Strongly Worded Letter Cites Quinn’s Racially Insensitive Views, Urges Senator to Get His House in Order
Citing compelling evidence that top McCain campaign advisor Richard Quinn has espoused and promoted deeply troubling, racially insensitive views for at least two decades, People For the American Way today called on Senator John McCain both to publicly disavow Quinn’s views and to terminate Quinn’s involvement with his presidential campaign.
In a letter delivered this morning to McCain’s Senate office and campaign headquarters, PFAW President Ralph G. Neas detailed concerns about a variety of troubling writings both by Quinn and by others published in the magazine Southern Partisan, where Quinn has exercised significant editorial control as Executive Editor and Editor-in-Chief since 1981.
PFAW undertook a search of PFAW Foundation’s archives and of the Internet after several news reports raised alarming questions about Quinn’s views and those espoused by the magazine he edits. Among the material PFAW uncovered are columns written by Quinn attacking Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, discounting the evils of slavery, and commending those who voted for former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Neas also sent McCain copies of two stories that the letter describes as “material of a most offensive and divisive nature.” The stories, which portray enslaved Africans or ex-slaves as crude stereotypes are “insulting and disrespectful of African-Americans’ struggle for equality,” the letter says.
“A President must be President to all the people,” Neas wrote. “To tie your campaign for the highest office in the land to such views would give them a legitimacy that is very troubling.”
“While you are to be commended for your criticism of George W. Bush’s appearance at Bob Jones University,” Neas continued, “you would do well to be sure that your own house is in order.”
Full Text of the Letter from President Ralph G. Neas, People For the American Way, to Senator John Mccain
February 17, 2000
Dear Senator McCain:
I am writing to express deep concern over information that has come to light over the past ten days regarding one of your top campaign advisors, Richard M. Quinn.
The New York Times, Newsday, and The New Republic have raised serious questions about deeply disturbing views expressed by Mr. Quinn and others in the Southern Partisan, a magazine over which Mr. Quinn has presided as Executive Editor or Editor-in-Chief since 1981. As you may know, People For the American Way Foundation maintains one of the nation’s most extensive archives on extremist groups. We have used these resources and those available on the Internet to follow up on those troubling news reports.
The material we found in the past 48 hours is, if anything, even more appalling than that reported by the news media. Mr. Quinn used his editorial platform at the Southern Partisan to personally espouse views that place him far outside the political mainstream. He has repeatedly used his column to attack heroes of the struggle for equality including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. At the same time, he has discounted the evils of slavery by suggesting that it was not as bad as it has been portrayed and that slaves were better off in slavery than out of it. (Copies of all articles referenced in this letter and other similar ones are attached.)
As recently as 1996, a Southern Partisan reviewer wrote of a book on slavery, “The greatest contribution of this work is that it exonerates slave owners by stating that they did not have a practice of breaking up slave families. If anything, they encouraged strong slave families to further the slaves’ peace and happiness in order to promote efficient work.”
In 1983, in a column arguing against the recognition of Martin Luther King Day, Mr. Quinn wrote:
“King Day should have been rejected because its purpose is vitriolic and profane.”
“The black leaders who lobbied so furiously for King Day confirmed another unpleasant reality. By celebrating King as the incarnation of all they admire, they have chosen to glorify the histrionic rather than the heroic and by inference they spurned the brightest and the best among their own race.”
“Ignoring the real heroes in our nation’s life, the blacks have chosen a man who represents not their emancipation, not their sacrifices and bravery in service to their country; rather, they have chosen a man whose role in history was to lead his people into a perpetual dependence on the welfare state, a terrible bondage of body and soul.”
In 1990, the world hailed Nelson Mandela as a hero, but Mr. Quinn went on the attack. He wrote:
“After all, Mr. Mandela was put in jail 27 years ago – not because of his humanitarian philosophy – but because he was a terrorist who openly advocated (and personally committed) violence against the government.”
“How many people out there across the face of America are well aware that Mandela is a bad egg, maybe even say so in the comfort and security of their homes, but are afraid to express their real opinions publicly?”
The year before he attacked Mandela in print, Mr. Quinn wrote an article about former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s bid for public office. Although he made a point of claiming that his article should not be construed as a defense of Duke, his own words supporting those who voted for Duke don’t square with that disclaimer. He wrote:
“What better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke? What better way to tweak the nose of the establishment?”
Even more jarring than Quinn’s soft words for David Duke is the harsh attitude conveyed toward another Republican: Abraham Lincoln. The Southern Partisan’s merchandising operation, the “Southern Partisan General Store” includes a T-shirt bearing Lincoln’s likeness and the legend “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” the phrase shouted by John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln. Among the materials attached to this letter is a December 1995 form letter on Southern Partisan letterhead, listing Quinn as Editor-in-Chief, apologizing that the “anti-Lincoln T-shirt” has sold out in all but odd sizes. The letter offers, “If the enclosed shirt will not suffice, we will be glad to refund your money or immediately ship you another equally militant shirt from our catalog.”
Other offensive and divisive materials have appeared in the Southern Partisan throughout Mr. Quinn’s tenure. Although other writers’ bylines appear on some of these materials, as Executive Editor and then as Editor-in-Chief Mr. Quinn certainly bears responsibility for the editorial content of the magazine. Among the most offensive materials in this category are two stories from 1989, which I’ve enclosed. One, entitled “Popo,” tells a story about an enslaved African who saved his master from being lynched by northern soldiers by dancing. A second story in a similar vein tells about a female ex-slave, “Old Aunt Mary.” Senator McCain, I rarely use the word “racist” – but there is no other word appropriate for stories as insulting and disrespectful of African Americans’ struggle for equality as these stories are.
I do not – and would not – suggest that Mr. Quinn does not have the right to hold such views. If the First Amendment means anything, it means that each person has a right to his own views, no matter how offensive or extreme.
But it does our country – and the Republican Party – a great disservice to lend credibility to such views by placing their proponent in a position of such high authority. A President must be President to all the people. To tie your campaign for the highest office in the land to such views would give them a legitimacy that is very troubling.
While you are to be commended for your criticism of George W. Bush’s appearance at Bob Jones University, you would do well to be sure that your own house is in order. Therefore, I urge you to immediately repudiate the views of race expressed by Mr. Quinn in his own writings and in the magazine he heads and to terminate his involvement in your campaign.
Ralph G. Neas
Background Information on Robert Quinn and Southern Partisan:
Anti-Lincoln shirt with ‘Sic Semper Tyrranis’
1995 letter accompanying anti-Lincoln shirt
page 1 of 1983 Southern Partisan column by Richard Quinn: ‘Martin Luther King Day’
page 2 of 1983 Southern Partisan column by Richard Quinn: ‘Reflections on the Battle Flag’