Sometimes, mere circumstance vaults into irony. So it is that Samuel Francis, current defender of the Southern Way of Life, came to occupy the boyhood bedroom of Robert E. Lee, legendary defender of the Southern Way of Life.
Francis’ computer, bookcases, and stacks of yellowing newspapers now sit where he thinks young Master Lee’s bed once did. It’s a nook cramped by the top-floor eaves of an Old Town Alexandria house owned for a year by Henry Lee (Robert’s father). The stench of Francis’ pack-a-day Pall Mall habit fills the little office. Francis isn’t one for elaborate decor, but he has personalized the room a bitfor example, the paperweight model of a Heckler & Koch 91 A-2 semiautomatic rifle (complete with telescopic sight) lends a homey touch. The prim brick house now quarters the Foundation Endowment, a think tank and Francis’ new employer.
Francis wasn’t supposed to have a new employer: He enjoyed his job as an editorial writer and nationally syndicated columnist for the Washington Times. But he didn’t have much choice. Last September, the paper, which never misses a chance to print the conservative side of a story, fired Francis for being too conservative.
“I think that basically I was probably…too politically incorrect for the Times,” says Francis.
Editor in Chief Wesley Pruden, who denied repeated requests for an interview, told the Washington Post that Francis merely “resigned” after a discussion. But according to Times staffers, Pruden wanted to sack the columnist after reading some things Francis said and wrote outside the Times that he thought were racist.
Few people can make the charge of racism these days without earning groans. The once-powerful R-word now seems tinny, trading argument for taunt and starting more than it settles. But if Pruden (a right-winger who smirks when liberals cry prejudice) calls someone a racist, there’s probably something to it.
And there is. Francis has penned a great many despicable and nutty articles, and not just on race. He makes run-of-the-mill William Bennetts, Newt Gingriches, and even Oliver Norths look like simpering liberals. He has been careful to keep his more extreme opinionssupport for “obligatory use of contraception by welfare recipients, and encouragement of its use among nonwhites,” for exampleconfined to obscure journals. His syndicated Times columns, by contrast, embraced conservatism of a more mainstream, Pat Buchanan sort. (Yes, Francis makes Buchanan look mainstream.)
But over the last few months, a few more moderate conservatives in town ganged up on Francis and unearthed his more bizarre ideas, a farrago of pro-white paranoia, anti-immigrant invective, and retrograde Southernism.
“I’m essentially running a one-man crusade to get this man kicked out of the conservative movement,” announces an overeager member of this crew, Greg Forster of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity.
The battle underlines just how sensitive the right has become to race-related debate. Since Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein wrote their controversial 1994 book, The Bell Curve, which posited that IQ differences between blacks and whites are partially genetic in origin, once-shushed views have flooded right-wing circles. Francis’ silencing is the first visible attempt to stanch that flow. With Francis, the conservative revolution stopped itself in its wingtip-laid tracks, looked around, and turned back.
Francis has said that he formed “the right-wing edge” of the right-wing Times, where he wrote unsigned staff editorials as well as his column. Others say he dropped off the edge years ago. One conservative writer noted wryly that Francis takes rightist ideas “to the furthest possible logical extremeand then a little further still.” For example, Francis often defended the white South African government against those championing sanctions to oppose apartheid. As late as last year, he said in his column that the “best solution” for that country was “ethnic partition” rather than integration.
He also once wrote an unsigned staff editorial encouraging the South African government to release Nelson Mandelabut only because the ailing Mandela might die, which would hurt the government’s image.
Similarly, his syndicated column was a twice-weekly editorial belly-flop that splashed invective on a variety of targets. Consider these Francis gems:
On the proposed Arthur Ashe memorial in Richmond: “[T]he meaning of Monument Avenue has been changed, the commitment to honoring a cause and a period of Virginia history central to the state’s public identity has been smashed, and with the smashing of that symbolism and the construction of another comes the revolution, whereby a new race and its culture dethrone the old from their dominance.”
On the “motor-voter” bill: “The reason the Democrats wanted the bill so much is that it makes it easier for low-income, low-education, and low-skill voters to votevoters who often don’t know or care enough about politics and citizenship to know when the election is, who’s running or how to register, let alone what the issues are and what they mean.”
