You probably don’t know GOP Rep. French Hill, who’s running in Arkansas’ Second Congressional District. But you may have heard a radio ad supporting him — one featuring two black women stoking fears of false rape accusations and dropping the jaw-dropping line, “Gurl, white Democrats will be lynching black folks again.” It ends with one of the women, in her best just-between-you-me-and-the-beauty-shop voice, telling the listener, “We can’t afford to let white Democrats take us back to bad old days of race verdicts, life sentences and lynchings when a white girl screams rape.”
The plot twist at the end: It was “paid for by Black Americans for the President’s Agenda.”
When the ad went viral last Friday, many assumed it was a scam. Perhaps it was some cunning race-based hype from an organization for the advancement of racist white people, especially since the two voices in the ad sound like a pair of white people trying their best to sound stereotypically black, a warped, 21st century twist on The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show, a segregation-era radio show that featured two white performers pretending to be black for laughs. But this ad wasn’t racism played for laughs. It’s a deliberate ploy to split the Democratic vote along ugly racial and intersectional lines.
So who is the brain trust behind Black Americans for the President’s Agenda?
It couldn’t be actual Black Americans, could it?
Alas, it is. According to the federal election filings for the Super PAC, Black Americans for the President’s Agenda is run by a black Republican operative, Vernon Robinson, a former Winston-Salem councilman, three-time former Congressional candidate and head of the 2012 Ben Carson presidential campaign.
And so, I found Robinson’s number and gave him a call.
Robinson may have written the ad, but the voice actors — both black women, he says proudly — “improved it.” (And to clear up the rumor, no, it’s not Diamond and Silk.) When I ask Robinson why a black man made such a blatantly racist ad in support of a Republican candidate, he tells me, delighted: “I’m pleased that the liberals are screaming like stuck pigs.”
The truth of the matter? Robinson doesn’t even know Hill; in fact, he barely knows a thing about him. “If French Hill walked in the room,” he admits, “I wouldn’t know who the guy is.”
That’s Vernon Robinson’s approach to politics in a nutshell. He has a whole campaign of similar ads planned in support of Republican candidates, all produced without the candidates’ knowledge or consent. He just gifts them with these ads, which gives the candidates cover to reject them — but still benefit from their impact. All he needs, he says, is to scare 15 percent of black voters away from Southern Democrat candidates such as Missouri’s Claire McCaskill — and they’re gone.
“These ads are provocative, but you have to draw a stark contrast,” Robinson tells me. “There are two things going on: First, Republican voters haven’t communicated with black voters for 60 years. The second thing is that the Democrats have been running what I can only term as ‘terrorist ads.’ Essentially, the Democratic ad campaign over the last 60 years has been: Vote Democratic because the Republicans want to kill your mama and your dog.”
He explains that he’s motivated by pro-life politics to reject Democrats in general. “Average black voters know that Republicans want to save babies. Democrats want to kill them. … Republicans believe every soul has a right to life from conception to natural birth. The Democrats laud Margaret Sanger as a hero.” But he claims Sanger was a racist: “Margaret Sanger was popular on the Klan circuit. There was a reason for that. It wasn’t because she went there and said, ‘Oh, you have such nice white sheets. What kind of wash material do you use in your washer and dryer?’ No. She created Planned Parenthood to exterminate black folks, and said so.” (The truth is more complex, and historians generally dispute these allegations. Like many thinkers of her era, Sanger spoke favorably of eugenics as a public health issue — a belief that did not, as far as we know, extend to racial purging.)
I ask Robinson about the ad’s claim that the #MeToo movement attacks black men. Was he speaking about Bill Cosby? No, he answers, it’s more about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh: “If the Democrats can do that to a white Supreme Court justice nominee,” he says, “what happens to the brother on the block when a white girl lies about them?”
He says this element was one of the voice actors’ key additions. “The ladies rewrote the script and said: ‘Don’t be messin’ around with that; if you get caught, she’ll cry rape.’ That’s a much better delivery.”
Maybe, but it’s also hard to deny what it all means. “What would you say if I told you your ads in support of French Hill are clearly racist, and that the performances are racist caricatures of black women?” I pose as a follow-up question. “Even the candidate your ad supports has come out and denounced the ad.”
Robinson laughs to himself, amused. “Well, clearly the ad’s not racist.”
