I guess I should start with the fact that Alan Harper is white. He has a broad, ruddy face, white hair, a corresponding broom-like mustache and wide-set eyes the color of the sea. At 58, he looks like a cross between Wilford Brimley and Tom Selleck. He is very, very white and, it would seem, he is proud of this fact.
Harper, a Republican legislator in Alabama’s state house (representing Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties), shared an important announcement with his 2,551 Facebook friends on Monday: beware any local business not owned by white, religious people like himself, because they are funding terrorism in the Middle East.
“As you travel during the holidays or any other time, please try to shop and purchase gas and other items at American owned stores,” he advised, agreeably enough.
From there, his tone changed somewhat.
“The [convenience] stores/tobacco outlets, etc. with the lights around the windows and doors are not owned by God fearing Christians. In large part, these stores are owned by folk that send their profits back to their homeland and then in turn use these funds against our country to create turmoil, fear and in some cases death and destruction.”
Harper, who naturally is the chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee in Alabama, acknowledged that he was “painting with a broad brush” (a phrase he put in scare quotes), “but the madness has to stop.”
In conclusion, he wrote, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May God Bless.”
Such nativist and even racist rhetoric has seen a spike in popularity over the last several months, to the extent that it has seeped into mainstream political discourse.
With the rise of Donald Trump—beginning in June with an announcement speech that included the claim that illegal immigrants of Mexican descent are “rapists” and “criminals”—came the realization that a loud, if minor, faction of the Republican Party is uncomfortably comfortable with ideas that veer toward white supremacism.
And as Trump has proven reliably impervious to criticism, his rivals have begun to echo him. After the Paris terror attacks, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush suggested that the U.S. should only admit Syrian refugees who are Christians. (That would be the Jeb Bush whose campaign began under the pretense that he would not cave to the far-right in order to secure the nomination.)
In the pre-Trump era, a small-ball politician like Harper fear-mongering about nonwhite business owners sending hard-earned Southern dollars to ISIS wouldn’t have meant much. Local politics has forever been populated by colorful looney toons with crazy ideas.
In November 2015, however, it feels symptomatic of a broader sort of descent.
Matt Tucker, an employee at J&J Tobacco in Harper’s district, told The Daily Beast, in a Southern twang, “Uhhh, don’t really care about people’s opinions!”
Asked about Harper’s claim that most tobacco stores “with lights around the windows and doors” are owned by non-Americans who use their profits to fund terrorism, Tucker said, “Our store isn’t owned by an Indian so I guess it’s not true.”
Tucker didn’t have an opinion about Harper’s comment, personally. “Let’s see what the voters think!” he said.
Harper, who switched from the Democratic to Republican Party in 2012, didn’t reply to a phone call, an email, or a Facebook message sent by The Daily Beast, but in response to some negative feedback on his post (which boasts 100 shares and 68 “likes” as of this writing) he wrote, “God bless each and everyone and God Bless America! Isn’t it funny when things are taken out of context.”
James Crowder seemed to understand Harper’s context just fine. On Harper’s post, he commented, “Sorry Representative, cannot and will not share such hatred.”
Crowder told The Daily Beast that he “couldn’t resist” calling Harper out because what he said was “inappropriate for the position he has in the state legislature.” Previously, Crowder said, he noticed that Harper was inclined toward “off-the-cuff” remarks.
A scroll through Harper’s Facebook page reveals that he’s an Elvis fan and on Nov. 11, he voiced support for a South Carolina school officer who violently dragged a female student from her classroom.
“JUST reporting facts from my past experience,” Harper said, but “when a police officer asks or instructs me to undertake an action…I do it immediately and without question.” If he didn’t comply, he said, “I full well expect to have the ‘snot’ kicked out of me and that is fine if I am non compliant.”
Nancy Worley, chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, told The Daily Beast, “It’s hard for me to respond to something this crazy!”
She said it was “hard to believe that a lawmaker would make the kind of statement that he has made.”
Democrats, she said, support American businesses and American-made products, “but you can’t judge a person who works in a convenience store or a person who owns a convenience store or someone who puts up lights around their door in a holiday season as someone who’s going to enact terrorism toward Americans!”
Tensions have been heated after the Paris terror attacks, she acknowledged, but what Harper said is “actually the most ludicrous statement I’ve heard someone make” so far.
She said she’s just glad they no longer share a political party. “Thank goodness he’s not one of ours now making these kind of statements!”
According to Facebook, Harper “likes” Mike Huckabee—another Southern gentleman with a heart of gold—but he is perfectly in-step with Trump’s message (Trump, after all, vowed to never eat Oreos, which he “loves,” again since Nabisco is moving its factory to Mexico).
Trump’s campaign did not reply when asked if the candidate would consider Harper as his vice president.