On the Confederate flag: “Whatever you think about the Confederacy and the Civil War, the Confederate flag is a traditional symbol that remains important to a lot of Americans, a part of the nation’s as well as the South’s cultural heritage, and in places like South Carolina none but nuts and demagogues has any real problem with it or its display atop the state’s historic Capitol building.”
While these sentiments aren’t so rare in small-town dailies across the country, they are seldom seen in Washington. So how did Francis end up lobbing his right-wing grenades in one of the nation’s most visible media markets?
Francis’ history parallels that of conservatism in post-Great Society Washington. In 1977, Francis moved here from North Carolina to work as a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. It was a dark moment for conservatives: Watergate-incensed voters had sent Jimmy Carter and an ardently liberal freshman class to Washington. But the money was OK, and the academic job market was choked.
Francis was new to Washington, but not to conservatism. With a student draft deferment in hand, Francis had spent the Vietnam War years on campuses. He earned his B.A. at Johns Hopkins in 1969, and then spent most of the ’70s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received a history Ph.D. But the era’s activism repelled him. “I became a conservative sort of into the ’60s in the New Left period, and…my interest in it was sort of anti-communism and anti-New Left stuff,” he says.
One of his early intellectual heroes was James Burnham, the conservative who wrote often for National Review and said that liberalism was the ideology of Western suicide. (Francis wrote a short book on Burnham in 1984.) By the time Ronald Reagan swept into office in 1981, Francis had become a fiercely anti-communist foreign policy expert for Heritage.
Fortuitously, another North Carolina academica little-known East Carolina University political science professor named John P. Easthad won election to the Senate in 1980, helped by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms’ Tarheel political organization and Reagan’s coattails. An outsider and committed conservative ideologue, East had a quirky Senate career (he once tried to push a bill through subcommittee that would have declared it national policy that life begins at conception). In 1981, East hired Francis as a legislative assistant for national security matters, a job that ended after East committed suicide in 1986, the result of a depressive illness.
Francis heard about an opening in the editorial department of the Times and applied for the job. He had no newspaper experience, but at that time the young Times was still hiring just about anyone who could string a few sentences togetherand some who couldn’t.
Francis could do more than write a complete sentence. His pieces were always lively, and he had an eye for issues that would force people to readred-meat, populist stuff like gun control (against it), immigration (against it), and homosexuality (are you kidding?). The American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) honored Francis with its Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing in both 1989 and 1990the only ASNE awards the Times has ever received.
Francis also showed loyalty to the paper: When William P. Cheshire, then the editorial page editor, staged a walkout with four of his staff members in 1987, Francis stayed on the job. Cheshire embarrassed the Times by noisily complaining that the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and other Korean owners exerted extensive editorial influencein particular, by killing an editorial critical of the South Korean government. The paper’s leadership appreciated Francis’ fidelity.
Francis’ co-workers generally agree that he was a congenial but private man around the office. Several Times staffers recalled him as a witty lunch companion. African-American writers say he was never personally racist and never used racial slurs. “I sat there with him and chitchatted for a good length of time, very affably and pleasantly,” recalls Allegra Bennett, a former Times editorial writer who is black. “His racism was not like a David Duke kind of racism, at least not in the kind of experience with him I had. But it was awful when it came to his policies.”
Francis infuriated liberals who dared to read his column. Still, he most often targeted fellow conservatives. He called the Republicans the “Stupid Party” for various transgressions (such as not being firm enough in opposition to affirmative action), and it’s hard to find a prominent Republican Francis hasn’t attacked. Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, former President George Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle, former Cabinet secretary Jack Kempall of them, and more, have been lashed with Francis’ stinging tongue. For Francis, most Republicans are soft on immigration and soft on American sovereignty. And because most Republicans support oddball ideas like equality of opportunity, which he calls “fundamentally totalitarian,” they are soft on blacks as well.
