WGN News, Channel 9, Chicago

US Rep. Mary Miller’s PR people said it was “a mix-up of words,” but her audience at a fairgrounds near Quincy cheered, and the news went worldwide. In the UK, the Guardian’s international edition carried an Associated Press story reporting:

Illinois Republican Mary Miller told a crowd at a rally held alongside former president Donald Trump that the supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade was a “victory for white life”.

“President Trump, on behalf of all the Maga patriots in America, I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the supreme court yesterday,” she said, drawing cheers from the crowd in Illinois.

Miller’s spokesperson Isaiah Wartman told an AP reporter she meant to say it was a “victory for right to life” instead at a campaign rally Saturday. And I’m inclined to believe him. Miller’s campaign also told the AP “she is the grandmother of several non-white grandchildren, including one with Down syndrome.”

Fair enough. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

And, as the AP writer said, Miller’s “line as delivered was out of step with the disproportionate impact the repeal of abortion rights will have on women of color.”

But the linkage between the Republican Party, the anti-abortion movement and white nationalism is well known and long-standing. As long ago as a 2019 op ed piece in the Washington Post, Ari M. Brostoff quoted then-US Rep. Steve King of western Iowa in terms that specifically echo the extreme right-wing European “great replacement theory”:

Last fall, speaking to a far-right Austrian magazine, the Iowa Republican congressman Steve King succinctly laid out his theory of Western decline. The problem, he suggested, was a demographic born at the nexus of reproduction and immigration. “If we continue to abort our babies and import a replacement for them in the form of young violent men, we are supplanting our culture, our civilization,” King said.

Brostoff, the culture editor at Jewish Currents, a left-wing magazine in New York, noted in the op ed piece that “as King and his white nationalist allies have become increasingly comfortable admitting, state crackdowns on reproductive and immigrant rights are inextricably linked.” This development, almost three years ago, specifically included replacement theory. Said Brostoff:

King is only the most notorious of the politicians who have recently justified their opposition to abortion by linking it to their anti-immigration politics. Conservative lawmakers and right-wing vigilantes alike have adopted a seemingly new language for describing their antiabortion stance: the white nationalist discourse of the “great replacement,” a conspiracy theory that holds that nonwhite immigrants are demographically “replacing” whites throughout the West. [Links in the original.]

King was too extreme for the Republican Party as it stood in 2019. He was stripped of his committee assignments, and the following year he would be defeated for re-election in the GOP primary. But since then, replacement theory and other white Christian nationalist tropes have been prominently spread by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson and members of GOP leadership in the House of Representatives. They seem to be gaining ground.

At the same time, the radically conservative majority Trump installed on the Supreme Court has handed down several decisions that have more than a whiff of white Christian nationalism about them. Plus a sense that religious and cultural pluralism in America threatens white Christian hegemony. (I’ve blogged about it HERE and HERE.) For an old courthouse reporter who has studied church-state relations from the time of Roger Williams to the present (and blogged about it most recently HERE, for example), it’s an alarming trend.

So there’s a broader context to Rep. Miller’s apparent Freudian slip and the crowd’s delighted reaction to it in Adams County.

When Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion striking down Roe v. Wade was first leaked in May, Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, warned it was part of this larger trend. In an op ed for Religion News Service he wrote:

“It should be no surprise that we see these attacks on abortion — settled law for half a century — ramping up in the same year we are seeing attacks on teaching kids about systemic racism or LGBTQ identity and families, and renewed challenges to church-state separation, such as the current case before the Supreme Court about whether a football coach at a public high school should be allowed to lead Protestant Christian prayers on the 50-yard line after games. These are all of a piece — a concerted attempt by conservative white Christians to reassert their dominance in a rapidly diversifying America.

I’ll let Jones have the last word. He says it better than I can: “This decision is not just about abortion.” Nor is Mary Miller’s slip of the tongue.

Links and Citations

Ari M. Brostoff, “How white nationalists aligned themselves with the antiabortion movement,” Washington Post, Aug. 27, 2019 https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/08/27/how-white-nationalists-aligned-themselves-with-antiabortion-movement/.

Nicholas Confessore and Karen Yourish, “A Fringe Conspiracy Theory, Fostered Online, Is Refashioned by the G.O.P.,” New York Times, May 15, 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/15/us/replacement-theory-shooting-tucker-carlson.html.

“Illinois Republican tells Trump rally that Roe verdict a ‘victory for white life’,” The Guardian, June 26, 2022 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jun/26/illinois-mary-miller-roe-wade-abortion-verdict-victory-for-white-life-trump.

Robert P. Jones, “Alito and public opinion reveal link between Roe and broader white Christian nationalist agenda,” Religion News Service, May 4, 2022 https://religionnews.com/2022/05/04/alito-and-public-opinion-reveal-the-link-between-roe-and-a-broader-white-christian-nationalist-agenda/.

[Published June 26, 2022]

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