Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« Angry John McCain seized official at diplomatic talks | Main | Williamsburg Fireworks »

July 04, 2008

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.

Helms wasn't just another racist politician, racism was his politics. His 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, Helms played a major role in assembling 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. It's not for nothing that Helms is being lionized as a major figure in the modern conservative movement.

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 the Viewpoint and other syndicated media products to establish his brand of race-baiting demagoguery.

"Dr. King's 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, which was later quoted in The Charlotte Observer.

In a 1964 Viewpoint, Helms called the Civil Rights Act “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress.”

Quite simply, Helms believed black people were naturally inferior to whites: “No intelligent Negro citizen should be insulted by a reference to this very plain fact of life. It is time to face honestly and sincerely the purely scientific statistical evidence of natural racial distinction in group intellect. ... There is no bigotry either implicit or intended in such a realistic confrontation with the facts of life. ... Those who would undertake to solve the problem by merely spending more money, and by massive forced integration, may be doing the greatest injustice of all to the Negro."

After a stint as a lobbyist for the banking industry followed by a stretch as a media executive, Helms ran for Senate in 1972. He founded the Congressional Club, a future fundraising juggernaut of the conservative movement, to pay off his campaign debts.

In many ways, Jesse Helms was the father of modern racially charged political campaign ads. His fascination with race as a campaign weapon goes back at least to his work as an "unofficial researcher" for a 1950 senate campaign. Helms' side released a doctored photo of the rival candidate's wife dancing with a black man. At least one Helms biographer claims that Helms personally faked the picture, a charge Helms denied. 

Helms' own 1990 Senate race against Harvey Gantt is remembered as one of the ugliest, most racially charged contests in the history of the Senate (which is saying something). In that race, the Helms camp ran the infamous White Hands ad, featuring a pair of white hands crumpling a rejection letter. The voice over says, "You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority because of racial quotas." Helms' campaign was later cited by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating civil rights and voting laws. (I'll bet you didn't know that senior John McCain adviser Charlie Black also advised Helms in 1990.)

Let's not forget Helms' history as a patron of right wing terrorist movements around the world including the UNITA rebels in Angola, the RENAMO guerrillas in Mozambique, not to mention the Nicaraguan Contras. When assessing Helms' legacy, let's not forget his support for the Afghan mujahedin--the same groups that would turn on the U.S.

In fairness, Helms embraced diversity when it came to his enemies list. He despised gay people as much as African Americans, intellectuals, "sex perverts", and leftists: "Think about it. Homosexuals and lesbians, disgusting people marching in our streets demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other. How do you like them apples?" Helms said in a 1990 campaign speech, quoted in The Los Angeles Times. When Bill Clinton offered a quasi-defense of gays in the military, Helms said Clinton better have a bodyguard if he visited North Carolina.

Unlike many old school Southern racists, Helms went to his grave a more-or-less unreconstructed bigot. Governor George Wallace apologized for his pro-segregation crusade. Even Strom Thurmond mellowed enough to vote for the MLK holiday.

Whereas, Helms couldn't even muster more than a perfunctory whitewash in his own autobiography. “I did not advocate segregation, and I did not advocate aggravation,” he wrote.

After Helms announced that he would not seek another term, Michael Graham wrote in the National Review Online in 2001, "This is one of the disturbing legacies of Jesse Helms. Though you won't see it mentioned in the media coverage of his retirement, Helms was in fact an avowed and unapologetic segregationist." 

When he made an appearance on CNN’s Larry King Live in Sept. 1995, a caller praised him “for everything you’ve done to help keep down the niggers.”

Helms looked in the camera and replied, “Well thank you, I think.”

Now that Helms is dead, the mainstream media are already praising his fighting spirit and his steadfast dedication to conservative ideology. He's being hailed as a man of principal, which he was, if "White Power" counts as a principle.

David Broder of the Washington Post summed up Helms' legacy in an 2001 op/ed entitled, Jesse Helms, White Racist, "What is unique about Helms -- and from my viewpoint, unforgivable -- is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African Americans."

That says most of it. Here's the rest:

Heritage Foundation president Ed Fuelner called Helms a “dedicated, unflinching and articulate advocate of conservative policy and principle"--which tells you just about everything you need to know about Helms and the conservative movement.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Race-baiting former senator Jesse Helms has died:


I was always taught not to speak ill of the deceased, no matter how racist, sexist, homophobic, manipulative, ignorant, cement-headed, disgusting, or down-right evil that person might be.

My own general rule is to refrain from smacking the dead before their body has been buried or cremated or a suitable memorial service has been conducted in lieu.

But for Helms, if there is indeed a Book of Life, may his anti-American, hate-mongering name be blotted out of it.

I find it interesting that the same people who find it fitting to bash Jesse Helms now that he is dead are the same people who complained when people bashed Ted Kennedy when he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

I think that anyone who thinks we should wait till he is in the ground to talk honestly about his legacy are ignorant of the horrible things this person has dead. He did so much to obstruct help to early HIV patients, and so much to incite racial violence. We can't honor the people we all know who were hurt by his bigotry without speaking honestly about what a stain this guy was on humanity.

One less fevered ego tainting our collective unconscious.

