One of the lesser-known events of America’s dark past is the lynching of eleven Italians in New Orleans in 1891. It’s the largest mass lynching in American history. The victims of the lynching had just been acquitted of murder charges when the local citizenry took it upon themselves to administer their own brand of justice. One of the principal organizers of the event was John Parker, who later became governor of Louisiana.
Twenty years later, Governor Parker said that Italians were, “just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in [their] habits, lawless, and treacherous.” Today, this dark history of racist hate for Italians is largely forgotten, but is worth remembering within the context of local support for Donald Trump and Ann Coulter.
Trump has implied that an Indiana-born Mexican judge can’t be impartial because of his Mexican heritage, and Coulter has routinely claimed “peasant cultures” like those in Mexico and Latin America, “are brimming with rapists, pederasts and child abusers.” She’s also written things like, “the Mexican cultural trait of littering is apparently well known to everyone—except American journalists.”
In light of America’s history of persecution of Italians and the San Joaquin Valley’s large population of Mexicans, it may or may not be ironic that Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini is the single most vocal supporter of Coulter’s appearance in Modesto. But whatever else the case, let’s not for a minute permit DeMartini or anyone else to argue that Coulter’s appearance is about First Amendment rights.
After all, this is the same Jim DeMartini who routinely imposes gag orders on members of our local Republican Central Committee. It’s the same Jim DeMartini who favors ostracizing members who affiliate with, support, or avow “a preference for a candidate of a different party.”
DeMartini and his followers refused to support Republican Kristen Olsen when she ran for State Assembly because she had endorsed Democrat Garrad Marsh in the Modesto Mayor’s race. The clear message is, if you want to be a member of the Republican Central Committee or want Republican political support, be prepared to give up your First Amendment rights.
And in what is certainly not a coincidental event, DeMartini’s wife, Anne, has the distinction of being the only member of the Modesto Junior College Board of Trustees ever censured. Again, it was a case of attempting to use power and authority to punish someone for exercising her First Amendment rights.
In this case, Mrs. DeMartini sent an email to a college employee chastising her for supporting her husband’s opponent in the race for county supervisor. College trustees rightly reprimanded her for an abuse of power.
So let’s do away once and for all with the notion that sponsors of Ann Coulter are bringing her here because they value the First Amendment in and of itself. That’s not the case. Rather, they’re bringing her in as an exercise in political power and because they share her views.
DeMartini has said a Modesto Bee editorial criticizing Coulter’s appearance, “is slanted, left-wing fake news coverage” and “the biggest problem the media has with her is she supports Trump.” He added that opponents of Coulter have called her “racist.” But it’s hard not to associate Coulter and Trump with racism when both provide example after example of overtly racist comments.
People who support such comments claim Trump and Coulter get criticized for telling the truth in a climate of political correctness, but if antiquated notions of race were truly a determinant of partiality as Trump implies, we’d have to give up entirely on American ideals of justice, fair play, and equality under the law. We’d have to concede that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas could never deliver a fair verdict, and we’d have to dismiss Anthony Scalia’s tenure on the Court as a biased miscarriage of justice. Trump and Coulter get criticized because so many of their claims are not only demonstrably false but also un-American.
And lest anyone think Coulter has the full support of conservatives everywhere, keep in mind that even the conservative Riverside Press Enterprise dropped Ann Coulter from its opinion pages. Former Modesto Bee Editorial Page Editor Gale Hammons, herself a conservative Republican, wrote, “Because of her repetitive, tasteless ‘jokes’ about minority groups, we have dropped her column from The Press-Enterprise.”
Coulter’s rants about “rapists, pederasts and child abusers” represent clear cases of racism, especially within a context that acknowledges facts, statistics, and scientific methodology. For example, a study by the U.S. Department of Justice showed “White arrestees accounted for a substantially larger share of those arrested for other sex offenses,” including 56% of arrestees for rape.
But facts and statistics aren’t really the issue here in Stanislaus County. At issue are community values and community leadership. Those of us who’ve lived in the region long enough know full well that most local Republicans don’t support racism or hate speech.
We know our fellow citizens, Republican, Democrat, or otherwise, share the values of fairness and tolerance that are the true roots of the American dream. That’s why we’re puzzled that none of our local Republican leaders has dared to speak out against Trump’s and Coulter’s agendas of white supremacy.
Some will protest that we’ve misunderstood President Trump’s and Coulter’s remarks. But there are obvious reasons why the Klu Klux Klan, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and a host of other racist groups have supported and even exulted in the ascendancy of Donald Trump.
Their recent public confidence is for the most part inspired by political leaders, both local and national, who have provided them the oxygen of public approval. And if they continue to be encouraged, no one should be surprised when the hatred and racism escalate. Recent incidents of violence between members of the alt-right and equally extreme leftists have created a climate of dangerous racial and political confrontation.
When national unity is threatened by such tension, we should all remember the leadership demonstrated by President George W Bush during the greatest crisis of the century, when he voiced public support for “our many Muslim friends” and added, “We respect your faith.” President Bush realized the potential threats to Muslim minority groups and took the lead to defend them.
Valley citizens are entirely justified to protest when a region’s political leadership lines up unanimously against true American values and tolerance of the kind expressed by President Bush. But when local leaders no longer represent local values, protests aren’t enough—it’s a clear sign we need new leaders.
America is great not because of its history of persecution of Italians, African-Americans, Jews, Irish, Mexicans, and Muslims. America is great because its people used their First Amendment rights to speak and act in favor of justice for all. We need to remember that heritage and actively honor it, especially when it’s under assault.