GOP attacks on Black Lives Matter are a 'throwback' to anti-civil rights playbook

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Republicans are calling protests against systemic racism 'communism.'

Some Republican lawmakers are dismissing the Movement for Black Lives and the recent nationwide protests against systemic racism as "Marxist." Experts say this is taking a page out of the same playbook racists used against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other 1960s civil rights leaders.

At least nine Republican lawmakers have recently attacked the push to end police violence and remove racist memorials as "Communist."

    • Sen. Marsha Blackburn (TN) tweeted last week: "The founders of the political arm of the Black Lives Matter organization are self-proclaimed 'trained Marxists.' We are witnessing a movement to wipe out our history, destroy our families and burn our country to the ground."
    • Sen. Kelly Loeffler (GA) tweeted on Wednesday: "The BLM political organization's goals — which are rooted in Marxist principles & include defunding the police — do not unite Americans. I'm standing up. I'm speaking out. And I won't be canceled for calling this out."
    • Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) tweeted last month: "Support the cause of racial equality is a call to be more fully American but truly living up to our founding principles. Oppose with all you have the cause of the anarchists, Marxist mobs which is to destroy America which they view as inherently evil & irredeemable."
    • Rep. Jeff Duncan (SC) tweeted last month, after protesters toppled a Confederate statue in Washington, D.C.: "This is what I'm talking about! These Marxist inspired movements of rioting and destruction are dangerous! Is this why folks want to abolish the police? So these mobs can run free unabated?"
    • Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL) tweeted last month: "What we see from this Marxist movement in Black Lives Matter to totally overturn our country, to make us hate our country and replace it with something else, is very dangerous."
    • Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ) tweeted on Wednesday: "In Hong Kong, media can't criticize the Chinese Communist Party. In America, the media is consumed with hating @realDonaldTrump and Americans can't even criticize a Marxist, race-based 501(c)3!"
    • Rep. Jody Hice (GA) tweeted earlier this month: "America is witnessing an aggressive campaign by Marxist radicals to erode our institutions & destabilize our nation. Democrats responded by gutting police budgets, allowing the mob to tear down statues, & bending over backwards to enact their agenda. You can't appease Marxists!"
    • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL) tweeted last month, after protesters attempted to remove a statute of Abraham Lincoln standing over a freed slave: "This is Bolshevik, Marxist, and ignorant. Yet somehow some will defend this sentiment. (Or attack Trump in their response instead.)"
    • Rep. Lee Zeldin (NY) tweeted earlier this month, after an unidentified vandal removed a Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, New York: "Every day is filled w/mind boggling new ways to somehow make even less sense than the crazed rhetoric, Marxist organizing & illegal acts of the day before. The winner today is the tearing down of a statue of escaped slave & abolitionist Frederick Douglass."

Some of the comments appeared to refer to a story published by a right-wing site about a 2015 video of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. In the video, Cullors said that she and another co-founder of the movement were "trained organizers" and "trained Marxists."

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Cullors did not immediately respond to a request for comments for this story.

But attempts to discredit an entire civil rights movement based on the alleged ideological views of a few of its leaders are nothing new.

Opponents of the 1960s civil rights movement, including then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, repeatedly tried to undermine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., claiming among other things that his associate Stanley Levison was a "secret member of the Communist Party."

Billboards were put up in Alabama in 1965 that purported to show King at a "Communist training school." The photo used was in fact taken at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, in 1957.

The FBI also focused on an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Bayard Rustin, for his earlier involvement with the Young Communist League.

Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, said in a phone interview that the latest attacks "seem like a throwback."

"It's almost two centuries since Marx," Carson said. "It seems like at some point that would be very antiquated. Especially since I would suspect that very few people who consider themselves progressive today have very much Marx."

Noting that actual Marxists he spoke with recently would definitely be against the removal of monuments to Union Army leaders from the Civil War era, Carson observed that it "does seem like 30 years after the end of the Cold War, we would have moved on from that kind of rhetoric."

Sam Fulwood III, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an expert on media, race, and ethnicity, said in a phone interview that this is "a harkening back to the old tropes of white superiority."

"Dr. King and Bayard Rustin and the civil rights leaders were often accused of being Communists because they were asking for a more communal vision of the country, rather than the rugged individualism that white people espoused," Fulwood noted.

Fulwood said there is a "potent argument to raise the specter of Communism": "That imagery still retains its potency among recalcitrant white people. There's always this sort of longing to turn back the clock, not just to the '60s, but to after the Civil War."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.