Recently, the notoriously inaccurate Fox News host Glenn Beck, who uses rage the way artists use oils or acrylics, made what was undoubtedly his most shocking proclamation to date. While discussing the Henry Louis Gates Jr. controversy on morning chat show Fox and Friends, Beck turned to his colleagues and said quite certainly, "[Barack Obama] has exposed himself as a guy … who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." He then added, "This guy is … a racist."
Fox News, which rarely expresses remorse for its staff's frequent bigoted transgressions, immediately issued a statement saying Beck's comments were "not those of the Fox News Channel." It wasn't necessarily an apology, but it was about as close as Fox gets, which says something about the grave recklessness of Beck's words. What the Fox brass didn't address was Beck's hypocrisy.
Let's pretend President Obama's mother wasn't white. Let's pretend he wasn't raised by his white grandparents, and let's pretend he didn't only months ago sit diligently by his white grandmother's deathbed. Let's pretend he didn't outfit his cabinet with a whole host of white people. And let's pretend that "white culture" actually means something (as opposed to "Irish culture" or "Polish culture"). Beck's condemnation of the president as a bigot who "hates" white people rings hollow considering the company he’s kept for about a decade now.
When he was 35, Beck, an admitted alcoholic and former cocaine addict, became a devout Mormon. Like many born-again Christians before him, Beck credits the conversion for saving him from his vices and boosting his career. He says that, within Mormonism, "there are so many examples that are lighthouses to [my family]." It's actually a touching story.
But let’s take a closer look at Beck's "lighthouses." Four days before Beck called Obama a racist, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released data that showed Mormonism to be the most conservative religious group in America today, with nearly 70 percent of the religion's followers saying that homosexuality should be "discouraged." And last year, despite making up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, Mormon donations accounted for an estimated 77 percent of the $25.5 million raised in support of Prop. 8. Some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even admit to blackmailing companies for support of their anti-gay cause.
Gordon B. Hinckley, the late former president of the Mormon church and one of Glenn Beck's idols, wasn't alive to see Prop. 8 pass, but he would have approved, having famously told Larry King that gays "have a problem" that Mormons "want to help them solve."
But how do you "solve" homosexuality? According to Hinckley's friend, Boyd K. Packer, currently the president of the church's second most powerful governing body, violence is sometimes the solution. In a speech to young Mormon men in 1976, Packer relayed an anecdote about a Mormon boy who had admitted that he beat up a male friend who he had claimed made a pass at him. Packer's response to the attacker was that of a true chickenhawk: "Somebody had to do it."
Of course, gays aren't the only minority group targeted by the Mormon church. Packer has also publicly advised against interracial marriage, probably due in part to the fact that, until 1978, the Mormon Church preached that people of color were dark due to the "mark of Cain," of whom they were all cursed descendants. Brigham Young, the late Mormon leader who insisted his words were as good as scripture, derided blacks as "uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild and seemingly deprived of … intelligence."
With over a century of that sort of malicious nonsense being doled out as gospel, it's little wonder racism continues to thrive in the Latter-day Saints movement. (Mormon leaders claim, by the way, that only God knows why it took so long to accept blacks as equals—though it probably had something to do with the success the church was having converting souls in Africa.) In 2004, a black woman in Utah recalled an incident at her Latter-day Saints church in which a man remarked that his only problem with the congregation was "the nigger girl." A year later, Darron Smith, another black Mormon and a sociology professor at Brigham Young University, also attested to the continued vigor of the church’s racism: "Why do Mormons persist in believing that black people were cursed? Many of them do and stubbornly defend racist white sentiment."
It should go without saying that not all Mormons are racists or homophobes, just as all Muslims aren't terrorists. But if Glenn Beck continues to accuse others of "deep-seated hatred," it's important to consider where his guidance—and the history behind it—is coming from.
To borrow Beck's analogy, if he's a ship lost at sea, I wish his lighthouses were brighter.
Cord Jefferson is a regular contributor to The Root.