A close aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) who co-wrote the senator’s 2011 book spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist, raising questions about whether Paul will be able to transcend the same fringe-figure associations that dogged his father’s political career.
Paul hired Jack Hunter, 39, to help write his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington during his 2010 Senate run. Hunter joined Paul’s office as his social media director in August 2012.
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From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the "Southern Avenger." He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag.
Prior to his radio career, while in his 20s, Hunter was a chairman in the League of the South, which "advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic."
"The League of the South is an implicitly racist group in that the idealized version of the South that they promote is one which, to use their ideology, is dominated by ‘Anglo-Celtic’ culture, which is their code word for ‘white’," said Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research at the ADL. The ADL said it does not necessarily classify it as a hate group.
The League of the South maintains that it is not racist and does not discriminate in terms of membership.
"When I was part of it, they were very explicit that’s not what they were about," Hunter said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon. "I was a young person, it was a fairly radical group – the same way a person on the left might be attracted in college to some left-wing radical groups."
He does not recall when he left the organization but said it was probably in the late 1990s. Hunter was last listed as chairman of the Charleston chapter of League of the South in 1999, according to the group’s website.
By the early 2000s, Hunter was providing anonymous political commentary under the moniker the "Southern Avenger" on local rock radio station 96 Wave.
Transcripts of some of Hunter’s monologues from 2003 to 2007 are available in archived versions.
In a 50-minute interview with the Washington Free Beacon on Monday, Hunter renounced most of his comments.
In one 2004 commentary, Hunter said Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth's heart was "in the right place."
"Although Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth's heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln's murder automatically turned him into a martyr," he said in 2004.
He later wrote that he "raise[s] a personal toast every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth's birthday."
He also compared Lincoln to Saddam Hussein and suggested that the 16th president would have had a romantic relationship with Adolf Hitler if the two met.
Many of Hunter’s monologues touched on racial issues, and his contention that white people are subject to a "racial double standard."
"Black Americans are encouraged to celebrate their racial identity by appealing to their shared experience of injustice and African roots," wrote Hunter. "Hispanics indulge in an even more nationalistic form of racial identity by flying Mexican flags, listening to a foreign music that both black and white Americans have never even heard of and turning everywhere they settle into northern outposts of their Mexican homeland."
"Not only are whites not afforded the same right to celebrate their own cultural identity – but anything that is considered ‘too white’ is immediately suspect," Hunter continued. "The term ‘diversity’ has become nothing more than a code word for ‘not white,’ and it's a shame that just because we have fair skin, we are always denied fair treatment."
In a 2007 commentary, Hunter opposed Spanish-speaking immigration to the United States.
"That Americans, white or otherwise, don't want Spanish-speaking people dominating their airwaves, neighborhoods, or country is no more racist than Mexico's lack of interest in Seinfeld," he wrote. "Native Americans had no illusions about how their land would change as boatloads of white men landed on their shores and modern Americans aren't wrong to deplore the millions of Mexicans coming here now. A non-white majority America would simply cease to be America for reasons that are as numerous as they are obvious – whether we are supposed to mention them or not."
In 2005, Hunter’s anonymous commentary caught the attention of a local Charleston newspaper.
"Some call it hate speech, while others call it comedic genius," wrote the Post and Courier in a profile on the radio pundit. "But [the Southern Avenger] swears that every word that issues from his lips, no matter how controversial or politically incorrect, actually represents how he feels about that particular issue."
The story featured a photo of Hunter sporting his trademark Confederate flag mask.
In 2008, Hunter began writing for paleoconservative websites such as the American Conservative and Taki’s Magazine. He also began posting his Southern Avenger commentaries under his own name.
In one 2008 monologue, Hunter said the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II was the moral equivalent of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I can say unequivocally that I find the terrorism committed on Sept. 11, 2001 and the terrorism committed in early August of 1945 both deplorable on the same grounds," said Hunter. "[T]he harsh uncomfortable reality is that, in terms of scale and slaughter, the most colossal terrorist attack in the history of this planet was committed by the same country that often claims to be the greatest nation on it."
In another 2008 commentary, Hunter accused neoconservatives of pushing America into wars on behalf of Israel.