So it’s no surprise that Francis never made the usual allies inside the Beltway. It didn’t help that Francis lacks crucial Washington schmoozing skills. A rotund, uncomfortable man, the 48-year-old Francis wears thickly rimmed glasses and a nearly unerasable grimace. When he does smile, his tobacco-stained choppers dominate his visage. He’s unassuming and has a pleasant Southern lilt to his voicethe product of his upbringing in Chattanooga, Tenn.but he’s awkward.
Francis has never been married and offers few details, when asked, about his personal life, habits, or passions. He doesn’t go to church and seems to have little community involvement. When I ask him to name some friends or acquaintances I might interview, he thinks for few seconds and then offers one namea man in Alabama who says he met Francis only a few years ago, through professional circles.
In short, Francis lies totally outside the comfortable Washington insider culture, where journalists, operatives, politicians, and their minions kibitz without regard to party or ideology. To the extent that he was ever discussed, he was dismissed as an extremist rube, the intellectual equivalent of a militia nut.
Not that Francis minded. Why be friends with the lefties and pseudo-conservative idiots who make up Washington’s elite? Anyway, there was plenty that Francis could say in the Times, even if he had to keep his most rabid pieceslike the one declaring that “our culture” is under siege, or the one calling for “a white reconquest of the United States”in faraway, far-right magazines like Chronicles, published in Rockford, Ill. (Chronicles is so conservative that Media Watch, run by right-wing activist L. Brent Bozell III, finds it unpalatable. “We’ve stopped reading it here because it got so odd,” says associate editor Tim Graham.)
Indeed, the differences between Francis and most Washington conservatives reveal a more substantive rupture within conservatism. Crudely, conservatism today can be described as a collection of binary oppositesreligious conservatives and libertarians; country clubbers and Guns & Ammo subscribers; and, most pertinent to Francis, paleoconservatives and neoconservatives. Francis is a paleo; most Washington elite conservatives are neos.
Paleoconservatives care deeply about what they see as declining moral standards and attacks on Western culture by America’s non-Western elements. Unlike neoconservatives and religious conservatives, they largely locate the source of America’s troubles in the mass of immigrants and minorities who populate its ghettos. Francis’ pal Patrick J. Buchanan embodies the paleos’ electoral hopes.
Other conservatives, including William Bennett and the new Bob Dole, focus more on the corrupting cultural influences of the entertainment industry. And they are less fixated on race. Though they opposed most postwar civil rights legislation, “American conservatives have distinguished themselves by an adamant color-blindness” since the early ’60s, conservative political analyst David Frum wrote in his 1994 book, Dead Right. Many conservatives also welcomed immigrants seeking Western freedoms and opportunities.
Neoconservatives, in fact, became known as such partly because they believed the left had spurned the optimistic, integrationist ideal of the early civil rights movement. With the advent of Black Power and multiculturalism, these “new” conservatives fled the left and became house intellectuals for the Republican Party and rightist think tanks.
But in clarion tones of fear and anger, Francis and the paleos violate the race neutrality that is the neocon hallmark. Harking back to the days of Sens. Robert A. Taft and Joseph R. McCarthy, they seek to save the American civilization from the non-Americans who are undermining it with their bilingualism, nonwhite culture, and crime.
“[W]e are witnessing the more or less peaceful transfer of power from one civilization and from the race that created and bore that civilization, to different races,” Francis wrote in an article called “Why Race Matters,” published in September 1994 in American Renaissance, a Louisville, Ky.-based newsletter. “Thus far, the transfer is more cultural than it is political or economic; it is clear in the rise of multiculturalism, Afro-centrism, and the other anti-white cults and movements in university curricula, and in the penetration of even daily private life by the anti-white ethic and behavior these cults impose.” As examples of the power transfer, Francis cites the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holidaya rallying point for all the paleosand “[a]ttacks on the display of the Confederate battle flag and on other Confederate and Southern white symbols.”
Paleoconservatives are thoroughly pessimistic, often predicting a “race war” (according to Francis) or at least a “culture war” (according to Buchanan). Uncharitably, one might say that Francis and his colleagues are the brains behind the various skinheads, militia-ites, and neo-Nazis whose influence keeps expanding. (Still, Francis has always opposed violence, even in his most reactionary bilge.)