He always put me in mind of a bipedal slug, less because of his physicality than his dull, stubborn, reactionary mindlessness. Conservative icon, indeed.

Facts are facts. I take no pleasure in his demise.

However, I take umbrage at the attempt to discuss a lifelong crusader for segregation as if he were some kind of American hero. The right wing myth machine is in high gear, churning out tearful tributes to a great man.

Very well. However, if the Heritage Foundation wants to nominate this guy as the essence of modern conservatism, I want people to know what he (and by extention) they really stand for. You can decide for yourself whether Helms' legacy is anything to be proud of.

A typo masks some of Helms's characteristic depravity: the quote in the seventh paragraph should begin: "'Are civil rights only for Negroes? White women in Washington who have been raped...'"

Too bad he never repented, as George Wallace did.

This is a powerful post. It reminds me that we liberals need to continue to race-bait ourselves, well into the 21st century and beyond lest the niggers stop voting for us. We don't have to worry this time around, but in 2012, we very well might need to start worrying again.

The Grim Reaper strikes a blow for progress.

Helms' own 1996 Senate race against Harvey Gantt... In that race, the Helms camp ran the infamous White Hands ad

Helms ran against Gantt twice, in 90 and 96... I think the infamous racist ad was from the first of those, not the second.

I’d post a few vituperative words about the old bigot, but not wanting to speak ill of the dead, I think instead I’ll let our fatuous prez cough up some jaw-dropping twaddle on the subject:

From The Economic Times (Times of India):

Describing the iconic conservative lawmaker Jesse Helms as an "unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty", US President George W Bush paid rich tributes to the five time senator and said a Senate committee under his leadership was a powerful force for freedom.

"Jesse Helms was a kind, decent, and humble man and a passionate defender of what he called 'the Miracle of America.' So it is fitting that this great patriot left us on the Fourth of July," he said in a statement, referring to the US Independence Day celebrated yesterday.

"And today, from Central America to Central Europe and beyond, people remember, in the dark days when the forces of tyranny seemed on the rise, Jesse Helms took their side," he said.

Bush described his conservative ally as "a stalwart defender of limited government and free enterprise, a fearless defender of a culture of life, and an unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty."

He was once asked if he had any ambitions beyond the United States Senate. He replied: "The only thing I am running for is the Kingdom of Heaven," the President said.

Thanks Stephen. Fixed it.

Obviously, there is plenty of time, in this modern media environment, to score partisan points from any event, even one as tragic as an individual's passing. But, at least at first, we should try to remember Senator Helms in the light that best reveals the depth and nuance of his character, despite our own petty partisan interests. We should remember him as a man who worked tirelessly -- ceaselessly -- for what he believed in. He put all of his verve, his talent, and his influence into the task of pursuing his most solemnly-held principles and furthering their application in public life.

For a more detailed version of the above remembrance, please substitute the word "racism" for the phrases "what he believed in" and "his most-solemnly held principles." You should substitute "its" for "their," to keep it all grammatical.

I for one would like to honor Senator Helms as someone who truly wished to help save the negroid race from itself.

I know de mortuis nil nisi bonum, but my vote is for nil. Let his name be forgotten. it's pretty much inevitable. Activists are remembered, reactionaries aren't. In the world of ideas he was already dead.

No anthology of Jesse Helms' malignant legacy is complete without some reference for his tireless efforts to support, fund and maintain the two-centuries old and ongoing rape of Haiti and its people.

Hell has gotten more crowded since the death of this racist scumbag.

Two clowns passed away yesterday, sadly Bozo has left us and this other clown, the dark and scary one.

One less Nasty Piece of Work making a mess of things for the rest of us, frankly.

No speaking ill of the dead?

...OK. Gosh, Hitler and Stalin were efficient, weren't they?

Do not speak ill of the dead... Hmmm. Condi Rice just said on July 3rd (2008), "I am proud of the decision of this administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein." But he's dead (as of December 30, 2006), so he must be a nice guy, according to the principle... Why is Condi being so rude, then?

I use the Helms-Gantt "White Hands" commercial in my presidential elections class, and every single semester the students have to be convinced that it is real. They just assume that it is a parody or an attack piece designed to make Helms look bad.

No, kids, it's very real.

My parents raised me to never speak ill of the recently departed, no matter how racist, sexist, homophobic, ignorant, socially retarded, delusional, manipulative, ass-backward, or downright evil that person might have been...

how the hell can you talk shit about someone who's recently died .What the fuck is wrong with you?


When this post on the passing of former senator Jesse Helms first appeared I was at a loss for words. As much as I wanted to express my opinion of this embarrassment to the image of our country, I couldn't summon the words without embarrassing myself and losing control by hurling upon him the worst names I could imagine.

There is good news, however. My favorite writer, Christopher Hitchens, has done the job masterfully. His article, "Farewell to a Provincial Redneck" is online at . I quote the last paragraph:

"The way to mark Helms' passing is to recognize that he prolonged the life of the old segregated South and the Dixiecrat ascendancy and that in his own person, not unlike Strom Thurmond, he personified much of its absurdity and redundancy."

For those of you in search of a model to emulate on the craft of writing, I recommend Christopher Hitchens. Even when you find yourself disagreeing with his views, his mastery of the written word is self evident.

The comments to this entry are closed.