Special Report

The Shame of Russell Simmons

Hip Hop mogul attacks Peter King hearings: Islamic radicals and the Ku Klux Klan

By 3.8.11

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Here we go.

The effort to demonize New York's Congressman Peter King for his upcoming hearings on the problem of Islamic radicalization in this country has begun. Over the weekend there was a demonstration in Times Square filled with Muslims and others protesting King. Among the leaders, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, until recently the front man for the proposed Ground Zero Mosque. And, to his everlasting shame: hip hop mogul Russell Simmons.

The charge: "Muslims are under attack" because of Congressman King, claims Imam Rauf. And, worse, from Simmons, not a declared Muslim or apparently anything else but the chairman of the "Foundation for Ethnic Understanding," comes the disgraceful nonsense that "the whole premise of the hearings is absolutely discriminatory" and "would only foster fear."

Really? 

Let's stop for a moment and explore an event in American history that took place when Russell Simmons was just six years old, a tragic event that in the end -- precisely because there were Americans like Peter King -- has helped Russell Simmons become the success that he is. And understand why it was exactly important not to respond to this now long-ago event in the way Russell Simmons is responding to the King hearings.

September 15, 1963. A Sunday morning.

A bomb explodes at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young girls, readying for Sunday school, are killed. They had names and families who loved them, too. Those names were: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair. Addie, Carole and Cynthia were 14. Denise was 11.

They were also black. In fact, the church is a black church -- and not just any black church. By September of 1963 it has been used by Dr. Martin Luther King himself as a place to rally the blacks of Birmingham, a central locale in the struggle for equal rights. Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 is at the dead center of the then-controversial Civil Rights movement, and the Sixteenth Baptist Church is at the center of the movement in Birmingham.

What does not happen next?

There was no statement from the Attorney General of the United States -- a white man named Robert F. Kennedy -- that to suspect "my people" -- white men -- in an investigation of this bombing is somehow demeaning. Unlike later and current Attorney General Eric Holder, who says he regards allegations that the Black Panthers had engaged in voter discrimination as demeaning to his "people."

There was no speculation from the then-Mayor of New York, Democrat Robert F. Wagner Jr. -- that the bombing might have been related to President Kennedy's then-controversial push for tax cuts. As a later New York Mayor Bloomberg would speculate that a caught-just-in-time Islamic radical bomb attempt in Times Square was instead the result of a mentally unstable person upset about ObamaCare.

There was, however, in fact someone in 1963 who took a variation of the theme that Russell Simmons is taking today with the Peter King hearings that begin this week.

It was a suggestion from a prominent white Democrat -- Birmingham's ex-police commissioner, a member of the Democratic National Committee. It was a suggestion that maybe there was in fact someone else to blame for this violence that took the lives of four little girls -- someone other than a white person in Birmingham. A suggestion that to focus exclusively on white people was, as Simmons is saying today of those who hold that Islamic radicals are alone responsible for Islamic radicalism, "absolutely discriminatory."

Said Eugene "Bull" Connor, already famous as the Birmingham police commissioner who unleashed police dogs and fire hoses on civil rights supporters in the streets of Birmingham earlier that year:

"I hope they catch those people who threw the dynamite. But I will say this. I wouldn't say it was above King's Crowd." 

Got that? Bull Connor was offended at the thought that was almost universal among rational, sentient Americans of the day that, yes indeed, these murders of Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise were the work of a white American or white Americans plural. Americans who were not only white but Southern, male and Protestant.

Why investigate just some group of white men, Connor wanted to know? Not unlike one of the signs held up at the Simmons-Rauf rally to protest Peter King's hearings about radical Islam in America, Connor, a Protestant, was essentially asking, "Who would Jesus persecute? White people are not our enemy." No, mused Connor as reported in the New York Times, somebody involved with Martin Luther King -- a black man or woman -- could have done the bombing to get sympathy for King and the civil rights movement. Connor didn't stop there, either. There was another group ultimately responsible as well, in Connor's view: the United States Supreme Court.

"If you're going to blame anyone for getting those children killed in Birmingham, it's your Supreme Court," said Connor, one of the state's leading Democrats. He noted that at the time the Supreme Court issued its 1954 school integration ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, he, Connor, had stated publicly that "you're going to have bloodshed, and it's on them [the Court] not us."

But outside of Connor, there is not a whisper that maybe the bombing is the work of an angry black man associated with Dr. King, or maybe somebody with a grudge against someone inside the church -- a spurned husband angry with an errant wife having an affair, perhaps. Or maybe an atheist who simply hated religion.