In essence, as Frum points out, while much of the Republican and neoconservative Beltway establishment concerns itself with deficits and taxes, Francis and his friends believe they are engaged in a more heady struggle to defend American “cultural identity.” For the paleos, Gingrich’s Contract With America and Kemp’s “bleeding-heart conservatism” are just so much kooky economic reductionism.
“It seems to me that what Kemp is saying…is that human beings are generally motivated by a desire to make as much money as possible, or to get rich, or something. And I don’t believe that’s true,” Francis says. He believes “cultural factorsthings like loyalty to family, loyalty to country, loyalty to class, religion”drive most people.
That may be so, but over these ideas Francis layers a full-throttle obsession with race. He wants whites to be “proud of being white,” he tells me on a cold December day, his own white face reddened in his warm office. If they aren’t, and they allow immigration and intermarriage to destroy the white race, “I don’t see any prospect for…Western, European, white civilization surviving,” he says. And “civilization” means not just political and cultural traditions but “science as well,” he adds. Why? “I just don’t think that blacks and Hispanics are going to be able to continue that, I mean, for cognitive reasons, intellectual reasons….You could have a black Einstein or a black Newton maybe,” he adds with a chuckle, “but in general you’re not going to have people who appreciate that.”
When confronted with his most extreme ideas, even Francis himself will demur. For example, I ask him about his call for “obligatory use of contraception by welfare recipients…encouragement of its use among nonwhites, and…encouragement of increases in white fertility,” also from American Renaissance. Francis fidgets and then gutlessly backpedals. “My ideas on these subjects are in process,” he says. “I’m just suggesting possibilities.” He doesn’t seem to understand that expressing such inflammatory ideasespecially when he isn’t willing to defend themis intellectual irresponsibility of the worst kind.
It’s difficult to know the extent to which Buchanan agrees with Francis on race. John Lofton, a Buchanan campaign consultant and friend, says he doesn’t think Buchanan knows what Francis has written in the remote publications. “I have no reason to believe that Pat even knows that Sam holds views that are that explicitly racist,” Lofton says. “My guess is that Pat would want to know, ‘Did he really say that?’ ” (Campaign manager Terry Jeffrey did not return repeated messages.)
Still, Francis and Buchanan are pals. According to Francis, they first met around 1980, when he appeared on Buchanan’s radio show. For the last few years, the pair has met for dinner about once a month, usually at the Hunan Lion, a Chinese restaurant near Buchanan’s McLean, Va., home. It’s hard to imagine that Buchanan hasn’t heard Francis speak his mind about race over all that kung pao chicken.
For their part, neoconservatives find Francis and his ideas monstrous. Having battled the leftists who created identity politics, neos can’t abide it within conservative ranks. “When white people start thinking of themselves as an interest group with distinct interests…
we’ve lost all hope of creating a colorblind society, not just in its laws but in its private dealings,” says John J. Miller, vice president of the neoconservative think tank, the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO).
The paleos and neos are actually playing out an ancient split between schools of political theorists. Classical liberals like John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocquevillethe neoconservatives’ forebearsexpressed great hope in democratic freedom and humans’ ability to perfect themselves. Beginning with Edmund Burke after the French Revolution, a key tenet of conservatism has always been the pessimistic response: Perfection is an impossible dream, requiring vast social engineering and government activism in a doomed effort to change hard realities.
Ancient or not, the animus between the paleos and neos has grown more intense as Buchanan has again popularized hard-right themes. “I’ve wanted to run Sam Francis out of polite society for months, if not for years,” says CEO’s Miller, who used to read Francis’ column with indignation.
Miller got his chance last September, and he took it.
In May 1994, Dinesh D’Souza saw Francis speak at a conference in Atlanta. D’Souza couldn’t believe his ears. A research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a conservative insider, D’Souza was researching The End of Racism, a follow-up to Illiberal Education, his right-wing take on campus PC wars.
D’Souza was interested in the conference because someone named Jared Taylor had organized it. Taylor edits American Renaissance, which D’Souza planned to discuss in his book.
