The purpose of this short series of Street Report blog posts is to focus some of the skill set I learned as a former senior civilian intelligence analyst on Sheriff Thelbert 'Data' Morgan. Sheriff Morgan, in an Internet broadcast published on YouTube on August 29, 2013, gave his perceptions of problems in the "African-American" community in Escambia County. The full video is located here. However, in this Street Report series video excerpts will be employed to provide the documentary evidence of what the Sheriff said.
One of the main purposes of intelligence analysis is to understand the opponent, adversary, enemy from his own point of view. I have spent the past six years researching what I call the broad right-wing--a spectrum of groups ranging from the Republican Party, to the Christian Right, to the Tea Party movement, the Patriot militia movement, and into the netherworld of white supremacist groups.
Sheriff Morgan's Use of Black Enablers of White Racism
In the video Sheriff Morgan twice employs a technique that is common to the right-wing, especially the Christian Right and Tea Party movement, and, at times, the Patriot militia. Specifically, they employ what I call "black enablers of white racism." By this I mean, black ministers, pundits, journalists, presidential candidates who will often times restate what white people say about President Obama or Black people in general. These extreme statements expressed by black conservatives provide cover against the charge of racism that is oftentimes, and rightly, directed against specific elements of the broad right-wing.
In the first instance on the video, his encounter with four unidentified Black women in the community allowed the Sheriff to opine (6:42 to 7:19 mark) that their physical embrace of him, shaking his hand, words of support, pride in his work, and their "faith" in him as Sheriff "dispelled" Pensacola News Journal reports "about problems at the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and 'racism and thuggery' inside the Escambia County Sheriff's Office."
When the four Black women encountered the Sheriff (the other two were white) they had probably had no idea they would be used as props in the Sheriff's defense.
NOTE: In the original video, this ran from roughly 6:15 to 7:19. Sheriff is telling the story of four Black women.
However, in no way does that anecdote "dispel" media accusations of "'racism and thuggery'" inside the Sheriff's Office. But, the Sheriff used the four Black women as his shield against the media's accusation of "racism and thuggery." In other words, the Sheriff is telling his white audience, these accusations of "racism and thuggery" in my office are absurd--just listen to how these four Black women embraced me and expressed pride and faith in me.
The second instance of using a black enabler of white racism occurs when Sheriff Morgan mentions the physician turned potential presidential candidate Ben Carson. Carson is employed by the Sheriff to buttress his (inaccurate) point that if a young Black person attempts to learn to speak proper English, then she or he is labelled 'being white.' However, an empirical rebuttal to Sheriff Morgan's claims will be in a future blog post.
In one sense, Carson is an appeal to a Black authority, though Carson has zero expertise in the social sciences. But, Carson is also a clue to the ideological sphere that the Sheriff gets some of his ideas. Carson is an extremist and Sheriff Morgan is signaling to his base that he shares those extreme views, though he expresses them differently. Carson may have presidential aspirations, but he is just one more in a line of black enablers of white racism. These black enablers are known by many different terms, including the next Conservative Black Hope. The Sheriff's deployment of Carson betrays his concern, if not fear, that the label "racist" or "white supremacist" or "white nationalist" might actually stick to him.
Black Enablers of White Racism
Other Black scholars and commentators use terms different from my more neutral "black enablers of white racism."
Chauncey DeVega, the pseudonymous founder of his blog We Are Respectable Negroes, wrote in March 2011 about then prospective presidential candidate Herman Cain, but his remarks were much broader and encompassed "black conservatives." Cain's stump speech was about his rags-to-riches, up-by-the-bootstraps path to success in the business world.
DeVega suggested that in "their roles as race pimps who deal from the bottom of the 'race card' deck on behalf of the Republican Party, Cain and many other popular black conservatives run from the history of communal struggle and obligation that is a mark of pride in the African-American community. Moreover, they recycle conservative fantasies of self-made men and women."
DeVega then described their function which I borrowed for my own analytical use: "[P]opular black conservatives perform their designated roles as mascots and apologists for white racism. They are the 'good ones': black folks who do not complain or protest, who trust in white benevolence, and never rock the boat. Thus, black conservatives fulfill a fantasy role for white conservatives who seek to minimize the role of centuries of discrimination, violent oppression and racism continue to play in contemporary American life."
DeVega went on to argue that "black conservatives are now quislings who seek solace in the arms of those who may hold people of color in low regard, but reward them for their novelty--and loyalty." Furthermore, "black conservatives are the spearhead and smokescreen for a range of policies that are hostile to the interests of the working- and middle-classes, and which support the dismantlement of the social safety net in this country."
In April 2013, public intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing in the New York Times placed Ben Carson in a long line of what white conservatives would become the next "Conservative Black Hope." Preceding Carson were Alan Keyes (2004), Michael Steele (2009), Allen West (2010), Herman Cain (2012), and in 2013, Carson. Coates noted that "not all black conservatives see it as their job to tell white racists that they embody the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr."
Coates also explained that one of Carson's functions was to promote the idea, still popular on the right-wing, that President Obama, the Democratic Party, and the federal government all run a "plantation." Coates explained that the "plantation metaphor refers to a popular theory on the right. It holds that the 95 percent of African-Americans who voted for the Democratic president are not normal Americans voting their beliefs, but slaves....Blacks are brainwashed slaves; you can't expect them to know what's in their interests."
