‘Very Fine People’

Alabama State Auditor Who Defended Moore Spoke to Racist Group in 2015

That quote you saw defending Roy Moore by invoking Joseph and Mary? That was Jim Zeigler, and he’s quite a piece of work.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who this week defended U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore against allegations of molesting a 14-year-old girl by saying they were “much ado about very little,” is not just an apologist for sexual abuse.

He has also done his part to legitimize white nationalism.

Zeigler, an enthusiast of President Trump and a far-right politician even by local standards, gave a major speech in 2015 to the League of the South, a wildly racist group that opposes racial intermarriage, describes egalitarianism as a “fatal heresy,” fantasizes about a coming race war, and says, in the words of its leader, that “organized Jewry” has been behind the South’s problems for a century.

Zeigler’s comments on Thursday followed by hours The Washington Post’s publication of a remarkable and heavily sourced story detailing four women’s on-the-record allegations against Moore, the far-right “Ten Commandments judge” who is running for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama. The women said they were approached for dates at a time when Moore was a prosecutor in his thirties and they were 14, 16, 17, and 18 years old. Sixteen is the age of consent in Alabama.

According to the Post story, Moore went furthest with Leigh Corfman, then 14. It reported that on a visit to his house—after picking her up near her home—“he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, [Corfman] says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.” She said she recoiled and asked Moore to drive her home, which he did. The other women described Moore asking for dates and kissing them.

The response from Zeigler, a fellow Republican, was remarkable. “There is nothing to see here… the allegations are that a man in his early 30s dated teenage girls,” Zeigler told The Washington Examiner. He then compared Moore’s actions to several relationships in the Bible. “Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became the parents of Jesus. … There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Actually, if the story is correct, it was illegal. In 1979, as today, a person at least 19 who has sexual contact with a child aged 12 to 16 is guilt of sexual abuse. The crime, according the Post, is punishable by up to one year in jail.

Zeigler spoke to the League of the South (LOS) at its Wetumpka, Alabama, headquarters building in September 2015. Although there is no transcript or recording of the speech available, both Zeigler and LOS leader Michael Hill told reporters after it became public that his speech was a jeremiad against the temporary removal of the portraits of segregationist Gov. George Wallace and his wife from the Statehouse.

Zeigler created a Facebook page about the event at the time, describing the LOS’ membership as “salt-of-the-earth folks.” Earlier the same year, he had angrily attacked the “purge of Confederate history” that he saw in the removal of some Confederate memorabilia from a museum in the capital of Montgomery.

When Zeigler was criticized for speaking to and legitimizing the LOS, he said the gathering has been akin to “a Sunday school picnic.” He repeated that he did not see the LOS as a hate group but one defending traditional culture.

The League of the South was founded in 1994 by a group of right-wing university professors. It grew more and more openly racist, eventually prompting most academics to leave it even as “Aryan” extremists and others joined up. I know all this because I studied the group for years while studying the radical right as an official of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group based in Alabama.

By the time Zeigler spoke to the group, it was urging its members to buy weapons, including tools to derail trains, in anticipation of a coming race war or similar conflict. It had set up a paramilitary force it called the “Indomitables.” Six months before the talk, Hill had warned that if “negroes” wanted a race war, they would be in for “a very rude awakening.” He began talking in the same period of “the perfidy of the organized Jew.” As early as 2012, Hill was saying that white people are endowed with what he called “a God-ordained superiority.”

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More explicitly, the LOS sought, in all seriousness, a second Southern secession. It promoted, and still does, the creation of a theocracy dominated by “Anglo-Celtic” whites, and a feudal system of assigning different legal rights and social positions to various strata of the new society it envisioned.

The LOS talk wasn’t Zeigler’s only brush with extremism.

In March 2017, Zeigler posted a photograph with the words “Without Hoods,” depicting Democratic congresswomen dressed in white to commemorate the suffragist movement. Above it was a photo of a group of hooded Klan members. Among the politicians shown was U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the state’s only Democratic and black member of Congress. In December 2015, Zeigler denounced the United Nations after a UN team wrote a report that criticized the state’s voter ID law and its alleged suppression of abortion services. “The U.N. is preparing to try to dictate to Alabama what we must do on abortion, contraceptives given to youth, sex education in the schools, tolerance of alternative sexual orientation and other ‘progressive’ issues,” he said. Zeigler’s statement was highly reminiscent of a far-right conspiracy theory about the UN’s Agenda 21 that depicts the sustainability plan as a conspiracy to impose socialism on the U.S. In the wake of the 2015 white supremacist massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, Zeigler opined that the lesson was that congregants should carry guns to services. He also bemoaned the widespread criticism of the Confederate battle flag that followed the murders.

Jim Zeigler is apparently a forgiving man when it comes to certain people’s sexual peccadillos, saying late Thursday that even if the Post story about Moore was entirely accurate, “there was no sexual intercourse and he did not attempt sexual intercourse.” Zeigler wasn’t so forgiving in March 2016, when he filed an ethics complaint against Robert J. Bentley, alleging the then-governor of Alabama had used state funds to further a consensual affair with a full-grown aide.