“What I read in American Renaissance sounded oddly similar to what black nationalists were saying, so I went to the conference,” D’Souza says, “and it was different than a typical KKK rally in that people were well dressed, carried themselves well, seemed well educatedand yet there was a consistent anti-immigrant, but much more severely anti-black, tone that I found jarring.”
D’Souza incorporated the American Renaissance conference into The End of Racism, opening Chapter 10 with a description of it. He reprinted a few sentences from the newsletter and then reported the remarks of Taylor, white extremist Michael Levin, and Francis, among others. The remarks were classic Francis: “What we as whites must do is reassert our identity and our solidarity, and we must do so in explicitly racial terms through the articulation of a racial consciousness as whites.”
In the book, completed last summer, D’Souza used such ideas from the conference to make the familiar point that certain whites advocate pro-white policies similar to those of Afrocentrists. “It is a new ideology of white power, seemingly formulated on the model of black power,” D’Souza wrote. (In this sense, Francis may be a white version of Francis Cress Welsing, D.C.’s own perpetrator of a loony black supremacist theory of skin color.)
In August, D’Souza and his publisher, the Free Press, circulated galleys of the book for the customary reviews by pundits, academics, and politicians. One organization that received a copy was CEO, which is run by Linda Chavez. A former Reagan official, Chavez has made a name for herself as a Hispanic conservative. Her 1991 book, Out of the Barrio, called for “a new politics of Hispanic assimilation”; today, she’s often quoted sounding neocon themes like opposition to bilingual education.
When Chavez and Miller read the galleys, they had never seen Francis’ most severe writing. So when they came across the passage about white consciousness, they had found a kind of smoking gunraw racialist pap of the kind Francis never even tried to get into the Times. Miller asked Greg Forster, a 22-year-old CEO staffer fresh from an undergraduate career at the University of Virginia, to root out more obscure Francis pieces.
Forster is a big, sweet kid who compares himself to William F. Buckley. He took up the Francis case with urgency, calling D’Souza and then tracking down Francis’ two articles from American Renaissance. “When we got that stuff, our eyes just got big as dinner plates,” Forster gurgles.
Forster began shopping around a hit piece on Francis at conservative magazines in town (he won’t say which ones). He says he hoped to discredit Francis among conservatives the same way Buckley had discredited anti-Semites half-a-century earlier. “I was putting out feelers to say, ‘Hey, Washington Times, wake up, kick this guy out,’” he says. “Before that happened, they did.”
When Francis was first hired, in the mid-’80s, the Times was still an infant, its huge “Commentary” section beholden to any reasonably talented conservatives who would write for it. “In need of a newspaper to run its second-string pundits and give jobs to its wives and children, [the conservative movement] embraced the Moonie-financed Washington Times, which came to serve as a daily crib sheet through which right-wing insiders could keep tabs on their ideological stock exchange,” writes media critic Eric Alterman in his book Sound and Fury. Alterman says Buchanan had even fed articles and ideas to the paper from his post as White House communications director under Reagan.
But today, the Times has eked out its own measure of stature and slowly jettisoned the Buchananites. For example, John Lofton and Terry Jeffrey, both former Times editorialists, are now working for Buchanan’s presidential campaign.
Lofton was fired after Pruden grew weary of his ideological excesses. Something of a religious freak, Lofton became a Johnny-one-note at the paper, constantly writing about Jesus and Christianity. “Pruden told me, explicitly, ‘You are to stop writing Christian stuff; you are to stop quoting the Bible,’” Lofton barks. He believes neoconservatives
(” ‘Neo’ means ‘not’!” he shrieks) have overtaken the Times.
“What has happened to the Washington Times and its original mandate to be kind of a moral crusade? The Times has homosexuals and adulterers and fornicators,” he says. (Lofton then goes berserk, badgering me to meet him for lunch so that he can show me “proof” that Times staffers are nudists, homosexuals, and wife-abusers.)
Precisely why the Times has divested itself of paleoconservatives over the last five years isn’t entirely clear, though both insiders and media observers agree that the paper has drifted into neoconservatism. One reason may be that the paper has always tried to shake its patina of intellectual inferiority, and the neoconservatives are seen as more urbane and cerebral. For his part, editorial page editor Tod Lindberg sidesteps the debate by saying that these labels are too vague to fit his paper (though he does say the paleocons are peddling “horseshit”).
