On Eve of Alabama Senate Election, a Look at Roy Moore’s Racism, Homophobia and Religious Fanaticism

Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore are locked in a tight and increasingly controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The election is on Tuesday. A Democrat hasn’t won a US Senate race in Alabama for 20 years. Polling shows the two candidates are neck and neck, despite Moore being accused by at least nine women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers. President Donald Trump has repeatedly endorsed Roy Moore, including on Friday, when he held a rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is 20 miles from the Alabama border and in the same media market as Mobile, Alabama. Roy Moore has had a long and highly controversial political career in Alabama that’s been marked by racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and religious fanaticism. Over the weekend, the Doug Jones campaign orchestrated a massive get-out-the-vote effort, particularly targeting African-American voters. A number of prominent African-American politicians, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Alabama Congressmember Terri Sewell and former Massachusetts Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, all campaigned for Jones over the weekend. For more, we speak with Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way. His most recent piece is headlined “There’s More Than One Roy Moore Scandal.”

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore are locked in a tight and increasingly controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The election is Tuesday. A Democrat hasn’t won a US Senate race in Alabama for 20 years.

Polling shows the two candidates are neck and neck, despite Moore being accused by at least nine women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers. One of the women says Moore removed her shirt and pants, then touched her over her bra and underwear, when she was 14 years old. She says she recalls thinking, “I wanted it over with. I wanted out. Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.”

President Trump has repeatedly endorsed the accused child molester Roy Moore, including on Friday, when he held a rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is 20 miles from the Alabama border and in the same media market as Mobile, Alabama.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Trump speaking Friday. He has also recorded a robocall endorsing Roy Moore.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hi. This is President Donald Trump, and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore. It is so important. We’re already making America great again. I’m going to make America safer and stronger and better than ever before. But we need that seat. We need Roy voting for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Moore has had a long and highly controversial political career in Alabama that’s been marked by racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, religious fanaticism. Judge Moore was twice ousted as Alabama’s chief justice, first in 2003 for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. After being re-elected, he was again ousted in 2016, for ordering his judges to defy the US Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing marriage equality. He was a proponent of Trump’s racist and discredited “birther” theory about President Obama. He’s compared homosexuality to bestiality. He said Minnesota Congressmember Keith Ellison shouldn’t have been allowed to be sworn into Congress using a Qur’an, which he compared to Mein Kampf.

In 2011, Roy Moore proposed eliminating all amendments after the 10th, which includes amendments prohibiting slavery and the amendments giving women and African Americans the right to vote. In September, when asked at a campaign rally when he thought America was last great, Moore said, quote, “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another. … Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”

Over the weekend, the Doug Jones campaign orchestrated a massive get-out-the-vote effort, particularly targeting African-American voters. A number of prominent African-American politicians, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Alabama Congressmember Terri Sewell, former Massachusetts Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, all campaigned for Jones across the state of Alabama. Jones’ campaign ads are also highlighting his history as a US attorney in the 1990s, when he prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, the members who bombed 16th [Street] Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls.

On Sunday, Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby said he could not vote for his fellow Republican, Roy Moore.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. … I understand where the president is coming from. I understand we would like to retain that seat in the US Senate. But I tell you what, I — there’s a time, it’s — we call it a tipping point. And I think so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip, when it got to the 14-year-old’s story, that was enough for me. I said, “I can’t vote for Roy Moore.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, a Republican.

For more, we go to Washington, DC, where we’re joined by Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way, his most recent piece headlined “There’s More Than One Roy Moore Scandal.”