No. Other than Bull Connor's thought that someone allied with Martin Luther King killed Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise, there is none of that.

The instant -- immediate -- suggestion from liberals and conservatives alike was that this was the work of a white man, or white men plural. And that said white man or white men -- whom all presumed to be Southerners and most probably Birmingham residents -- were more than likely a member or members of the Ku Klux Klan. The overwhelming and popularly expressed sentiment of the day was that whoever planted the bomb that savagely murdered Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise hated not just black little girls but black Americans. Period. That it was no more complicated than that. And with no evidence beyond the bombing itself the conclusion was obvious to most that the culprits were nothing more -- or less -- than white racists. Southern white racists. Who were most probably Protestants.

Which is to say, if you were a white Russell Simmons in 1963 spinning the black Russell Simmons yarn of 2011 you were saying : the profiling of white people has begun. Indeed, this is in effect exactly what Bull Connors, eerily Simmons-like, was in fact trying to suggest.

And there was not a single peep from liberals of the day as Robert Kennedy's Justice Department swarmed down on Birmingham to lead the hunt for white guys. There was no Russell Simmons of the day -- save Bull Connor -- standing out in the rain of Times Square to say the Kennedy Administration Justice Department was persecuting white people or Southerners or Protestants and "fostering fear" among white Southern Protestant men.

There was something else.

In the lead supporting Attorney General Kennedy on the sidelines was the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. Led by their national chairman, a furious professor of political science at Brandeis University named John Roche -- later an aide to President Lyndon Johnson -- the ADA issued a blistering statement targeting the white segregationist Democrat who was Governor of Alabama -- George Wallace. Governor Wallace had taken office as governor that very year, defiantly proclaiming in his inaugural address:

"In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

In the wake of the horror of the attack on the Sixteenth Church that killed Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise, Wallace had offered a $5,000 reward for information on the bombing. The ADA was not impressed, labeling the Wallace offer as "blood money." Only a week before the bombing a defiant Wallace had snapped that what Alabama needed to stop the movement for integration in its tracks was "a few first class funerals." Now there would be four first class funerals -- and funerals for children at that. The ADA was out front, the prominent liberal group being as pointed as possible just to make sure no one missed the point: "Wallace is as guilty as if he himself planted the bomb," said the liberal Roche. The New York Times took the point and ran Roche's comment accusing Wallace, implying the involvement of unspecified whites was obvious on its face.

No wait and see back in 1963. No hedging, no hemming and no hawing about the racial make-up of the unknown attackers. Nor was there any wait and see anywhere else.

The entire nation was convinced of the obvious -- that a white man or men were the perpetrators, and more than likely he or they belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. The Birmingham bombing was not the first act of violence perpetrated by white men when it came to civil rights. It wasn't just the long history of this that was in everyone's minds, it was current history -- the news of the day. Only a few months earlier, Mississippi's Medgar Evers, a black NAACP leader, had been shot dead in his own driveway in the dark of a hot summer night. The instant belief -- the instant and eventually proved true belief -- was that Evers had been murdered by a white man. In this case it turned out to be a white man named Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens Council.

That whites were, in fact, the perpetrators was the instant assumption of the white President Kennedy himself about the Birmingham bombing. A month after his own assassination by a Communist-sympathizer in Dallas, the Times reported that in the aftermath of the bombing an appalled Kennedy had summoned not just black civil rights leaders to meet with him and discuss the situation. He summoned white clergy as well.

Attorney General Kennedy, the Peter King of his day, had not the slightest hesitation in investigating the white community of Birmingham. He did not care that he was investigating white men like himself. He did not care that they were males just like himself. He did not care that they were Southerners and he was a Northerner who could be accused of regional intolerance -- which he was. And he certainly did not care that he was a Catholic presuming the bombers were Protestants -- thereby risking charges of religious bigotry as the Catholic Peter King is today investigating those primarily of another faith. Islam.

Yet in spite of his efforts, Robert Kennedy was stymied in his efforts to get justice for Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise.

And the reason bears directly on the necessity of Peter King's upcoming hearings on Islamic radicalization in America.

History records that the FBI later reported a problem investigating the Birmingham bombing that is identical to the situation Congressman King is highlighting today. Said the FBI:

By 1965, we had serious suspects -- namely, Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash, and Thomas E. Blanton, Jr., all KKK members -- but witnesses were reluctant to talk…" 

Witnesses were reluctant to talk.

Here's Peter King just this past Sunday, as quoted by AP, discussing exactly the same problem today:

"I don't believe there is sufficient cooperation" by American Muslims with law enforcement, King said. "Certainly my dealings with the police in New York and FBI and others say they do not believe they get the same -- they do not give the level of cooperation that they need."

