Conservatives and Martin Luther King: When Martin Luther King was buried in Atlanta, the live television coverage lasted seven and a half hours. President Johnson announced a national day of mourning:
Together, a nation united and a nation caring and a nation concerned and a nation that thinks more of the nation's interests than we do of any individual self-interest or political interest--that nation can and shall and will overcome.
Richard Nixon called King:
a great leader--a man determined that the American Negro should win his rightful place alongside all others in our nation.
Even one of King's most beastly political enemies, Mississippi Representative William Colmer, chairman of the House rules committee, honored the president's call to unity by terming the murder "a dastardly act."
Others demurred. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond wrote his constituents:
[W]e are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case.
Another, even more prominent conservative said it was just the sort of:
great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they'd break.
That was Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, arguing that King had it coming. King was the man who taught people they could choose which laws they'd break--in his soaring exegesis on St. Thomas Aquinas from that Birmingham jail in 1963:
Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. ... Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong….
[T]oday, of course… you get now are convoluted and fantastical tributes arguing that, properly understood, Martin Luther King was actually one of them--or would have been…. But, if we are going to have a holiday to honor history, we might as well honor history…. Conservatives--both Democrats and Republicans--hated King's doctrines. Hating them was one of the litmus tests of conservatism. The idea was expounded most systematically in a 567-page book that came out shortly after King's assassination, House Divided: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, by one of the right's better writers, Lionel Lokos, and from the conservative movement's flagship publisher, Arlington House. "He left his country a legacy of lawlessness," Lokos concluded. "The civil disobedience glorified by Martin Luther King [meant] that each man had the right to put a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on laws that met with his favor."… This logic followed William F. Buckley, who, in a July 20, 1967 column titled "King-Sized Riot In Newark," imagined the dialogue between a rioter and a magistrate:
You do realize that there are laws against burning down delicatessen stores? Especially when the manager and his wife are still inside the store?
Laws Schmaws. Have you never heard of civil disobedience? Have you never heard of Martin Luther King?…
We know about the Chicagoans who hated King enough to throw bricks at him. We have forgotten that, while such hooliganism was universally reviled, the reviling establishment also embraced Reagan-like arguments about why that was only to be expected. Upon King's assassination, The Chicago Tribune editorialized: "A day of mourning is in order"--but this was because civil disobedience had finally won the day. "Moral values are at the lowest level since the decadence of Rome," the editors argued, but only one of their arguments was racial: "If you are black, so goes the contention, you are right, and you must be indulged in every wish. Why, sure, break the window and make off with the color TV set, the case of liquor, the beer, the dress, the coat, and the shoes. We won't shoot you. That would be 'police brutality.'" Another was: "At countless universities, the doors of dormitories are open to mixed company, with no supervision." The conservative argument, consistent and ubiquitous, was that King, claiming the mantle of moral transcendence, was actually the vector for moral relativism….
Shortly after the 1965 Selma voting-rights demonstrations, Klansmen shot dead one of the marchers, a Detroit housewife named Viola Liuzza, for the sin of riding in a car with a black man. Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended her funeral. No fair! Buckley cried, noting that a white cop had been shot by a black man in Hattiesburg shortly thereafter:
Humphrey did not appear at his funeral or even offer condolences.
He complained, too, of the news coverage:
The television cameras showed police nightsticks descending upon the bodies of the demonstrators, but they did not show the defiance... of those who provoked them beyond the endurance that we tend to think of as human…
National Review and Terrorism Revisited: On September 15, 1963 a bomb went off at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing 4 black girls and injuring many more children. (Those killed were Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair; McNair had been a classmate of the young Condoleezza Rice). The bomb was set by members of the Klu Klux Klan, as part of a wave of terror designed to intimidate the civil rights movement.
Here is how National Review commented on the bombing in the October 1, 1963 issue of their biweekly Bulletin:
The fiend who set off the bomb does not have the sympathy of the white population in the South; in fact, he set back the cause of the white people there so dramatically as to raise the question whether in fact the explosion was the act of a provocateur – of a Communist, or of a crazed Negro. Some circumstantial evidence lends a hint of plausibility to that notion, especially the ten-minute fuse (surely a white man walking away form the church basement ten minutes earlier would have been noticed?). And let it be said that the convulsions that go on, and are bound to continue, have resulted from revolutionary assaults on the status quo, and a contempt for the law, which are traceable to the Supreme Court’s manifest contempt for the settled traditions of Constitutional practice….
In the early 1960s, a renegade band of military men in France tried to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, after he made it clear that he was going to allow Algeria to become independent. In an editorial published in their May 6, 1961 issue, National Review celebrated the would-be assassins and excoriated the French President. About Maurice Challe, the leader of the putsch, the magazine wrote he:
has been, for France, the highest living embodiment of the ideal of the soldier: absolute in courage, skill, dedication, loyalty, self-sacrifice…. All normal and legal means having been exhausted, these soldiers… placed their duty to their country, their civilization, and their God above their duty to their commander in chief. By sheer interposition of their united will, they made a desperate and supreme attempt to block the enemy’s advance, and thus save France and Europe, and the Free World from a mortal danger….
On September 21, 1976 a bomb went off in Washington, DC killing Orlando Letelier (an exiled Chilean diplomat and critic of the Pinochet dictatorship) and his assistant Ronni Moffitt. The bomb had been planted by agents of the Chilean government, who were then engaged in a worldwide effort to assassinate perceived enemies of the regime. National Review, several of whose editors and writers had taken luxurious junkets paid for by the Pinochet government, went out of their way to try and defame Letelier as a communist and suggest (somewhat illogically) that he had been killed by the Cuban government. On July 15, 1977 the magazine suggested that Letelier had been an “agent of the U.S.S.R.” On September 1, 1978 William F. Buckley wrote that “there are highly reasonable, indeed compelling, grounds for doubting that Pinochet had anything to do with the assassination.”… As with the church bombing, the whole point of these editorials and columns was to muddy the water and shift attention away from the guilty.