Civil rights activists have worked hard to educate Americans about the horrifying history of lynching.
Last year, they opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., one of the first memorials honoring some 4,000 lynching victims. More than 800 six-foot monuments are scattered across six acres, symbolizing the deaths of men, women and children, mostly because of their race.
Bryan Stevenson, founder and director the Equal Justice Initiative, was instrumental in bringing attention to this brutal history, telling The Washington Post’s DeNeen L. Brown:
Lifting up those monuments was really important because the people who carried out lynchings could have murdered people and buried the bodies in the ground, they could have hidden the evidence. But they didn’t want to do that. They wanted to lift it up to raise it over the entire community so every black person would be menaced and traumatized and terrorized.
But some Republicans have begun using the term “lynching” to describe something else: attacks on conservative politicians.
The latest example comes from Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa). In January, King asked whether the term “white nationalism” was offensive in an interview with the New York Times. He was subsequently reprimanded by Democrats and Republicans, who stripped him of his House committee assignments. For his critics, it was the latest offensive comment from a politician with a track record of sympathy toward white supremacists.
In an interview with Politico on Tuesday, King focused on the wrongs done to him. “It was a political lynch mob,” he said. “I had to let the blood cool. And the blood has now cooled, and now they don’t want to be faced with the reality of what they’ve done.”
This isn’t the first time conservatives have compared their political opponents’ actions to a lynching.
After the Daily Beast exposed Shawn Brooks, a “superfan” of President Trump, as the alleged producer of a viral video that slowed down a recording of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make her appear drunk, conservative activist C.J. Pearson pushed back, comparing the Beast article to a lynching. He tweeted:
“A black Trump supporter was doxed by The Daily Beast simply for having the audacity to think for himself and create a video, mocking Speaker Pelosi. When will Democrats stop lynching black people?”
In January, a Republican state lawmaker from Colorado with a history of racially insensitive actions was criticized for falsely claiming that white Republicans were lynched in the past for their political beliefs.
In a speech meant to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., state Rep. Lori Saine said: “We have come a long way on that arc since the Reconstruction since whites and blacks alike were in nearly equal numbers lynched for the crime of being Republican.”
Supporters of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh often claimed that attacks on his character were connected to his conservative worldview. Wayne Allen Root, a writer for conservative website Newsmax, criticized those who believed the women accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault by calling it a lynching.
“This is a national disgrace,” the former vice presidential candidate wrote. “Even I never imagined Democrats could go this low. It doesn’t get any lower than the public lynching of a fine all-American gentleman like Brett M. Kavanaugh.”
This isn’t a new phenomenon. During his confirmation hearing, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was accused of sexually harassing former subordinate Anita Hill. Thomas, who is black, was nominated to the court by Republican President George H.W. Bush.
Before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing led by then-Sen. Joe Biden, Thomas attacked the decision to allow Hill to publicly share her allegations.
“This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment,” Thomas said. “This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”
Republicans using the term “lynching” seem eager to paint a brutal picture of their treatment at the hands of liberals and “mainstream media.” But comparing partisan political attacks — even particularly nasty ones — to the murder of black Americans suggests a lack of awareness of just how barbaric black people in America have historically been treated because of their ethnic identity.