Religious Right Law Prof Defends Trump’s ‘Many Sides’ Response to Charlottesville


Among the conservative voices who took to the airwaves to defend President Trump’s initial response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville was Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt University professor who is retiring this week. Over the past couple of days, Swain appeared with Fox’s Judge Jeanine Pirro, on “Fox and Friends,” and on the radio podcast produced under the name of “Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles” with hosts Ed Martin and Cherilyn Eagar.

We have written previously about Swain’s “long, strange” journey from being a respected academic to right-wing culture war propagandist.  We wrote last summer:

Swain is an academic and author who won awards for her 1993 book “Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress,” and generated some respectful controversy with her 2002 “The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration.” But her more recent writings, like 2011’s “Be the People,” have been more along the lines of right-wing agitprop.

Swain made a media splash last year as a black law professor who attacked Black Lives Matter as “a very destructive force.” She was a member of the Ted Cruz campaign’s “Religious Liberty Advisory Council” who now describes herself as a supporter of Donald Trump and who feels that “the people attacking him for everything he does” are “very, very misguided.”

On “Fox and Friends” on Monday morning, Swain affirmed Trump’s initial awkward comments about violence from “many sides”:

Just coming out and denouncing white supremacy, and painting everyone with the same broad brush, does not solve the problem. There are black nationalists, there are white nationalists, there are Hispanic nationalists, and so we can’t say it’s just one group. So the president was correct when he said that there were many forces involved. Had the counter-protesters not been there, maybe the entire rally would have ended differently.

She also suggested that the counter-protesters were to blame during her appearance on the “Eagles” radio show, saying that they were “trying to agitate the people who had the permits to march.”

In her interviews, Swain drew distinctions between white supremacists—like the KKK and neo-Nazis—and the more intellectual “new white nationalists.” She said her research showed that these new white nationalists were well-educated and rather than using racial epithets or espousing violence, they were using “social science data” and “FBI statistics” to make a case for “white rights or separatism” and “they had grievances.”

It’s been a while since Swain wrote that book, which may explain why her distinction doesn’t hold up so well. The prototypical media-savvy “intellectual” white nationalist Richard Spencer—who promotes separatism in the form of a whites-only “ethnostate”—happily gathered with overt and violent neo-Nazis and fascists in Charlottesville. Spencer is celebrating the “mystical and magical and religious, even” torch march on Friday night and counts the weekend as a whole as a big win

Swain joins other right-wing commentators in blaming the rise of the white nationalist Right on liberal policies and “identity politics.” She said her 2002 book was a “warning” that white people had grievances and conditions were converging to create a “devil’s brew” for racial unrest.

From her interview on “Fox and Friends”:

And these are people who are aggrieved over affirmative action, immigration, minority crime, and just what they see as discrimination against white people. If we want to come together, we need to move away from identity politics and multiculturalism and focus on the American national identity. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to get beyond this.

Swain, who says her religious conversion has had an impact on her academic work, has become a favorite of the Religious Right and right-wing pundits in recent years. Her 2011 book, “Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise” was blurbed by the likes of Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Tony Perkins, and Jesse Lee Peterson. As we noted in May:

In that book she declares, “We are engaged in a battle for the soul of our nation.” She slams the Supreme Court’s rulings on separation of church and state, saying, “The expulsion of God from public schools was a blow to civil religion and a clear repudiation of what Jesus proclaimed to be the greatest commandment.”

She has said that her latest book, “Abduction: How Liberalism Steals Our Children’s Hearts and Minds,” explores “the aggressive secular agenda to indoctrinate children with a worldview that rejects the traditional morality associated with the Judeo-Christian worldview.”