Earl W. Jackson is a Religious Right back-bencher who has been lurking on the fringes for years. He seems to believe that if he just keeps saying enough crazy stuff, he’ll rise to the top.
It hasn’t worked so far. In the mid-1990s, Jackson was briefly on staff at TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, trying to lure African-Americans into the Religious Right. The ploy was an unmitigated failure, and Jackson was soon cut loose. These days, he’s attempting to boost his profile by engaging in an always-popular stunt for the Religious Right: bashing Muslims.
Jackson, a fundamentalist Christian preacher in Virginia who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor as a Republican in 2013, ranted on his radio show recently about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Muslim originally from Somalia who had the temerity to get herself democratically elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November.
“Folks, as I looked into her background, I’ll tell you, I’m just disgusted by the fact that she got elected to Congress,” Jackson blathered. “It does not portend well for our country. First of all, she wasn’t really elected by Americans. She was elected by a Somali community that maintains its sense of difference and distinction and, to use her words, ‘otherness.’ That’s who elected her. That’s why she’s in Congress. She didn’t go out and compete in the marketplace of ideas and talk to all Americans about everything. She didn’t go out and talk to Americans of all kinds of backgrounds, descents, economic status. No – she basically has been raised in the cocoon of a Somali community that set itself up in the Minneapolis area and that is the basis and the source of her power.” (Hat tip to the good folks at Right Wing Watch for first reporting this.)
Where to begin? For starters, Americans did indeed elect Omar. This may be news to Jackson, but you have to be a citizen to vote in our elections. And there’s no way Omar, who, by the way, captured 78 percent of the vote, could have won simply by courting Somali-Americans. Her district includes the entire city of Minneapolis and some suburban counties. Nearly 68 percent of the people who live in it are white. (But even if Omar did mobilize some voters originally from Somalia, so what? People seeking political office often reach out to certain groups, especially if they have a personal connection to those communities.)
I don’t believe Jackson was shadowing Omar on the campaign trail, so he really has no idea how she campaigned. I’m going to guess she was savvy enough to work the entire district. She probably made appearances, shook hands, gave speeches and talked to anyone who would listen. That’s how you win.
Jackson sees something nefarious afoot in a democratic election, but that's because he's an old hand at manufacturing right-wing outrage. In January 2009, he went ballistic after President Barack Obama, speaking during his inauguration, made the non-controversial (and rather obvious) point that Americans hold many different religious and philosophical beliefs.
“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers,” Obama said. “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth....”
Jackson accused Obama of “trying to redefine American culture, which is distinctively Christian. The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he seems to be trying to redefine who we are.”
Really? I thought Obama was just making it clear that we all have something to offer and that everyone should feel welcome here.
As I said, Jackson's perpetual state of outrage is nothing new. Back in 1999, I heard him speak during a meeting of Robertson’s Christian Coalition. He was just a tad strident as he blasted a shadowy cabal he called the "liberal establishment."
“The fact of the matter is that Jesus did not come to compromise with the devil, he came to destroy the works of the devil,” Jackson told the crowd. “Now, people will say, ‘Well, now, Bishop Jackson, that sounds awfully harsh.’ ... Let me tell you something, if they are going to stand with the devil, then they must fall with the devil.”
Allow me to tweak that a bit: If you’re going to say extreme and ignorant things, don’t be surprised when someone points out that you are, in fact, an ignorant extremist.
(Photo by Tom Webster/Omar for Congress via Wikimedia Commons.)