The Real Ben Carson as a Code Word to Sheriff Morgan's White Audience
Ben Carson is known for much much more. He is a presence on Fox News and he feeds Fox's white, conservative, evangelical audience his "black" views that reinforce their atavistic whiteness and hostility towards Black folks.
Carson attended the 2013 Values Voter Summit--a political gathering sponsored by the leading Christian Right organizations that attracts virtually every single Republican presidential aspirant who hopes to have even a minuscule chance at capturing the nomination. This is part of the big time Republican politics Pensacola activists may be least familiar with.
The very conservative Washington Times listed the heavyweight Christian Right sponsors: Family Research Council Action, the American Family Association Action, American Values, the Heritage Foundation, Liberty Counsel Action, and the Washington Times. The newspaper pointed out that the leaders of the Family Research Council and American Values, as well as Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition which works very closely with the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, arranged to have Senators Ted Cruz, his heavyweight evangelical father Rafael Cruz, and Rand Paul meet privately and separately with "about 300 social conservatives." The term "social conservatives" means they oppose abortion under all circumstances without exception, oppose all kinds of sex education except for their bogus "abstinence only," and oppose same-sex marriage rights in particular and LGBTQ rights in general.
T.F. Charlton, writing for Political Research Associates, one of the leading progressive organizations that has observed, reported on, and analyzed the activities of the Christian Right since 1981, was struck by his observation that the "cognitive dissonance and historical revisionism of the white supremacist Religious Right on the issues of race and racism is very much here to stay. In fact, they're digging their heels in--and their using Black conservatives and other conservatives of color to do it."
Charlton also quoted Ben Carson's stunning line to the conference: "Obamacare...[is] the worst thing to happen to this country since slavery." Martin Luther King's Jr. niece, Alveda King, told the crowd that "white people didn't kill [her] uncle, the Devil did." And Gary Bauer, the white head of American Values, told the audience that "because of Judeo-Christian civilization, the slaves were freed."
Charlton opined that the "common thread between all three statements is how thoroughly they rewrite the legacy of white supremacy in American evangelism....White conservative Christians, in the narrative of [the Values Voter Summit] are and always have been champions of racial equality, while Black people who name white racism are not only irrationally hateful, but in fact sinning against white people."
One year later, Charlton reported on Ben Carson's remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, another gathering of the Christian Right heavyweights and Republican presidential aspirants (Carson finished a close third in the straw poll vote). Carson, again, did not disappoint. Carson "denounced 'extra rights' for LGBTQ people; lectured 'minority communities' on the “need to learn how to turn over [a] dollar … and create wealth' and 'not [be] a victim;' touted self-determination and faith in God as the keys to 'mov[ing] up;' and my personal favorite: declared that America 'is about to sail off Niagara Falls, and we’re all going to be killed.'"
Charlton noted Carson's very weak credentials for a presidential campaign run, but suggested that he and other "Great Conservative Black Hopes....validate and energize the base....[and] provide credence to racist GOP ideology."
The Field Negro blog reported in May 2014, that Carson expressed his belief that the then erupting Veterans Administration scandal was a "gift from God."
In July 2014, Right Wing Watch reported Carson telling the Obama birther-conspiracy World Net Daily website's founder and editor that "communists in the government, following the teachings of Lenin, have deliberately added on debts in order to destroy the U.S. government."
In August 2014, Right Wing Watch quoted Carson on Washington Times Radio, stating that "political correctness is distracting people from addressing 'real problems' like teen pregnancy and 'all of those kids who are born into poverty and will live in poverty and in many cases will end up without a father figure in their life and don’t know how to respond to authority and end up being killed like Michael Brown.'"
Sheriff Morgan's ostensible purpose in bringing Ben Carson into his monologue was to cite a Great Conservative Black Hope to support his claim that young Black children learning to speak proper English are ridiculed for "being white."
But, as this article has attempted to show, invoking Carson did two things for Sheriff Morgan as he addressed a predominantly white audience.
First, Sheriff Morgan signaled to his audience using the code word "Ben Carson" the ideological sphere from where he was collecting his information, particularly regarding what he perceived to be the problems of the Black community in Escambia County. Carson holds extreme views about the Black community, views consistent with the views expressed by Sheriff Morgan (another blog post).
Second, though Carson is a fringe political character, his primary function is to legitimize conservative racial fantasies about themselves and assure the Republican base that they are not really white supremacists because Carson believes the very same things. In this context, invoking Ben Carson was intended as a shield to protect the Sheriff.
On the other hand, invoking Ben Carson also revealed how potentially radical his ideas are on the Black community. The Sheriff may or may not agree with Carson's position, or, the positions of the Christian Right. But, by using Ben Carson to shield him from charges that he may hold racist ideas, the Sheriff has aligned himself with Carson and the Christian Right.
Does the Sheriff really believe President Obama is operating a "plantation"? Does the Sheriff really believe that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen in this country since slavery? Does the Sheriff oppose LGBTQ rights? Does the Sheriff oppose reproductive rights, especially an abortion in the case of rape or incest? We may not know answers to those questions until he is forced to answer them.
Sheriff Morgan is using the long-tested, reliable tactic of using whichever black figure is available to him to insulate himself from or to refute any charges of racism directed against him or the Sheriff's Office.
It is my assessment, that this tactic will be used again and again as Occupy Pensacola, Black Lives Matter, and other movement political pressure mounts, and, the political campaign season unfolds.