One of the more striking aspects of the current Confederate heritage correctness movement, at least in the eyes of the national media, is the presence of African Americans in the ranks of such advocates. Sometimes these people receive a great deal of attention, while sometimes they seek it (and look to make a little money off it, as in the case of H. K. Edgerton).
Karen Cooper has climbed to national prominence as a member of the Virginia Flaggers. Confederate heritage groups love to photograph her holding a Confederate flag while standing defiantly alongside her white associates. She’s a favorite interview subject. Her declaration that “slavery was a choice” made headlines in the online world, while her performance in front of the Charlottesville City Council left people scratching their heads. Occasionally the Flaggers and their advocates slip in their treatment of Cooper, and it is in those moments that we catch a revealing glimpse of their true sentiments. Those moments do not escape careful observers.
One such observer is Daryle Lamont Jenkins, founder of One People’s Project. This organization keeps an eye on white supremacy groups, exposing their actions and highlighting their beliefs. Fresh from an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show, Jenkins reflected on what the recent Facebook exchange between Cooper and Flagger celebrity Tripp Lewis says about how Confederate heritage advocates have used Cooper to advance their own agenda while struggling to define her role … and her place.
Over the past few years, I have seen an uptick of Black, Hispanic and Asian people embracing White Supremacists and neo-Fascism. There’s no other way to put it really. It is truly that black and white. It might cause folks to scratch their heads over the notion, but a few weeks ago I went to a neo-Confederate rally in Mississippi and got into it with a Black neo-Confederate from Oklahoma who was rubbing elbows with members of the White Supremacist League of the South – and he was one of several at that rally doing so. My group One People’s Project also had to recently deal with a Black/Dominican man posing as a Muslim that infiltrated our small organization to gather information about anti-racists and give that information to a neo-Nazi organization he was affiliated with. So there’s no hyperbole when I say that they are supporting right-wing hatemongers.
Now it’s nothing new, really. I am used to seeing people of color embrace the right and ignoring how much they are being used as a shield against very valid charges of racism. But in 2016, that is a much different animal. We have more persons of color becoming a part of mainstream society, more than we ever had in American history. It makes complete sense that there will be some that will become a part of mainstream conservative society as well, and it isn’t going to always mean that they are selling out or hating on their culture and heritage, although there are still a huge number of those that are more than happy to do so. There is a more defined dividing line between those of color who are truly conservative and those who are simply surrogates for racists.
Karen Cooper’s history would indeed suggest that she was a part of that latter crowd when her strong defenses of the Confederacy and a particularly downright laughable and appalling comment in a video spotlighting those defenses that “slavery was a choice” because slaves could have “chosen to die” instead. Then she speaks out publicly against police brutality and the bigoted attacks on Muslims in this country (she is a former member of the Nation of Islam). She is a Libertarian and at the very least, that means she is more about bringing people together than pulling them apart. So although many might think she might be a little wrongheaded in her approach, ultimately she is not what we see in the rest of that Flagger crowd, the ones who thought they could use her as that aforementioned “shield”. And that is where they come to their current conflict.
The Flaggers are treating Cooper as their pet Negro, and when they saw her effectively talking back to one of them, they wanted to make her heel. Her butting heads with Tripp Lewis, a Virginia Flagger who is a little too supportive of hate politics and the people who push them caused one of them, Gary Adams, to want to reign her in after she clashed with Lewis for his anti-Muslim shots at her, as opposed to him. To be clear about it, many in that group are defending Cooper, but Adams wanted her to delete the entire exchange and call him and other Flagger leaders about the situation. If Cooper has ever felt she needed to inch away from this group, she more than likely went a few more inches away with this incident.
As well she should.
I don’t think Karen Cooper is a bad person. I definitely don’t think she’s a stupid person. I think that she has bad politics, or at the very least a bad approach to them. But I truly hope that this particular episode causes her to realize that the people around her might not be her friends and she is on a very wrong road. You can be sure the rest of us do.
We await the usual cries of outrage from Confederate heritage advocates. We also wonder whether Karen Cooper will respond … or whether her white
handlers friends allow to her respond.