Prominent Beto Supporter Denounced for Singing Pro-Lynching Anthem

Beto O'Rourke | Getty
May 8, 2019

A prominent supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke was outed Tuesday as a virulent racist who definitely supports lynching.

Pacific Standard, an insightful social justice magazine run out of Santa Barbara, California, published an article Monday complaining that "Country Hits Increasingly Objectify Women And Glorify Whiteness," based on a study by Mississippi State professor of sociology Braden Leap.

"[Beginning] in the 1990s, more hit songs contained 'allusions to idyllic pasts.' That sort of nostalgia has obvious racial undertones, made overt in 2003's 'Beer for My Horses,' in which Toby Keith and Willie Nelson 'reminisce about when public lynchings were commonplace,' as Leap puts it," the Standard wrote.

That excerpt caught the eye of respected CUNY professor Angus Johnston, who went on a tweet thread arguing that the song was definitely about lynching.

Angus is in turn repeating the opinion of respected journalist Max Blumenthal—in turn the son of respected former Washington Post journalist Sydney Blumenthal—who fumed in 2008 when Keith played the song on The Colbert Report that "Colbert’s studio audience clapped to the beat, blithely unaware that they were swaying to a racially tinged, explicitly pro-lynching anthem."

While written by Keith, the song "Beer For My Horses" is also sung by Willie Nelson, who became a major and public supporter of Beto O'Rourke during his 2018 Texas Senate race. Then-Congressman O'Rourke even appeared onstage alongside Nelson. Never once did O'Rourke repudiate Nelson's unequivocal support for lynching.

Nelson supporters can of course muster arguments for why the song "Beer For My Horses" is not an apologetic for racist extrajudicial murder. They'd argue the music video of "Beer For My Horses" shows Nelson and Keith as lawmen, admiring pictures showing that the past hangings being referred to are Wild West lawmen rounding up (white) criminals. There's also the lyric "It's time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground," which would imply the song is about legal hangings. There's the godawful film adaptation of "Beer For My Horses" that features Keith as a lawman. And of course, there's the long era of U.S. history in which hanging was the preferred method of execution, making it odd and irrational to insist any reference to past hangings must be lynchings, oh, and also the longstanding Western and country music trope of admiration for the lawmen of the Old West and their brand of frontier justice in a generally lawless environment.

But are they college professors? I don't think so. On balance, it's clear the song is celebration of lynching and O'Rourke is an accessory to racism for failing to denounce it.

The O'Rourke campaign did not respond to a request for comment about this incredibly serious story before press time, likely due to this reporter forgetting to ask for comment before press time.