Michael Peroutka, the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Council, stood up for secession and the white nationalist League of the South, at a hastily called, standing-room-only press conference on July 30 in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Peroutka has been under fire for months for his involvement in and leadership of the League of the South, a white nationalist group that advocates conservative, Christian theocracy and secession to form a Southern Republic. Top Democratic and Republican leaders had called for him to resign from the group.
Most prominently, Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, Jr., recently disavowed Peroutka because of his involvement in the racist and theocratic group. Hogan campaign spokesman Adam Dubitsky said: "Larry absolutely disavows him. Those views have never been a part of the Republican Party and they never will."
But before the state press corps, Peroutka refused to resign from the the League, which he calls "a Christian, free market group."
But for all of his effort to come across as bold , principled, and forthright, he managed to reveal himself as both weaselly and demagogic.
One People's Project, an anti-racist group, has posted a YouTube video of the entire press conference, including Peroutka's Q & A with reporters. View the video:
'Not a Mistake'
Peroutka, the 2004 presidential candidate of the Constitution Party, twice affirmed that his pro-secession remarks at the League's 2012 national conference in Alabama were "not a mistake." In that keynote address, he had spoken favorably of secession. He had concluded by grabbing a guitar and asking the crowd to "please stand for our national anthem." But instead of singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," he belted out a raucous chorus of "I Wish I Was in Dixie." "No, I don't think it was a mistake," he told reporters (see 22:18 in the One People's press conference video).
View an excerpt of Peroutka leading the League in "Dixie":
Peroutka then tossed a red herring into his own press conference, but one that failed to divert attention from the matter of Peroutka's advocacy of Southern secession and his relationship to the League of the South. In fact, his evasiveness only drew further attention to it.
Peroutka asserted that Professor Warren Throckmorton had "altered" the revealing 2012 video of his controversial comments and "Dixie" chorus at the League convention before posting it online. In fact, Throckmorton had reposted the entire, unaltered, 51-minute video on the conservative Evangelical Christian blog Patheos. The video was shot by Michael Cushman, a former member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group, who now leads the League's South Carolina chapter. Cushman had posted it at RedShirtArmy, a League-affiliated YouTube channel.
Cushman, in an irate comment posted under Throckmorton's piece, demonstrates that the video is authentic, because he insists that he made it, and he demands credit. He complains that "neither this hit-piece nor the Leftist bloggers who are linking to it give me any credit for shooting this video." He adds, "Nor did they ask my permission to post it on their websites." The unedited video on Patheos is identical to the one on RedShirtArmy. Several outlets, including RightWing Watch, Raw Story, and Gawker, have posted clips of the video, crediting Throckmorton with the find.
But it is the substance of the video that Peroutka would rather we not focus on. In the video (starting at 26 minutes), Peroutka stands up for secession as an alternative to working within a democratic system that he sees as beyond repair or reform:
"I don't disagree with Dr. Hill [League of the South president] at all that this regime is beyond reform, and I think that's an obvious fact, and I agree with him."
He then edges up to the kind of theocratic government he envisions, after the Union is destroyed and the South rises again. He said:
"However, I agree that when you secede, or however the destruction of the rubble of this regime takes place and how it plays out, you're going to need to take a biblical world view, and apply it to civil law and government. That's what you're still going to need to do. We're going to have to have this foundational information in the hearts and minds of the people or else liberty won't survive the secession either."
But his relationship with the League did not end there. In fact, it is as current as his post-primary appeal for support from League members on July 8. Peroutka emailed his thanks to League President Michael Hill and his fellow members for their friendship, work, and hospitality, and solicited their financial support. Hill separately called Peroutka's unexpected winning of the GOP nomination for Anne Arundel County Council - as well as a seat on the GOP's Central Committee there - "a victory for us."
One week later, Hill discussed on the League's website some of his ideas of how we get from here to the new Southern nation. In Hill's July 15 essay, titled "A Bazooka in Every Pot," he calls for "guerilla war" and "three-to-five-man" death squads to assassinate elected officials, journalists, and other public figures in order to accomplish the League's secessionist goals.
"To oversimplify," writes Hill, "the primary targets will not be enemy soldiers; instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don't run."
Peroutka nevertheless refused at his press conference to denounce any of the content on the League's website, because "people can go there and see for themselves."
