Politics

07.23.13

What Rand Paul Aide Jack Hunter and His Resignation Say About His Boss

Two weeks after news broke of his history as a neo-Confederate radio host who claimed Lincoln committed genocide, Jack Hunter is out as Rand Paul’s aide. James Kirchick on how Hunter telegraphed what Paul truly thinks.

On Sunday, the aide announced his resignation from Rand Paul’s Senate office, two weeks after the Washington Free Beacon broke the story of his history as an inflammatory neo-Confederate radio host. Hunter’s official position in Paul’s office was “social media director,” but he was really more of an all-around confidant, having ghostwritten the senator’s 2011 book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington.

Perusing Hunter’s archive at the Charleston City Paper, where he wrote a weekly column from 2008 to 2012, seemed like a good place to see what it was that drew Paul’s interest. Was it Hunter’s reference to the Civil War as the “War for Southern Independence”?

Or perhaps it was his claim that Abraham Lincoln had committed “genocide” against white Southerners?

As late as 2010, while Hunter was working on Paul’s book, he also found time to praise “the soldiers who fought under that proud Southern banner,” the Confederate flag. The column, headlined “How can Southerners defend the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?” sought to draw a comparison between the supposed anti-“imperialism” of the old Confederacy and those Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan blowing themselves up at marketplaces and schools. Lincoln’s “imperialism,” Hunter argued, was little different from that of George W. Bush’s, as they were both waging a “war of aggression to satisfy corporate and political interests.” Hunter likened “Nineteenth century Southerners” who “naturally felt it was their duty to repel foreign armies in their own backyard” to Afghans (i.e., al Qaeda and the Taliban) setting off roadside bombs against American and allied soldiers. Hunter was on to something in his comparison of the Confederate cause and the Islamofascist one, as they were both predicated on upholding barbarism, albeit in different forms. But it says much about Hunter that he intended the comparison as a favorable one.

Whatever one thinks of the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s a pretty boneheaded thing to write. And it says a great deal about the judgment of Senator Paul that he would, according to a recent in-depth profile in The Washington Monthly, have chosen Hunter to advise him on, of all things, foreign policy.

Given Hunter’s fire-spitting image, it is not surprising that he would bow out with some fighting words for those who allegedly took him down. “It was enraging to watch neoconservatives, liberals, and even some actual racists speculate about what I believe, based on what they were eager to portray me as believing. Not surprisingly, their speculations almost always suited their own political purposes,” he told The Daily Caller’s Jim Antle.

But it wasn’t “neoconservatives” who forced Hunter into writing that he annually toasted Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth’s birthday. Or that he saw “that sick bearded bastard” as akin to “Hitler.”

The most important lesson to be gleaned from this episode is that Paul defended Hunter to the end. Indeed, by all accounts it was Hunter who decided to quit. He was not forced out.

Like his political idol, Rand Paul’s father and erstwhile presidential candidate Ron Paul, Hunter appears to be something of a coward. In 2008, when the full contents of the elder Paul’s newsletters were revealed to have been chock-full of racist (not to mention anti-Semitic and homophobic) paranoia, Paul tried to pass off the whole saga as the fault of unnamed ghostwriters. Rather than admit the obvious—that he was fully aware of what was going out, under his own name, to tens of thousands of subscribers—Paul played clueless.

Similarly, Hunter is now trying to claim that his neo-Confederate views are some sort of youthful indiscretion. It was a defense to which his former boss added sustenance, telling The Huffington Post, “But can a guy not have a youth and stuff? People try to say I smoked pot one time, and I wasn't fit for office.” But Hunter’s espousal of views that should have been out of fashion 160 years ago was not brief, childish dabbling but the stuff of a 15-year career that spanned well into his late 30s.

Put before proper media scrutiny, the brash “Southern Avenger” is a shrinking violet. In the wake of the Washington Free Beacon’s initial report, he begged his former editor at the Charleston City Paper, Chris Haire, to remove “dozens” of his columns from the publication’s website. This, Haire wrote, revealed all he needed to know about Hunter’s alleged “conversion” from white supremacist to respectable libertarian, which is that it “was solely for appearances only.”

Confederate nostalgics like Jack Hunter are a dime a dozen; more relevant is what he can tell us about his former boss, a sitting U.S. senator and leading 2016 Republican presidential candidate. So what was it that endeared Hunter to Rand Paul? Prior to joining the senator’s staff, Hunter had worked as the official blogger for the 2012 Ron Paul presidential campaign. In one of his final columns, a “tribute to the retiring congressman who changed the country and my life,” Hunter gushed, “Where I reside, my friends, my career trajectory, my everyday thinking about political principles, job opportunities, even something as intimate as my love life has been revolutionized in some way by the remarkable achievement of Dr. Paul.” The Ron Paul movement has long had a cultish aspect to it, detectable in the way the former congressman’s followers speak of him as the one man who can save the Republic from a disastrous fate; indeed, the fate of humanity itself rests on us sheep heeding his dire calls.

But the most important lesson to be gleaned from this episode is that Rand Paul defended Hunter to the end. Indeed, by all accounts it was Hunter who decided to quit. He was not forced out. That should hardly come as a surprise, as cavorting with extremists is a key part of the Paul family playbook. In the midst of the newsletter scandal, when many of Ron Paul’s most die-hard supporters urged him to do it, he never distanced himself from Lew Rockwell, his former chief of staff who most likely penned the screeds. Paul could have easily salvaged some degree of his reputation had he fully explained Rockwell’s role in their production. Not only did he choose to protect Rockwell, but immediately after stepping down from Congress, he established a foreign-policy think tank on whose board sits Rockwell, along with a bevy of other conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, and all-around cranks.

And so Hunter appears to be to Paul the younger what Rockwell was (and remains) to Paul the elder: a trusted acolyte who can telegraph to the fringe just what his patron truly thinks.