The much boasted American “rule of law” is a sham.
Notice how legislators across the nation, including Arkansas, rushed to pass laws to disenfranchise or undermine voting by Black people after Donald Trump was defeated in 2020.
In Arkansas, white Republican legislators passed a law in 2021 that criminalizes giving water and food to people who are standing in line to vote.
I was born, educated and have lived most of my 70 years in Arkansas. Last year, white Republican legislators in Arkansas redrew voting districts to fracture communities of Black and Latinx voters. Then they were offended when Black and Latinx leaders denounced the re-drawn districts as racially discriminatory.
The architects of the redrawn districts denied that they intended to discriminate against Black and Latinx voters.
State senator Jane English, a Republican from North Little Rock, sponsored a redistricting plan that divides Pulaski County – where I have lived and worked since 1979 – into three congressional districts.
She claimed that she did not know that the plan she sponsored broke part of North Little Rock into separate congressional districts. English also claimed she did not know that the redistricting plan she sponsored, which split part of North Little Rock (where she lives), affected a community of voters that is predominantly not white.
Arkansas state Rep. Nelda Speaks, a Republican from Mountain Home in Baxter County, initially proposed a redistricting map that did not split any county. She later joined English in co-sponsoring the map that split Pulaski County, the county with the largest population of Black and Latinx residents.
During the final debate on the vote to approve that map, Speaks claimed no city in Pulaski County was split. In fact, the map English and Speaks co-sponsored divides voters in two Pulaski County municipalities — Little Rock and North Little Rock.
Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times did not mince words about why white Republican legislators split the largest community of Black and Latinx residents:
“The reason English had to TAKE majority-minority population from Pulaski County was that the English bill ADDED majority-white Cleburne County’s 25,000 people to a district. The only way to achieve balance in redistricting was by first adding then subtracting Black people from Pulaski? Please. The Republicans did this 1) to punish Pulaski and 2) because they could. Any other excuse is baloney. More precisely in the case of those who know the score, a lie.”
Brantley is correct in calling the Republican re-districting plan for Arkansas a lie. He also is correct in concluding the re-districting plan was crafted to punish Pulaski County, home of the largest population of Black and Latinx residents in Arkansas, who typically favor Democratic candidates.
However, Brantley and other political observers have yet to point out two other obvious truths.
First, the Republican re-districting plan for Arkansas is promoted by white religious nationalists who call themselves “Christians” but who I term “the hateful faithful.”
Jane English, Nelda Speaks and the other Arkansas legislators who voted for the re-districting plan that splits Pulaski County into three congressional districts and fractures the Black and Latinx voting population claim to be followers of Jesus.
Their moral, social and political outlook is shared by white religious nationalists who voted overwhelmingly to elect Donald Trump president of the United States in 2016.
Their moral, social and political outlook is shared by white religious nationalists who are offended by calls to remove statues of white people who championed and defended enslavement of Black people.
Their moral, social and political outlook is shared by white religious nationalists who have carried on a culture war against civil rights laws, laws that outlaw discrimination against Black, Latinx, LGTBTQI, immigrant, women and working people for generations.
Second, the “hateful faithful” are the most fervent and disciplined foot soldiers in a deliberate and well-financed scheme to preserve the fiction of democracy in the United States.
This fiction decides presidential elections based on the slaveholder-based Electoral College scheme. Republican state legislators are desperate to prevent Black, Latinx, LGBTQI, women, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-imperialist and anti-xenophobic people from voting.
To put it bluntly, English, Speaks and other like-minded “hateful faithful” politicians are leading a well-financed and carefully planned scheme to turn Arkansas and the United States into a fascist regime.
They are using racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, militarism — including veneration of law enforcement — and xenophobia (fear of immigrants) as talking points to justify voter suppression, voter intimidation, abusive and homicidal police practices and mass incarceration.
The redistricting scheme in Arkansas is part of a national “hateful faithful” effort to dictate the future of the United States and the rest of the world according to the white supremacist Christian theology, imperialism, white innocence and exceptionalism, male supremacy, patriarchy and white ignorance that was considered the standard for what is right long before Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump is its most prominent political advocate.
But the “hateful faithful” were around long before Trump. The “hateful faithful” have engaged in political, economic, social and cultural warfare from the earliest days of the American political experiment.
Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine and a psychologist, made this point last Sunday evening in his prepared remarks delivered in connection with the 65th anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
Dr. Roberts reminded the audience of the following statement Martin Luther King Jr. made in his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?: “It is imperative that we understand that racism is a congenital deformity that has crippled this country since its inception. For the good of America, it is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists.”
Then, Dr. Roberts concluded his remarks with this quote from Racism and the Christian Understanding of Man by Dr. George Kelsey: “Racism is a faith. It is a form of idolatry. Initially it was an ideological justification for the constellation of political and economic power which were expressed in colonialism and slavery. But gradually the idea of the superior race was heightened and deepened in meaning and value so that it pointed beyond the historical structures of relation, in which it emerged, to human existence itself.”
The white supremacy behind the Elaine Race Massacre is the hateful “faith” and “idolatry” responsible for the systemic slaughter of Black and Latinx men, women, children, LGBTQI persons, workers, immigrants and Indigenous persons. It is bottomed on white anger and fear.
White “hateful faithful” politicians are angry and fearful about a future where Black, Latinx, indigenous and Asian voters hold the power to decide public policies.
“Hateful faithful” politicians and voters are outraged about, and fear a future where, women, LGBTQI persons, workers and immigrants join their votes with Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous voters to create what Martin Luther King Jr. called “a radical revolution of values,” where people are valued more than property and profits.
“Hateful faithful” politicians and voters fear a future where people ask hard questions, such as how hundreds of Black men, women and children can be murdered in the south Phillips County community of Elaine in 1919 without a single white person being arrested and prosecuted.
“Hateful faithful” politicians and voters fear a future where school children learn George Washington and Thomas Jefferson bought and sold Black people as enslaved property.
The re-districting plan co-sponsored by Jane English and Nelda Speaks is the “hateful faithful” model for a fascist future for Arkansas and the United States, because fascism is the political system “hateful faithful” people crave most.
They not only crave it. The Elaine Race Massacre, systemic slaughter of Black men, women and children almost every day, the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington, poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, unsafe water in Jackson, Mississippi, and redistricting plans like the one co-sponsored by English and Spears and enacted and rubber-stamped by other “hateful faithful” politicians prove something else.
The “hateful faithful” will resort to violence — physical, political, commercial, religious and otherwise — to make that fascist future happen.
It is up to us to make sure that fascist future does not become the next version of the American nightmare. I am glad to join you in doing that “good trouble” work.
Editor’s notes: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here. The series is adapted from a keynote address Griffen delivered on Sept. 30, 2022, at the Elaine Museum and Richard Wright Civil Rights Center on the 103rd anniversary of the Elaine Massacre.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a retired state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.