Talk about Roy Moore, Peter Montgomery. You also wrote the piece, “Roy Moore: A History of Bigotry, Extremism and Contempt for the Rule of Law.” But talk about the scandals around the former Alabama judge.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, your introduction did a great job outlining some of them. I think it’s scandalous that we have the Republican Party and a president supporting someone for the Senate whose whole career has demonstrated such contempt for core constitutional principles and the rule of law. And that’s before you consider the allegations that are made by a number of women about him preying on and molesting teenage girls. Roy Moore has a long record of violating court orders when he disagrees with them and when he thinks they violate his biblical worldview.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’ve done a comprehensive look at his history. Go back to the beginning and talk about what you know about Roy Moore.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, Roy Moore went to law school after he had gone to West Point and served in Vietnam. And after he got out of law school, he became an assistant district attorney, which is when he has allegedly involved in preying on teenage girls. And after that, he became a state judge in Etowah County, in the northeastern part of the state. And that’s when he had his first big controversy over his misuse of the court to promote his religious beliefs. He hung a handmade plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, and he was beginning sessions with jurors with Christian prayers. And he was very explicit about the fact that others could join him in prayer, but only if they were Christians, because he wouldn’t allow Muslims or Buddhists, because they don’t worship the right god. And so there was a lot of controversy over that at the time. This is the late 1990s. And religious right leaders from around the country came and rallied around him. And he sort of used that at his — as the launching point of his political career and his first run for chief justice, which he was elected in 2000.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about being removed from the bench, in both cases, and what that means for a chief justice to be removed from the Alabama bench.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Obviously, that’s something very extraordinary. Here you have someone who is elected by the voters, who is the top judge in the state Supreme Court, and his fellow judges took steps to remove him for violating his professional responsibilities. The first time, he had, again, played on his support for the Ten Commandments and his desire to use the courts to promote his religious beliefs and his religious worldview. He had this huge Ten Commandments monument carved out of granite and brought into the state courthouse that he presided over. And when a federal — when a court ordered him to remove that, he refused. And so, for defying the court order, he was removed by his fellow judges. And it’s interesting that Moore loves to say that he is the victim of persecution by, you know, radical liberals and LGBT people, but he was removed by other state judges from Alabama, and I don’t think that’s a hotbed of left-wing radicalism.

Then, a decade after he was kicked out, he was elected again. And this time, he was challenged because he started to order lower judges in the state to ignore, first, in 2015, a federal judge, who ruled in favor of marriage equality in the state. And then, later, when the Supreme Court of the United States had the Obergefell decision, which endorsed marriage equality across the country, he again told judges that they should not follow that order. And that was crossing the line the second time. And he was suspended permanently from his job that time.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of homosexuality, Roy Moore has compared homosexuality to bestiality. Can you talk about President Trump’s endorsement of Roy Moore? And did this surprise you, Peter Montgomery?

PETER MONTGOMERY: I’m not sure if there’s anything President Trump can do anymore that surprises me. And it doesn’t surprise me that he supported Roy Moore, because Roy Moore has praised President Trump, has positioned himself as someone who wants to help President Trump make America great again. And Trump wants his vote in the Senate. I do think that it’s scandalous that the Republican Party has gone along with Trump and supported someone who is as extreme as Roy Moore is. And I think they really need to be held accountable for it.

On the issue of gay rights and LGBT people, Moore is utterly opposed to the core constitutional principle of equality under the law. And it’s not just about opposition to gay marriage for him. He wants to make homosexuality criminal. He wants to go back to the days when being gay was, per se, a criminal act. And he has backed up that kind of thinking as a judge. He supported, in 2002, taking a child away from a woman because she was a lesbian. And he said that anybody who participates in such an inherently evil act as homosexuality is inherently an unfit parent. And that’s pretty terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Roy Moore called for the removal of the judge who struck down Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military, saying her decision was completely “ridiculous” and “a clear example of judicial activism.” Moore’s statement said, “Judge Kollar-Kotelly should be impeached by the House of Representatives for unlawful usurpation of power … Not only has she placed herself above the Constitution … but she has also interfered with the powers of the President as Commander in Chief of the armed forces.”

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, and that really takes us to another core constitutional principle, which is judicial independence and the rule of law. And Moore has no respect for judges who disagree with him. Obviously, the example you just cited is one. He also spoke at a religious right political conference earlier this year that I went to to hear him speak. And he said there that the Supreme Court justices who supported and ruled in favor of marriage equality should be impeached. And he vowed specifically that when he gets to the Senate, he will use his power as a senator to stop what he called the submission to the federal judiciary by the legislative branch. So, he clearly is no supporter of judicial independence, which is something that Americans have relied on to defend and uphold our rights.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2011, Roy Moore proposed eliminating all amendments after the 10th Amendment, which includes the amendments prohibiting slavery, the amendments giving women and African Americans the right to vote. He was speaking on a radio show.

AROOSTOOK WATCHMEN HOST: Actually, I would like to see an amendment that says all amendments after 10, all of —