Other Times staffers say the paper’s leadership solidified a trend to neoconservatism by promoting Lindberg himself to the No. 1 editorial page job over Francis. Lindberg has strong neocon ties: His college roommate John was the son of neocon legend Norman Podhoretz.
Still, if Pruden had grown increasingly uncomfortable with Francis, he kept it to himself. Francis insists that Pruden never complained to him about his work, his views, or his office demeanor. Francis won a glowing performance evaluation in 1994, receiving a perfect score for his writing.
But other Times writers had long complained that Francis was too conservative, too coarse. For example, Morton Kaplan, the septuagenarian editor of the Times-funded monthly magazine, The World & I, began bitching loudly about Francis early last year. “There are certain limits beyond which you don’t go,” Kaplan says. “If you say that Hitler is the greatest statesman of the 20th century, you’re going to be fired. I felt that when he was identified as an employee of the newspaper, that was over the line.”
Kaplan acknowledges that Francis never defended Hitler (though one can imagine his doing it), but he says Francis’ writing on the Arthur Ashe memorial was simply embarrassing. “All the people in my shop were upset. They felt they would get tarred with the same brush.”
Then, in an outrageous June 27 column, Francis objected to the Southern Baptist Convention’s adoption of a resolution expressing “repentance” for supporting slavery when the church was founded in 1845.
Francis went on: “[N]either ‘slavery’ nor ‘racism’ as an institution is a sin. Indeed, there are at least five clear passages in the letters of Paul that explicitly enjoin ‘servants’ to obey their masters….Neither Jesus nor the apostles nor the early church condemned slavery, despite countless opportunities to do so….”
After the piece ran, Pruden moved Francis off the Op-Ed page (to the less prestigious Commentary page) and cut his salary by 50 percent. Whether the article led directly to the demotion is uncertain, but two staffers close to Pruden say it angered him.
Pruden’s punishment looked hypocritical because he had written substantially the same thing in his own column, complaining that “[n]obody knows how many Baptists owned slaves.” He called the Baptists’ resolution a “feel-good exercise” resulting from “political correctness.” (Moreover, Pruden can be crude: He titled a column on the Million Man March, “The Shuck and Jive to Terrify the Timid.”)
Pruden’s defenders say there was an important difference between the Southern Baptist pieces. “I don’t recall Wes ever having offered a theological defense of slavery,” says Lindberg.
At any rate, the quotes from the Atlanta conference in D’Souza’s book (and in a Post Outlook piece adapted from the book) were the final straw. Francis candidly admits that he would rather have kept his most conservative views out of the mainstream press. “I was worried about [D’Souza’s Outlook piece], especially given the situation I was in,” he says. “I [had] figured they were looking for a reason to get rid of me, and this was probably a good reason.”
Four days after the Outlook article appeared, Pruden called Francis into his office. “He asked for my resignation, in return for a three-month severance. And we had a little back-and-forth about what I had said and the meaning of it, and all of that, and he really wasn’t interested in that,” Francis says, adding that he accepted the severance package because he had been planning to leave the paper ever since being demoted after the slavery column.
Without sounding pompous, Francis adds, “I said to him, ‘I assume you know my column is popular.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do; I’ve gotten over a hundred letters from readers in your support….’ I think he’s probably gotten well over a hundred. I’ve got copies here of about 50 letters”letters sent to Pruden by loyal readers who forwarded copies to Francis as well.
Pruden wouldn’t comment, except to say through Marie Jones, a Times flack, that he doesn’t discuss personnel matters. But he applies that rule selectively. For example, after the demotion, he sent response letters to some Francis fans who wrote to complain. In the letters, Pruden denied that he had demoted Francis and called him “a valued member of the editorial-page staff.”
But by October, after Francis had left the paper, Pruden wrote letters charging that Francis had “deliberately stepped over the line by challenging the restraints put on his persistent pushing of a personal agenda, the full content of which you may not be aware, and would not heed warnings that the forbearance of the newspaper was not inexhaustible.” But Pruden was writing different things to different people. In letters to ultraconservatives, he merely said he and Francis shared “irreconcilable differences.”
