On Friday, Donald Trump told a rally, “Don’t just vote…go around and look and watch other polling places.” For me, this immediately evoked Congressman Alfred Moore Wadell’s words in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 5, 1900:
“Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find [a] Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls…if he refuses, kill him. Shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.”
Thirteen days later – November 18, 1900 – my great-grandmother was born, three hours away, on a plantation in tiny Eastover, South Carolina. Congress wouldn’t pass the Voting Rights Act for another 65 years, meaning my great-grandmother could draw Social Security before she could vote.
Today in museums you can see old black-and-white photos of white men, foot atop Southern ballot boxes, jawline protruding with dip, shotgun in hand, staring down would-be black voters. That was my great-grandmother’s South.
I fear Donald Trump’s actions will bring it back.
I’m worried because his call for vigilantism comes three days after he publicly flirted his opponent’s assassination, urging gun owners “maybe there is” something they can do if Hillary wins. Trump said that in the same city – Wilmington, North Carolina – where Alfred Wadell assured his white mob, “we shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.”
We also know what Trump meant because his top advisor Roger Stone added: if Hillary “steal[s] this” there “will be a bloodbath.”
Coast to coast, supporters commit violence – in Trump’s name – against people of color. “They want this country to be great again,” Trump beams. Strapped Trump supporters “patrol” his rallies, assaulting black and Latino interlopers. His supporters organized armed “security” at the RNC. Of protestors, they threatened: “we’re not going to put up with it.” Trump over and over and over again incites his supporters to violence, including “Knock the crap out of ‘em!”. Trump oozes nostalgia for Wadell’s America. “I love the old days” when protestors were “carried out on a stretcher,” he gushes.
The America Trump wants to “Make Great Again,” looks – to me – like the one of our 17th president. “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men,” Andrew Johnson said. In that spirit, Alfred Waddell led thousands of white men in the Wilmington massacre of 1898, furious that white men did not win every, single position in local elections. “Wadell’s Army” torched buildings and removed every elected official from office at gun-point. A hundred black Wilmingtonians were murdered in cold-blood.
This week, the persistently-racist Roger Stone extolled a coming “bloodbath.” A century ago, Waddell’s cousin pronounced, “a bloodletting is needed for the health of the common wealth.” Eerily similar. At “barbaric slaughter[’s]” end, Wilmington was “a blood-drenched theatre.”
Blood. Soaked. Ballots.
This is what happens when demagogues inflame armed, sore losers to regard their elected government as illegitimate. Antietam and Appomattox attest to the same. But I suspect Trump already knows this.
Friday Trump showed us his white hood when he sneered: “in certain sections of the state, they cheat,” adding, “Go down to certain areas…make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”
Subtlety is a dying art-form with these white supremacists. I’m old enough to remember a time before the laziness set in, when politicians respected the craft enough to actually whistle their dog whistles. Nowadays, Trump blares his from a bullhorn. Over a loud speaker. Attached to an amp.
Not trusting his audience to get the hints, Trump brought Congressman Bill Shuster on-stage to spell it out. “The people in western and central Pennsylvania have to overcome what goes on down in Philadelphia – the cheating, what they do…,” Shuster charged.
We know what “they” look like. They said this in Altoona, Pennsylvania, which is 94% white (and economically struggling). Philadelphia, by contrast, has a black plurality – 44%, 37% non-Hispanic white, and 12% Hispanic.
Citizens of the white republic —
This is a white man’s government.
Make it that way again.
Alfred Waddell – and his blood-soaked ballots – speaks from the grave, through Trump.
As recently as the 1980s, Trump succor Roger Stone was an instigator of a shady outfit called National Ballot Security Task Force (BSTF). To New Jersey, BTSF dispatched a Texan with an arrest record for impersonating a police officer and twice threatening people at gun-point. BSTF also allied with Anthony Imperiale, known for referring to MLK as “Martin Luther Coon” and leading armed “white self-defense” after the 1967 Newark riots. BSTF parachuted armed off-duty cops and vigilantes, with official-looking armbands and walkie-talkies – paramilitary-style – to intimidate black and Latino voting precincts. “I saw Newark vigilante Tony Imperiale beat a black man caught selling drugs senseless,” Stone later recalled.
Mission: Intimidation Accomplished. “If you find a Negro out voting…”
Scary fact: if only white people voted, Donald Trump would win a landslide this November. Trump World is gunning for an electorate that is whitest. That’s why the same North Carolina that Alfred Wadell told “You are Anglo-Saxons…” a century ago, is disenfranchising black voters with “surgical precision” today. It’s why Roger Stone has been tweeting, “We at the #Trump Ballot Security Project…” all this year. Trump has a link on his website: “Volunteer to be a Trump election observer.”
Trump’s Friday comments – “we’re hiring a lot of people… we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching” – make clear what he and Stone are up to. Under the guise of “policing” the polls, Trump proposes to steal, what he cannot win. This is no idle threat. On Friday, what I heard Trump say is: this is a white man’s republic. We will keep it that way. With ballots soaked in blood, if necessary.
Yet, if my great-grandmother were alive today, this would all sound – bloodcurdlingly – familiar.