With the Cordoba House controversy, the mainstream press has suddenly discovered that the Anti-Defamation League is more than willing to give sanction to bigotry. But the ADL has a long history of allowing cynical political calculations to trump its professed concerns about racism.
In a virtually unknown and unreported event in 1999, the ADL pointedly refused to condemn Richard Quinn, a leading white nationalist publisher who had come under fire for his history of promoting racist screeds before taking a job as a consultant for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. Though the ADL initially expressed concern about Quinn’s role on the McCain campaign, it backed off for reasons that appeared to relate to the calculated “pro-Israel” line of Quinn’s magazine.
The episode began after John McCain’s surprising victory in the 1999 New Hampshire Republican primary. Controversy ensued when the New Republic’s Benjamin Soskis revealed that McCain had hired the longtime editor of Southern Partisan Magazine, Richard Quinn, as a consultant. Quinn came under fire from Soskis and many others for editing a neo-Confederate magazine that promoted white nationalist themes. For his part, Quinn had authored an editorial in his publication denouncing Martin Luther King Day as “vitriolic and profane;” attacked Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist” and a “bad egg;” and wrote the following about the KKK’s former Imperial Wizard-cum-Louisiana GOP gubernatorial candidate: “What better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke? What better way to tweak the nose of the establishment?”
As the bad press piled up, and reporters discovered gems like the ad in Southern Partisan for a t-shirt emblazoned with a Republican elephant logo that read, “Lincoln’s Worst Nightmare!” Quinn began to work his contacts. Finally, his friend Sam Tennenbaum, who served at the time on the ADL’s advisory board, intervened in his defense, ensuring that the ADL did not condemn the Southern Partisan or disturb the McCain campaign about employing an avowed neo-Confederate.
Even the Anti-Defamation League, trusting the information that had been conveyed in the media, wrote McCain a letter requesting an explanation. Regular readers of the Partisan know that we have never published anything that even suggested anti-Semitism. In that regard, a friend of Richard Quinn’s [Sam Tennenbaum, a South Carolina businessman and a prominent Democrat] happens to serve on an advisory board to the Anti-Defamation League. Tennenbaum called the League’s national leaders and persuaded them that the attack on Quinn was unfair and undeserved.
Why did the ADL let the Southern Partisan off the hook when it had been so zealous in assailing other white nationalist organizations? A pro-Israel screed authored by Sullivan in 4th Quarterly issue of Southern Partisan in 2001, right after the 9-11 attacks, may offer an explanation. In an article called “Whose Fault?” [read full version here] Sullivan wrote:
Does anybody, however, really thing that if George Bush had come into office and renounced American support for the state of Israel that bin Laden’s sleepers would have packed their bags, settled their bills and flown back to Arabia? Of course not. They hate Jewish Israel and they hate Christian America. If the radical Arabs and Palestinians were successful in their murderous dream of annihilating every last Jew from The Levant, it would only mean more free time to scheme up another plot to destroy the West.
Within neo-Confederate circles, and by extension within the paleoconservative movement, Israel is a generally unpopular cause. Thus the Southern Partisan stood out in its roaring defense of the Jewish State’s value to the United States.
Ed Sebesta, one of the country’s leading researchers on the neo-Confederate movement, suggested to me that the Southern Partisan’s unusual pro-Israel bent helped explain why Quinn was able to marshall the ADL as his ally. “One of the leading figures in the neo-Confederate movement is Frank Conner whose book, ‘The South Under Siege: 1830-2000,’ has chapters of anti-Jewish writing. It is representative of neo-Confederate thinking. Frank Conner is a figure respected in the Sons of Confederate Veterans [the nation’s largest neo-Confederate group] and was the author of multiple articles for the Sons of Confederate Veterans educational foundation publication, ‘Southern Mercury.’ What is interesting is that the paleoconservatives and neo-Confederates are very critical of Israel. But the Southern Partisan was always the publication of Richard Quinn, a Republican party consultant who needed to earn a living. So its position on Israel is anomalous relative to the neo-Confederate movement.”
The ADL’s refusal to condemn Quinn was a telling episode. Foxman and company may have been willing to ignore all the racist propaganda Quinn and his associates promoted (the Partisan ran a glowing review of the pornographic anti-immigrant tract, “Camp of the Saints,” in the same issue in which it defended Quinn) because the magazine maintained a strict “pro-Israel” line. There is hardly any other explanation for the ADL’s strange silence. In contrast, the Southern Poverty Law Center has repeatedly taken on the Southern Partisan and the figures behind it. The SPLC is able to take a sincere and principled stance against bigotry because, unlike the ADL, it does not have a foreign policy.