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Opinion | Was Tuberville right about white nationalists? Sort of . . .

What he said was racist, and we should denounce white nationalists. But did Tuberville lie?

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, in a photo from his campaign website.
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There’s been a lot of hoop-la made about Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s comments the past few days, but honestly, can we stop with the pearl-clutching, please? 

Sure, what he said was racist, and we should denounce white nationalists. But did he lie?

White nationalists are American. It’s probably the most American thing you can be if we look at this country’s origins. This country was originally a project of white nationalism and white supremacy.

And many Republican voters or conservatives are explicitly or implicitly white nationalists because many of them feel this is a white country. Cue the bombardment of snowflakes saying  “woke,” “reverse racism” or whatever in the comments. 

Republicans know what their voter base is. It’s why they recycle what marginalized group they want to attack every election cycle. Just pay attention.

This is evidenced by Republican politicians and media networks continuously pushing propaganda that Brown people are crossing the Southern border to invade “your” country. Despite the decades of imperialism and coups sanctioned by America that destroyed their countries.

This is evidenced by hysterical notions of rising crime destroying this once beautiful, safe country and then the plastering of a Black mugshot or mention of Black on Black crime in Chicago. Despite the decades of racist policies enacted across the country that set back and continue to prohibit Black people from having equal opportunities to success.

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This is evidenced by extreme right-wing calls to restrict discussions of race and history under Critical Race Theory and whitewash every portion of this country’s history. 

It is even evidenced by the fascistic and dangerous rhetoric of calling LGBTQ+ people groomers and pedophiles. A core tenet of white nationalism is also the proliferation of the “family” so long as that family is white, straight and Christian.

It’s evidenced by calls for American exceptionalism and the upholding of our “culture” as superior to other nations despite having to entice people to join the military just to get healthcare or free college. 

But all of these are just essentially new forms or a continuation of the Southern Strategy that Lee Atwater revealed. Instead of repeating racial slurs, now all you have to do is get abstract and mention crime, CRT, and scream about Brown people coming to take jobs away.

That’s because Republican leaders understand that a sizable portion of their base responds to dog whistles that “their country” is being taken. 

All of this is why Tuberville can make comments like that and Republican news sites and sycophant talk-radio shows will attempt to defend him, partly because they are a propaganda arm for conservatives, but also because they understand how their base readership feels.

His comments may not be reflective of Alabama as a whole, but let’s not pretend they don’t reflect at least a decent amount of voters and citizens in the state. Whether those citizens explicitly believe him or just don’t actually care what he said because they’ll shrug it off as the “liberal, woke media” trying to paint Tuberville as racist. Either way, you maintain a sizable portion of people indifferent to racism or a lack of condemnation of it.

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There are literal statues of Confederate white nationalists all over Alabama that conservative lawmakers are perfectly fine with letting stay up. I can drive down the street and see a Confederate flag flying right now.

That’s real ‘Merican history right there. 

Alabama consistently has policies that harm Black or other people of color all the time. The actual conservative Supreme Court just ruled that Alabama’s gerrymandered congressional maps were too much even for them. 

So no. We shouldn’t be shocked by what Tuberville said. We need to interrogate and continue to question the aims of Republican strategies, the white nationalism inherent to so much of our politics, and why conservative rhetoric continually placates racists. 

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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