When Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) was first elected in 2006, it was a breakthrough moment for domestic political diversity: the Minnesota Democrat was the first Muslim American to ever be elected to Congress. Alabama’s Roy Moore had a rather unique reaction to the news.
At the time, Moore was a contributor to a fringe right-wing conspiracy-theory website, having been removed from the state bench for an ethics violation. After learning of Ellison’s victory, Moore argued that the Minnesotan shouldn’t be allowed to serve on Capitol Hill – not because there was a problem with the election, but because Ellison is a member of a religious minority that Moore doesn’t like.
In Moore’s vision of the United States, the law extends special protections and benefits to Christians, while everyone else, in a rather literal sense, is a second-class citizen. The U.S. Constitution may prohibit religious tests for public office, and may separate church from state, but as far as Moore is concerned, that same Constitution was created to “foster Christianity.”
I’ve been writing about Moore’s antics off and on for about 20 years now, and what I think people fail to appreciate is the extent to which he represents something unique in our politics. We’ve grown quite accustomed over the years to assorted cranks and con-men, radicals and rabble-rousers, but what sets Moore apart is the fact that he doesn’t, strictly speaking, believe in a democratic system of government.
The Alabama Republican, who may soon become the newest member of the United State Senate, is probably best described as a theocrat. New York’s Jon Chait summarized this well:
News accounts have delicately phrased the matter by calling Moore a “firebrand.” In reality, he is an insurrectionist. Moore considers a certain brand of theological Christianity to be the sole legitimate legal authority of the United States. He has used his public office to openly defy the country’s actual legal authority. A functioning conservative party would consider respect for law and order a threshold question. Instead, Republicans have dismissed it as a mere inconvenience.
Ordinarily, when we talk about political “extremists” in American politics, we put them somewhere near the edges of a traditional political spectrum, from the far-left to the far-right. To understand Moore is to appreciate just how far outside that spectrum he falls.
Radicals in American politics may rail against the federal judiciary, but Roy Moore has actively defied court rulings he doesn’t like, concluding that decisions at odds with his theocratic vision simply don’t count. Extremists in American politics spew hate against religious minorities, but Roy Moore is convinced that religious minorities are not entitled to equal protection under the law.
Radicals in American politics may condemn LGBTQ Americans, but Roy Moore has argued for many years that homosexuality should be illegal. (Asked in 2015 if gay people should be executed, he wouldn’t answer directly.)
It’s tempting to look at some of the Alabama Republican’s greatest hits – he blamed Americans for 9/11 and said the Newtown massacre was divine punishment – and conclude that he’s just some random crackpot. Perhaps, some will assume, Moore is that guy who seems to take promoting the Ten Commandments a bit too seriously.
But that’s woefully incomplete. The Republican Party’s U.S. Senate nominee from Alabama is of the opinion that if American law is at odds with his interpretation of “God’s law,” then American law is effectively meaningless. The legitimacy of the entire government and legal system, he’s argued, is suspect when it conflicts with his religious beliefs.
In the United States, such fringe ideas are generally a disqualifier from powerful federal offices. We’ll find out on Dec. 12 whether this is still the case.