A long silence follows. Eventually, he breaks it. “The racists are the ones who want to put black men in jeopardy. There are some naive #MeToo supporters who don’t understand how grave the danger their interest in changing the presumption of innocence and presumption of guilt is for black men. It’s clear what my ad does.”
Later, he tells me how he learned from his mentor to use racism as a tool to divide and conquer. “In 2000, there was a guy who was hired to run investor ads on urban contemporary radio. He was the late Richard Nadler. The idea was that as the black middle class expands — it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are — if you have a quarter-million dollars in the stock market, you’re objectively a Ronald Reagan Republican. The ad was aimed at black investor-class folks who increasingly were depending on a retirement driven by the stock market, and the Democrats wanted to attack the companies that were funding their retirement. Hence, the message: The Democrats are trying to kill you; you should vote for some Republicans. What Nadler found was, in a very close race, you could kick a field goal and win. I was enthralled with this approach.”
Robinson goes on to explain how Nadler’s approach to running divisive and controversial ads lit a torch that guided his own way into political advocacy. “Fast forward to 2014, now I’m running a Super PAC and I have $500,000 to spend. I say, ‘Let’s spend $200,000 in media markets in Louisiana to get rid of Mary Landrieu, and spend $300,000 in five media markets in North Carolina to get rid of Kay Hagan.’”
Overall, he likes to take credit for Thom Tillis’ Senate victory over Hagan, the incumbent. In particular, Robinson says that when he started his radio ad campaign, Tillis was “polling at 1 percent of the black vote. Thirty weeks into the radio campaign, he was at 5 percent, and 15 percent undecided. Kay Hagan was at 73 percent. There’s no Democrat in the South who will come any place near winning with 73 percent of the black vote.”
“Thom Tillis did worse among white folks than Mitt Romney,” Robinson continues. “Romney only won the state by 1 point in 2012. Had the black vote stayed where it was for Romney, Tillis would’ve lost. The shift in Black voters was 50,000 votes. Tillis won by 49,000. So black Democrats elected the guy — because they were treated to urban contemporary ads.”
I switch topics to Kanye West. “The most dangerous black man in North America,” Robinson quickly responds when I mention West’s name. “He communicates with millions of young black folks, and he’s clearly off the Democrat plantation. And he’s saying a big F-you to the left, and his record sales aren’t being hurt. They have no sanction. The guy’s a millionaire, folks are still buying his records, and so, he’s giving them the bird. So that makes him the most dangerous black man — on the planet.”
Robinson laughs at the idea of the left reacting to Kanye. “They can’t do anything to him,” he says triumphantly.
“Do you think pro-life black voters are listening to him?” I ask.
“No,” he says. “Pro-life black voters are listening to what I’m saying. … Kanye obviously has a wider reach than I do. But with the pro-life issue in Missouri and the ad in Arkansas, we’re having direct impact on black voters. Only 15 percent of whom do we need for Claire McCaskill to go down.”
To that end, is he planning any new ads aimed at black voters, possibly supporting the border wall or covering immigration issues? Not for the midterm elections — the “ball game is almost over,” he says — but he’s already looking to 2020, with immigration as a key issue.
“It would be malpractice not to have that issue front-and-center. Because black kids are dreamers, too. It doesn’t benefit black people for the children of illegals to get free lives at American universities. It doesn’t help black young men to be passed over for a promotion at a fast-food restaurant because they don’t speak Spanish. There’s a large bloc of black voters who believe immigration is dangerous — that Open Borders is a dagger at the throat of the black middle class.”
The only real question that leaves him silent is about Republican voter suppression. Instead of answering with his typical amused chuckling, he reframes things. Namely, he prefers to focus on voter ID laws. Robinson predictably believes that the Democrats oppose voter ID laws to “stoke racial tensions for political gain.” Or: “To commit fraud. … We have a lunatic fringe on the left that believes illegals ought to be able to vote, which is totally unacceptable.”
But: “Aren’t voter ID laws just an extension of older tactics like poll taxes and literacy tests used to keep black voters out of the polls in the post-Reconstruction South?” I ask.
Robinson declines to answer.
Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. To Robinson, voting isn’t a right, it’s a system to game. And to win that game — again, as he nakedly boasts — he needs only to scare 15 percent of black voters.