A white supremacist Republican who wanted to rescind the civil rights laws, create all-white cities and impose dusk-to-dawn curfews for blacks has astounded the local GOP, which had disavowed him, by winning 53,570 votes in an unsuccessful bid for Congress from a blue-collar district on the outskirts of Detroit.
Gerald R. Carlson 38, a former Nazi Party member who ran a low-budget door-to-door and shopping mall campaign, garnered almost exactly half as many votes in the general election last week as William Ford, the heavily favored Democratic incumbent who won reelection to a ninth term.
"There's no doubt in my mind that those were 53,000 very deliberate votes cast for Gerald Carlson," said Pat Ganzberger, 15 District Republican chairman. "Whoever voted for him in this election had full knowledge of what the man represented, who he was and where he was coming from."
Republicans called Carlson a "jerk," and publicly dissociated themselves from his candidacy after he won the primary last summer against the party-backed candidate, who spent $30,000 to Carlson's $180.
Voter support for Carlson was viewed by some as nothing more than an offshoot of the nationwide Republican landslide and the result of the straight party vote. President-elect Ronald Reagan defeated President Carter in the normally Democratic district by 48 to 45 percent.
Ganzberger noted, however, that no Republican congressional candidate from that district had mustered more that 26,000 votes in previous elections. She theorized that Carlson's popularity was related to the national political shift toward the right that gave Republicans control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in 26 years.
The 15th District, home of the Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge manufacturing complex and corporate offices, lies just southwest of Detroit. Most of the residents there made their way south from the immigrant neighborhoods of Detroit or north from the Appalachian mountains. They have a median annual family income of $12,500 and a median 12.1 years education, and they are only 5 percent black.
During his controversial campaign, Carlson vowed that, if elected, he would work to rescind civil rights and fair housing laws, support the proposed constitutional amendment to ban busing, and back voter referendums to create all white cities. His campaign statement in the widely distributed League of Women Voters guide said,"Negroes do not work like white people: in addition they sabotage. gSolution: stop affirmative action, instill more respect and discipline in Negroes, regulate unions.
"We would have glorious and wonderful white cities where white people are allowed to thrive and to live without the threat of Negro crimes and violence," he said.
An Air Force radio intercept operator fluent in five languages who studied in Europe, Carlson aligned himself with numberous right-wing extremist groups before founding his own party, the National Christian Democratic Union.
He later ran a series of taped antibalce messages from his home that outraged local balck groups. He promised in one of the messages that, if elected to Congress, he would "immediately submit legislation which would make it illegal for Negroes to live and shop in Dearborn or Dearborn Heights and provide a dusk-to-dawn curfew for this criminal element."
The black community strenuously opposed Carlson's candidacy. "You think that all of us are educated now and that an individual like that cannot survive. But he does survive," Lawrence Washington, president of the Detroit NAACP, said during Carlson's campaign. "There is a danger in our falling asleep on something like this."