Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was murdered after speaking to striking Memphis sanitation workers while he was working on an economic justice initiative called the Poor People’s Campaign.
While King’s advocacy for racial and economic justice made him decidedly controversial during his life, he has since gotten a makeover from conservatives who have happily revised history to claim that he would have supported whatever cause they happen to be championing, from lowering taxes to opposing LGBT rights to resisting modern-day movements for racial justice.
We’ve taken a journey through our archives to find ten positions that conservative activists and pundits have ascribed to King over the years:
1. Opposition to Black Lives Matter
Back in 2016, Sarah Palin claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement was “the antithesis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message”:
2. Opposition to the Congressional Black Caucus
Rep. Steve King said last year that King’s message has “been hijacked now by the left,” such as “the self-segregating Congressional Black Caucus”:
3. Opposition to LGBTQ rights
American Family Radio’s Bryan Fischer said that when then-Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore tried to prevent the issuance of marriage licenses to gay couples in his state, he was acting “in the finest tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.” Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, who represented Kim Davis in her quest to prevent gay couples from marrying in her county in Kentucky, also compared her to King. Rick Santorum also claimed that King would have supported Davis:
Anti-gay activist Rick Scarborough said in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling striking down marriage equality bans, “In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, we will view any attempt to enforce such a ruling as unjust, and our duty to the Constitution, more importantly, our duty to our God, will force us to disrespect it.” Glenn Beck compared his own fight against marriage equality to King’s organizing. Bishop Harry Jackson has also asserted that King would be opposed to marriage equality. The organizers of the Manhattan Declaration, whose signers vow civil disobedience to gay-rights laws, also invoked King.
Gary Bauer said that King would have been “mortified” by “the concept of civil rights being hijacked” by the LGBTQ rights movement. Americans for Truth about Homosexuality’s Peter LaBarbera has said that “Martin Luther King would be rolling over in his grave” if he saw civil rights protections for LGBTQ people.
4. Opposition to reproductive rights
A primary driver of this view is King’s niece, Alveda King, who has become a social conservative activist working to oppose abortion rights with the group Priests For Life. Alveda King has dismissed the pro-choice and pro-equality views of King’s late widow, Coretta Scott King, saying, “I’ve got his DNA. She doesn’t, she didn’t…Therefore I know something about him. I’m made out of the same stuff.” She has implied that Coretta tricked her husband into accepting an award from Planned Parenthood.
5. Support for ‘right to discriminate’ laws
After Mississippi passed a bill that would have given businesses the right to discriminate against LGTBQ people in the name of “religious liberty,” Fischer declared that “Martin Luther King Jr. would be ecstatic with this bill. He would love this bill.”
6. Distaste for ‘the culture and social rot that plagues black America’
It is fascinating to wonder what Dr. King would have said about the culture and social rot that plagues black America today.
To honestly celebrate the legacy of Dr. King, black America would have to admit to the self-inflicted destructo-derby they are waging and begin to tell their liberal Democratic slave drivers to take a hike.
7. Respect for Donald Trump
After Rep. John Lewis, who had been an influential organizer in the civil rights movement, said that Trump would not be “a legitimate president,” sparking a Twitter feud with the then-president-elect, former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay claimed that the whole thing showed that Lewis “didn’t learn anything” from his own civil rights work or from King, who “could be called a Republican”:
8. Opposition to progressive taxation
Herman Cain declared in 2014 that Rep. Keith Ellison was wrong to invoke King in advocating for a financial transaction tax, because “Dr. King did not fight or die for a new tax” and “Class warfare wasn’t his thing.”
Ben Carson also presented this revisionist view of King in a 2014 interview, saying, “The last thing that he would be in favor of is redistributing all the wealth and allowing people to just sit around and collect.”
9. Alarm over anti-white racism
Fox News’ Todd Starnes on an Obama administration jobs program for men of color:
I applaud the president’s initiative – but what about the young, white man looking for a job?
Where are the special programs designed to help him get a leg up in the world? Where are the mentoring and interning opportunities for white kids from impoverished neighborhoods?
The Rev. Martin Luther King Junior once had a dream that his children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
In 2012, televangelist James Robison claimed that King would have been appalled by modern-day “racism” against “the free market capitalist crowd”:
And we can correct it if we will come together and understand that the enemy is not the creator of wealth, it is not the free market capitalist crowd that do go out and create jobs, and opportunity, and investment. And we have really today biased the whole population against in them in a type of racism that is not only damaging but actually potentially very dangerous. There is an animosity and a hostility that you have to go all the way back to the horrible racism that you and I stood against along with Martin Luther King, that we detested. You have to look at that and see how dangerous it is.
10. Opposition to civil rights
“It’s ironic that many of those who are kind of the modern, welfare-state proponents, they quote or they harken back to Martin Luther King as if he was some proponent of civil rights, and he was not,” The Institute on the Constitution’s Michael Peroutka said in a head-scratching interview in 2014: