my piece on the issue of ENDA. That was your specific question, that’s my response to it. If the states want to act in that area, they certainly have the ability to do it.

Specifically the public accommodation portion of the Civil Rights Act -- should that be repealed?


I’ve already made it clear what my position is.

Last year, reportedly you said that “The President of the U.S. and his allies are engaged in a form of systematic spiritual and religious apartheid.” How so?

I think that we’ve seen a president that is more antagonistic and antithetical to free enterprise than any president in the history of the country…

You see that with a complete disrespect, for example, [for] religious institutions to decide whether or not they want to provide certain things under their health plan that they pay for. It’s – if you have a religious organization that’s founded on religious principle, funded by donations, they certainly have the right not do things that they believe violate their doctrine and their conscience. It to me can’t be any clearer.

If the president wants to enforce upon religious groups his version of what should be done, I think that he needs to take into account the fact that he’s got limitations of the Constitution which are designed in the Free Exercise clause to allow those particular religious groups to pursue what they see as appropriate within their particular religious views. When you look at, for example, even internationally what our country is doing in Syria, in the disrespect for what we see going on with the religious minorities there – even Iraq to a certain extent, Afghanistan even. I mean, I think there is almost a degree of, perhaps -- internationally -- apathy toward those issues [from the administration]. In the United States, almost a degree of hostility in domestic policy.

And so I think that’s a correct assessment of the president. Whether he intends it or not, I mean, I don’t know his heart. But I can certainly see his actions.

What is the apartheid comparison there? Is there one group that you think is being privileged over another group?

Well, we’re talking about different groups, aren’t we?

So who is in what position there?

I thought we were talking about religious groups and irreligious groups.

So are you suggesting that irreligious groups have more rights than religious groups?

Well, a religious group has a free exercise right to practice their religion. If you’ve got a secular group, there is not a free exercise protection there. But a religious group absolutely has free exercise rights. The people are there, they bind together in community, for the purpose of their worship and their religion. And they have a right to be free of government interference and government mandates that require them to act in a way that violates their very beliefs and, you know, their fundamental worldview.

That’s – I mean, I – I guess maybe I need to take you on a history lesson. I mean, this country was founded on the idea of free exercise. Many of the people that came to this country at its origin – not all, but many of them came here because of the persecution that they were experiencing…

They said…”We want the ability to practice our beliefs as we believe God has directed us, and that’s an area that’s sacrosanct.” And yet this president doesn’t seem to have any respect for it. And that’s what led to that comment…

I think that any time that you show a degree of disrespect for the Constitution, that it should cause all of us to be concerned. Especially – I mean, your magazine... I assume that you’re a civil libertarian, one that embraces the rights that are described in the Bill of Rights. So, what, you’re going to trample the First Amendment free exercise clause… and you don’t think that your other rights are going to be at risk? Any time that you empower the central government and you give way on one of those rights, you’re going to give way on the rest of them…

It really frankly humors me to some extent when I hear those on the left that are out there saying, “Oh you know we ought to mandate the religious groups, go out there and provide for abortions and provide for contraception, even though we know it’s a First Amendment free exercise violation,” but then you scream bloody murder over the fact that the government’s involved in this massive surveillance state, which is clearly a Fourth Amendment violation.

I mean, we have to bind together to protect all those rights. Even though it may feel uncomfortable. You know, I’m a traditionalist; I believe in the traditional family. But I’m also willing to say that the federal government does not have a role in that area – that that’s a state issue…

I think that the unifying concept is the Bill of Rights.

And if someone has a religious objection to serving an African-American at their business, then --

I’m -- again, I’m not going there. I already talked to you about the Civil Rights Act.

Are religious objections to interactions with African-Americans equivalent to religious objections to interactions with gay people?

They’re – look – I’m not even going there. I mean, we’ve already talked. We’ve talked about ENDA that was the discussion that you had. The Civil Rights Act is not up to debate. It’s not something that anybody, with any reasonable approach, would ever even consider repealing. So that’s not even – it’s not even a dialogue. I mean, what you’re doing is playing “gotcha” journalism. I’m not gonna play that game with you.

And if someone has a religious objection to paying taxes for foreign wars, that they don’t support, then --

Obviously the courts – no, obviously the courts have established a balancing act. And I assume that you’re knowledgeable enough in the legal area to understand that. I mean, just because somebody claims free exercise doesn’t mean that any moron that claims some sort of free exercise right can do whatever they want. You know that, I know that. And this interview is done.

Well, I appreciate you taking the time…

You know, I’m willing to engage in a dialogue, but we aren’t going to go into the moronic on this, OK?

What was moronic?

What is absolutely moronic is you suggesting that you don’t understand that there are limits to the free exercise clause. And you know there are, and you know that there are balancing tests that are imposed.


Josh Eidelson

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