ROY MOORE: Yes, that would eliminate many problems. You know, people don’t understand how some of these amendments have completely tried to wreck the form of government that our forefathers intended.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Montgomery, can you talk about this, eliminating everything after the 10th Amendment? And then, when asked by the only black member of an audience recently about when was America great — you know, referring to “make America great again” — he refers to slavery time.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, this really gets to a big-picture worldview on the fringes of the conservative movement that Roy Moore is deeply intertwined with, you know, this nostalgia for a constitutional order that is utterly grounded in states’ rights, where the federal government has radically limited powers to interfere with what the states do and to protect individual civil rights. And Roy Moore is very tied up in that. It’s connected to a radical Christian Reconstructionist theology that says the federal government has no role in education or care for the poor or feeding the hungry, that those are all jobs that God has reserved for the family and the church. So, it’s really disturbing to hear Moore talk like that. But when you realize the worldview that he’s coming from and that he has made his — has been made very clear during his career that he embraces, it’s not that surprising.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Moore said, “I’m going to tell you about the only thing I know that the Islamic faith has done in this country is 9/11.” He also said that the Qur’an — Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, should not be able to be sworn in on his holy book, on the Qur’an, comparing it to Mein Kampf.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, I think the whole episode with Keith Ellison should, in itself — even if you ignore all the other things we’ve just talked about, all the other radicalism and extremism, the Keith Ellison episode itself should make him unfit and should, you know, shame every Republican who is now endorsing him. Here we had Keith Ellison, who was elected to serve in the Congress, and as a Muslim, he chose for his ceremonial swearing-in to use the Qur’an, the way most members of Congress, when they come in, they do a ceremonial swearing-in using the Bible. And, you know, Roy Moore just used that as an opportunity to display his raw religious bigotry and his belief that Christians in America are the real Americans. And he said that Congress should refuse to seat Moore — I mean, should refuse to seat Keith Ellison, because he said that it’s impossible for a Muslim to honestly swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. And that’s — it’s so offensive, that I think, really, that, in itself, should be disqualifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Montgomery, right now the race is too close to call. At Democracy Now!, we don’t really rely on polls very much before, you know, the day of the election. Can you talk about the strategy of Doug Jones this weekend bringing in top African-American leaders to push hard to get the African-American vote out? It might simply be vote count being up, the issue in Alabama of voting polls being cut down under voter laws that have been increasingly restrictive.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, we certainly see that that’s been one of the big-picture strategies from the Republican Party in recent years, particularly once the conservatives on the US Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. So, voter suppression and laws that make it harder to vote are a huge concern. So I think that kind of concerted get out the vote and mobilizing is really important. And it’s great that the party and the Doug Jones campaign was doing that.

I know Doug Jones has also been trying to build on the sentiments that were expressed by Richard Shelby in your introduction, among the Republicans who do not feel comfortable being represented by Roy Moore. And Doug Jones has run some ads featuring those Republicans to try to, I think, encourage Republicans who might cross over. So I think it’s important that he’s doing both those things, that he’s appealing to Republicans who just can’t go there with Roy Moore, but he’s also really working hard to get out the Democratic vote, because that’s really the only way Doug Jones has a chance to win.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, there was a Vice focus group. Frank Luntz interviewed some of Moore’s supporters. One said, “Forty years ago in Alabama, there was a lot of mamas and daddies that would be thrilled that their 14-year-old was getting hit on by a district attorney.” Another voter said the women’s reputations were questionable at the time. Peter Montgomery, the allegations of sexual abuse and that Roy Moore is an accused pedophile?

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, the focus group was really disturbing, for a number of reasons. And, you know, the one you mentioned, about someone saying, “Well, back then, it would have been OK,” it’s really stunning. You know, there’s some really good work that’s been done by religion scholars, including Julie Ingersoll, who’s reported on the fact that within certain parts of the conservative Christian movement that focus on biblical patriarchy and female submission to men, this idea of older men marrying teenage girls is part of that subculture. You know, Phil Robertson from “Duck Dynasty,” who’s really become this big religious right and Republican Party activist, you know, he’s basically said that girls should get married at 15 or 16, and that, you know, if they’re young enough, then guys can be sure that they’re pure for them and ready for them to sort of be handed over from their father to their new husband. So, that is a disturbing strain of conservative Christian subculture that Roy Moore is connected to.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Peter Montgomery, for joining us, senior fellow at People for the American Way. We will link to your pieces, the one, “There’s More Than One Roy Moore Scandal,” and your report on “Roy Moore: A History of Bigotry, Extremism and Contempt for the Rule of Law.” The accused pedophile will run in a special election on Tuesday against Doug Jones for the US Senate seat that was vacated by Jeff Sessions, who became President Trump’s attorney general. Of course, we’ll be reporting on that tomorrow. And Richard Shelby — the latest news — the Alabama Republican senator, coming out against Roy Moore, saying he could not support him. President Trump, on the other hand, has made a robocall supporting Roy Moore, held a rally supporting Roy Moore in the Mobile, Alabama, media market this weekend, in Pensacola, Florida, supporting the accused pedophile.

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute in Jackson, Mississippi, where President Trump went to dedicate the opening of two new civil rights museums. Our guests didn’t go to all the ceremonies, protesting President Trump’s presence. But the museums themselves are quite remarkable, and we’ll talk about civil rights history. Stay with us.