Significantly, Pruden has attacked at least one departed Times staffer before. Reporter Don Kowet resigned in 1992, claiming, according to the Post, that the paper’s editors had “completely rewritten” his profile of Bob Woodward to play up a negative angle. Kowet appeared on a C-SPAN call-in show one morning to discuss the incident, and Pruden actually telephoned the station. Before a national TV audience, a petty Pruden revealed that Kowet was “burned out” after a divorce and that he was “not a very good writer.” Then he screeched that Kowet just wanted “to get his 15 seconds in the Style section of the Post.” Kowet was dumbfounded.
Francis’ national following is difficult to measure. Chronicles has fewer than 20,000 subscribers, according to its editor, and American Renaissance probably has no more than a few thousand (its editor won’t give an exact figure). Although dropped by the Times, Francis’ column is still syndicated, via Tribune Media Services. Francis estimates that about 80 to 90 small dailies around the country print the column; Tribune Media Services says the number is “under 70.”
Francis receives more than 300 flattering letters each year. (“Apparently, I’m something of a cult hero to a lot of conservatives, grass-roots conservatives,” he says.)
But Francis’ popularity is hindered by the same forces that keep the paleos marginal. As always, the paleos’ constant flirtation with conspiracy theorythe logical extension of their pessimismseems strange to most Americans. The Klan, the John Birch Society, today’s anti-immigration hawksthey see tenebrous cabals (often of Jews) threatening American culture and values at every turn, where most of us see nothing but modernity, ordinary and inexorable as ever.
On a small scale, Francis and his conservative allies comically illustrated this paranoia after Francis’ initial demotion at the Times. Someone started a rumor that Linda Chavez and other neoconservatives, including William Bennett, Jack Kemp, and maybe even Newt Gingrich (who doesn’t quite fit the neocon label), had pressured Pruden to ax Francis. Appropriately, the birthplace of this theory was Ross Perot’s August convention in Dallas, which was attended by most of the Republican presidential hopefuls as well as several of Francis’ acquaintances.
No one can offer any hard evidence for this theory, and no one can remember who concocted it. What’s interesting is that the theory builds on itself after each telling: Wayne C. Lutton, associate editor of The Social Contract, a right-wing quarterly published in Petoskey, Mich., tells me that “Chavez and maybe even Bill Bennett had gone and met with Wes Pruden.” He says he heard this from Stan Hess, a leader of the successful movement to pass California’s anti-immigration Proposition 187.
When I reach Hess, he hypothesizes that Francis’ firing was linked to Weekly Standard editor and neocon William Kristol. “It’s the Kristol, Bennett, Kemp, Chavez crowd,” he snarls.
Finally, Francis himself not-so-subtly suggests that the entire Republican establishment was allied against him. “I was very critical of the Republicans,” he says. “I referred to Bob Dole as ‘El Stupido Supremo.’ I attacked Irving Kristol [Bill’s father and a founder of neoconservatism], Ralph Reed, Newt Gingrich, you know, quite a few people, and I don’t blame…,” Francis trails off. “I’m not accusing any of these people of taking some retaliatory measuresJack Kemp is another one, Dan Quayle, toobut I wonder; I think a lot of these people didn’t much care for my column after a while, and I wonder if they didn’t exert some kind of pressure, I mean, either organized or unorganized, on Pruden.”
In other words, accusing these people is exactly what Francis is doing.
Later, in another visit to his office, Francis underlines the point that Pruden himself has long been associated with right-wing causes. In a truly weird moment, he hands me a quarter-inch stack of FBI documents alleging that Pruden’s father, the Rev. Wesley Pruden, was the “spiritual guide” to the fiercely segregationist white Citizens Council in Little Rock, Ark. The documents report that a witness interviewed by FBI agents said that the Rev. Pruden was “a leader among the mobsters at Central High School” in 1957.
Spokesmen for the various conservative luminaries named as conspirators by Francis and his colleagues say their bosses are mystified at the suggestion that they complained to the Times about Francis. Bill Kristol adds, “In paleoconservative circles, there’s a certain exaggeration of power of some neoconservatives like myself, as if we could call and get someone fired. I always thought Francis was an interesting spokesman for the paleoconservatives. I always enjoyed reading him.”
