Race-Baiting Former Senator Jesse Helms Has Died

One of America's most notorious race-baiters has died. Former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms passed away early this morning at the age of eighty-six. Conservatives are eulogizing Helms as one of the most important architects of their movement.

Helms wasn't just a politician who happened to be racist, racism was his politics. He entire career was an extended pitch to the worst instincts of Americans. He became a conservative icon by skillfully harnessing the media of his day to stoke the country's darkest fears about race, sex, and modernity. Along the way, he helped build what we know today as the right wing noise machine--an integrated network of media outlets, think tanks, political consultants, lobbyists, church groups, and direct-mail fundraisers dedicated to rolling back the reforms of the 1960s and "reclaiming" America for straight white guys with money.

Jesse Helms may even have been world's first vlogger. In 1960 he began producing a TV segment called Viewpoint for WRAL-TV in Raleigh, NC. In all, more than 2800 2-minute Viewpoints were broadcast.

Helms used Viewpoint and other syndicated media products to establish his brand of race-baiting demagoguery. "Dr. King's outfit...is heavily laden at the top with leaders of proven records of communism, socialism and sex perversion, as well as other curious behavior," Helms announced in a 1963 edition of Viewpoint.
(As a Senator, Helms launched a filibuster against the MLK holiday. He also went to court to try to force the FBI to open its files on Martin Luther King, whom Helms denounced as a communist on the Senate floor.)

"Are civil rights only for Negroes? White women in Washington who have been raped and mugged on the streets in broad daylight have experienced the most revolting sort of violation of their civil rights. The hundreds of others who have had their purses snatched by Negro hoodlums may understandably insist that their right to walk the street unmolested was violated," he opined in a 1963 Viewpoint later quoted in The Charlotte Observer.


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