Which is to say, King believes some American Muslims -- not all but some -- are refusing to cooperate with the American law enforcement community in exposing Islamic radicals. Just as white southerners refused to cooperate with the FBI of the 1960s in identifying the bombers of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. For precisely the same reasons. They are scared to death of retaliation. Or…

Or?

Or they are in fact in sympathy with the perpetrators of Islamic fundamentalist violence -- Jihad -- in America in exactly the same way there were white Southern Protestant men in sympathy with those who murdered black people in America.

White Southern Protestant men who formed groups with names like the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens Council.

Here's a test for Russell Simmons.

There is an organization in America known as the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is a liberal group, and a well-known liberal group at that. What is its purpose? In its own words:

Founded by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. in 1971, the SPLC is internationally known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups.

Let's take a look at one of the groups featured by the SPLC. The Council of Conservative Citizens is the successor group to the infamous White Citizens Council, the latter which once claimed Medgar Evers' murderer as a proud member. There's not a thing in the cites provided by SPLC from the CCC itself that says they are a hate group. To the contrary, the SPLC itself quotes the group as simply believing:

"God is the author of racism. God is the One who divided mankind into different types.… Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God."

There's no statement on the SPLC site that records that White Citizens Council member Byron De La Beckwith said his group was going to murder Medgar Evers. Indeed, when the SPLC cites the Klan there's no quote from the Klan that says in the aftermath of the Birmingham bombing that the Klan was putting out statements saying  "Hey: Look here! We're a hate group and some of our people killed those four n…. girls in a n…. church!"

But in point of fact every American awake in 1963 and 1964 was not shocked to learn that Klan members bombed the Sixteenth Street Birmingham church and that a member of the White Citizens Council murdered Medgar Evers. Nor were they shocked to understand that each perpetrator was in fact a representative of an entire network of white racists -- operating in the shadows -- who would spend the 1960s murdering other Civil Rights heroes and heroines from white Detroit housewife Viola Liuzzo to Boston minister James Reeb to Dr. Martin Luther King himself.

Yet in the aftermath of 9/11, when three thousand Americans are murdered in cold blood by Islamic radicals -- 3,000 Addies and Caroles and Cynthias and Denises, and Medgar Evers and Viola Liuzzos and James Reebs and Martin Luther Kings, all mass murdered in cold blood in the name of Islamic radicalism as black Americans were once murdered in the name of white racism -- Russell Simmons, American and black man, astonishingly plays the role that seems more easily assignable to Imam Rauf: a supporter of Islamic Bull Connerism.

Does Russell Simmons really believe that if somehow Attorney General Kennedy were just somehow more sympathetic and understanding of the culture that produced Bull Connor and white racism -- that if somehow Bobby Kennedy would just stop persecuting and discriminating against white, Southern, racist, Protestant men -- the American nightmare that killed Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise would somehow have just gone away? Really? Really? Wow. This is just pathetic.

Simmons' test? Presumably he and his Foundation for Ethnic Understanding are supportive of the goals of the Southern Poverty Law Center in keeping tabs on whatever white Southern racists are still out there -- albeit today they are tabbed as "hate groups." Does Mr. Simmons oppose this? One suspects that's doubtful.

But who today plays the role of the Southern Poverty Law Center in "tracking and exposing the activities" of Islamic fundamentalists as the SPLC does with white racists like the Klan? Heads up for Russell Simmons. These are people with names like Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, David Horowitz of the David Horowitz Freedom Center and Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs.com. Not to be forgotten either -- especially since he is an American Muslim -- is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). There are others as well.

Is Russell Simmons stepping up to the plate for these people? All Americans who are as alert to the threats of Islamic radicalization in America today as once upon a time there were responsible Americans who understood the problem -- the real problem -- behind the bombing of a Birmingham black church? Americans of the 1960s and 1970s who risked their reputations and their lives to help Robert Kennedy and the FBI and the government and a later Alabama Attorney General -- Bill Baxley -- who finally prosecuted and convicted Robert Chambliss for killing Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise? In -- 1977. Fourteen years after the fact!

And just who is the Robert Kennedy of today when it comes to zeroing in on understanding the Islamic equivalents of the network that supported the white racist Southern Protestant men in the 1960s?

That man is Congressman Peter King.

Somewhere, one can only imagine that Addie, Carole, Cynthia and Denise -- along with the souls of three thousand Americans murdered on 9/11 -- are looking down at Russell Simmons.

And they are ashamed.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.