To be fair, Francis did have his enemies. Miller and Forster, who work for Chavez at CEO, clearly had targeted Francis, with Chavez’s approval. And D’Souza was forced to admit that he misreported some of the speeches from the Atlanta conference and some of the American Renaissance material.
Francis alleges, with some justification, that D’Souza twisted some of the comments to make the conference seem even more sinister. When conferees complained to the Free Press, the publishing house had to interrupt its press run to correct about 10 small yet significant mistakes. Free Press Editorial Director Adam Bellow acknowledges that “it’s likely that some copies were destroyed” out of the initial press run of 100,000, but he won’t say how many.
More broadly, Francis’ attackers all have a suspect interest in setting themselves apart from his views on race. As black intellectual Glenn C. Loury recently noted in the New Republic, conservatives today feel liberated to discuss urban pathologies in more explicitly racial, and racist, terms than in many years. But many of them still fear going too far. “It damages those of us who are critics of affirmative action to have those who are expressing the same views but start from a different place,” Chavez says of Francis.
D’Souza’s The End of Racism, in particular, carefully tries to navigate between insensitivity and boldness. “I have a sleeping-with-the-enemy problem,” D’Souza says. “I think I have a moral obligation to explain that I am not one of the boys, so to speak.”
D’Souza desperately tries to set himself apart from the Atlanta conferees. Nonetheless, he went on to discuss slavery, IQ differences, and discrimination in terms that some conservative colleagues found insensitive. (D’Souza, for example, asks in his book, “If America as a nation owes blacks as a group reparations for slavery, what do blacks as a group owe America for the abolition of slavery?”) Two black associates of the American Enterprise InstituteLoury and Robert L. Woodson Sr.resigned from the think tank after the book’s publication.
D’Souza points out that he misquoted nothing said by Francis himself (which Francis admits). And he stands by his portrayal of the conference, aside from “a couple of mistakes.” As for Francis, he says, “I didn’t write the critique of him to get him fired….I felt a little bit bad that he had been given the boot.”
After Loury and Woodson’s resignations were reported in a front-page Wall Street Journal story, an epistolary war began in the Journal, with each side trading accusations. D’Souza’s defenders used Francis’ firing to insulate the book from charges of racism, since D’Souza was indirectly responsible for the firing. Forster wrote that Francis is a white supremacist.
“I have repeatedly written that [racial] differences do not justify the entrenched political domination of one race over others,” Francis responded. In another letter, he explained that he advocates “what is nowadays called ‘Eurocentrism’in other words, the supremacy of white European culture over that of non-white, non-European culture. I know of no serious conservative critic of multiculturalism who would not agree, though most would not put it in racial terms.” Francis does not seem to understand that putting it in racial terms (rather than race-neutral terms) is exactly the problem.
Francis is happy at the Foundation Endowment, where he’s free to write his column and fulfill speaking engagements. The endowment is a 13-year-old, nonprofit conservative think tank specializing in education issues. Francis isn’t sure what he will do for the organization, and he hasn’t actually received a paycheck yet. He’s thinking of moving from Seabrook, in Prince George’s County, Md., to Northern Virginia, in order to be closer to work and to entertainment centers like Tysons Corner. Despite the activism of some Virginia Republicans, he’s not involved in local politics (although he has attacked even right-wing Republican Gov. George Allen of Virginia for being too liberal).
Increasingly, Francis receives national press notices for his role as an informal Buchanan adviser. Frum sees the relationship as complementary: “Francis is a highly intelligent man who has thought very deeply about the implications of his politics,” he says. “Buchanan is more an emotional man and does not always realize where he’s going.” Frum thinks Francis helps Buchanan refine and center his views as he campaigns.
Buchanan won’t become president, of course, and Francis says he has no plans to work for him, regardless. But Francis may well grow more popular. As the national discussion over race grows more caustic by the month, Francis may tap into broad currents of white bitterness. Washington’s conservative elite may have kicked him out, but it’s unlikely that the country will. CP