In a prepared statement, Peroutka declared, "Not only am I NOT a racist, but I am an anti-racist." Yet he remains under fire from Democrats and fellow Republicans for his involvement in the theocratic, racist group, of which he is not only a former board member but is auditioning for a role as its most proudly defiant member.
Peroutka faces Democratic challenger Patrick Armstrong, who released prepared remarks of his own:
"Mr. Peroutka reaffirmed and defended his support of an organization that promotes secession and unapologetically seeks a white southern nation. Voters in District 5, a community packed with veterans, employees of Fort Meade, the National Security Agency, and the US Naval Academy, should be appalled that a man who believes our national anthem is 'Dixie' is seeking elected office to represent them on the Anne Arundel County Council."
Steve Schuh, the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Executive, reacted to Peroutka's press conference by backing away from this GOP pariah. "I simply cannot support someone who is a member of an organization that appears to be racist or that advocates for the dismemberment of the United States," Schuh told the Capital Gazette.
Yet the GOP remains in disarray about Peroutka's candidacy, which provides a bellwether for theocratic groups seeking to leverage national influence by running for local office. The Gazette reported: "Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said he was disappointed in Peroutka's decision to stay with the group but that the party had made no decision on the future of Peroutka's candidacy."
Peroutka had set out in his stem-the-tide press conference to prove that he is not personally racist. However, what this GOP official demonstrated was his readiness to smear critics while maintaining his participation in the League of the South, a group that advocates "guerilla war" and white nationalist death squads to advance its theocratic, secessionist goals.
So bigger than questions of individual bigotry, this county-level race is now a referendum on national issues of secession and theocracy.
Professor Warren Throckmorton weighs in, at the conservative Evangelical Christian blog Patheos, on Peroutka's false charge that the 2012 video of Peroutka's notorious speech and "Dixie" performance before the League of the South was changed.
"Au contraire, Mr. Peroutka," writes Throckmorton, "you do not speak truly."
Throckmorton posts this video of my question to Mr. Peroutka, and his answer:
You can go to the posts where those clips are embedded (on secession and on 'Dixie') and see that I did not alter his words. And in the second post (on 'Dixie' as the national anthem), I included the entire video as recorded at the conference by League of the South leader Michael Cushman. Jonathan Hutson points this out as well in his Huffington Post article.
The Baltimore Sun published a blistering editorial on July 31, titled "Southern Discomfort: Arundel council candidate stands up for pro-secessionist, pro-Confederate group and denounces those who see racism there."
The Sun pointed out Peroutka's secessionist, and theocratic, statements and actions:
"Supporters of the League of the South can debate all they want whether their organization is truly a neo-Confederate hate group, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified them, but it would be much harder to argue that it isn't an oddball extremist group with some hair-raising ideas. That they support Southern secession and rally behind all things Confederate pretty much defines the Alabama-based league.
"These are not just some folks who spend their free hours dressing up in Civil War garb, whistling 'Dixie' and recalling the good old days. No, they genuinely want to make the South independent and by their own admission 'seek to protect the Anglo-Celtic core population and culture of the historic South.' The rest of the nation they see as mostly corrupt and insufficiently Christian."
The Sun takes note of my question on the infamous 2012 video of Peroutka's keynote address to the League of the South, and Peroutka's response that it was no mistake:
"Republicans have handed Democrats a golden opportunity to make inroads in a county that had been increasingly dominated by firebrand conservatives who rail against government at every level. If Anne Arundel Democrats aren't talking about the League of the South and its views on race relations between now and November, perhaps they'll be quoting Mr. Peroutka's recent lectures on such matters as whether the Maryland General Assembly has 'lost its validity' or opposing separation of 'God and His law from civil government.'
"Or maybe they'll just play the video in which Mr. Peroutka asks his League of the South convention audience to stand and join him in the 'national anthem' and then proceeds to sing 'Dixie'. He was given a chance to retract that embarrassing 2012 episode, too, when reporters asked him during Wednesday's news conference if he had said that in error. His response? 'No, I don't think it was a mistake.' Well, somebody made a mistake, and it looks to be the voters of District 5 who get a chance to make amends in November."
Make no mistake, Peroutka's involvement in the white nationalist League of the South is now a white-hot political story soon to burst beyond the bounds of Maryland politics, since it deals with national issues of theocracy and secession, in the shadow of our nation's capital.