"Whether for Israel or oil, or both, a permanent U.S. foothold in the Middle East has been the primary neoconservative goal since day one and certainly since long before 9/11," he said.
Hunter defended his pro-secessionist views as recently as 2009.
"In my early 20s, I was a full-blown, right-wing radical. As a member of the Southern secessionist group the League of the South, I argued seriously for the states of the old Confederacy to break away from the rest of the Union," wrote Hunter in a Charleston City Paper column. "I thought it might be better to tone down the radicalism and at least try to appear more respectable. But when I came across an old column of mine last week, I realized that I never really changed. I'm still just as radical or crazy, depending on your perspective. In fact, I might be getting worse."
He later described his support for secession as "a brand of politics I still subscribe to today."
Hunter told the Free Beacon that he no longer holds many of these views.
He said he has changed his position on Lincoln’s assassination but still believes the Civil War was a mistake.
"You can be for the conclusion of a war without being for a war," Hunter said. "I don’t think assassinating a president is ever right, unless it was somebody like Adolf Hitler."
He said his comments about Hispanic immigrants and culture was meant to be "a point [about] how the culture changes with migration patterns. That’s true. The difference between now and then is I saw that as a serious problem then. I don’t think I see that as a serious problem now."
He expressed surprise when read his remarks about race, saying, "Hearing you even read that to me, because I just don’t speak like that, sort of bothers me." He said his views had changed dramatically.
He said he no longer thinks the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrorist attacks and does not believe that neoconservative foreign policy is driven purely by oil and Israel.
While Hunter declined to say that he no longer supports secession, he told the Free Beacon that the issue is "sort of a dead letter" in the United States.
"There’s a lot of people who write in print and radio that go out and beat their chests and try to just say the craziest things they can because that’s how you make a living. For awhile that’s how I made a living," said Hunter. "And it’s not that you don’t mean it—it’s just you express it in ways that does more harm than good."
Paul’s office provided a statement to the Free Beacon.
"Sen. Paul holds his staff to a standard that includes treating every individual with equal protection and respect, without exception," said spokesperson Moira Bagley.
Paul and Hunter grew close after the then-Senate-candidate hired the former radio pundit to help write his first book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington, in the fall of 2010.
"While the book was being written, Hunter spent the weeks balancing time on the trail with time writing in a Kentucky hotel room, typing about 14 hours each day," reported the Charleston City Paper in a 2011 profile of Hunter. "He collected about 40 hours of conversations with Paul and grew close with the family. On Election Night, Hunter taught Paul's sons how to play AC/DC's ‘T.N.T.’ for the celebration."
The Washington Monthly reported Monday that Hunter is part of a group of close aides who advise Paul on foreign policy.
Both Hunter and Paul’s office denied his involvement in foreign policy deliberations in comments to the Free Beacon.
Since becoming Paul’s social media director, Hunter has publicly vouched for the senator’s non-interventionist bona fides.
When libertarians and paleoconservatives balked at Paul’s remark last January that "any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States," Hunter downplayed the comment as a "little rhetorical concession" and said the senator was "play[ing] the game."
"For every questionable action—support for Mitt Romney, comments about the U.S.’s relationship with Israel … these things do not diminish the overall record of the most libertarian senator since the Founding era," wrote Hunter on the Southern Avenger website. "Not making these certain diplomatic statements or gestures on occasion, also makes taking these ideas into the mainstream much, much harder. A little rhetorical concession goes a long way."
"Some say Rand is not Ron because he is ‘willing to play them game,’" Hunter continued. "That’s exactly right. That’s the point—to play it, influence it, and win it as much as you can. The neoconservatives certainly do, to their advantage."
Hunter has also said that Rand Paul holds the same foreign policy views as his father, Ron Paul.
"The philosophy hasn’t substantively changed [from Ron Paul to Rand Paul]. The methods and style most certainly have."
However, a spokesperson for Paul said Hunter was not speaking for the senator.
Hunter also discussed Paul’s intention to take non-interventionism into the "mainstream" in a comment to libertarian website the Daily Paul in January.
"I see, finally, a Republican willing to take the more sane, non-interventionist message into the mainstream in a way that can stick and possibly become policy," said Hunter.
"Ron started this whole thing," he added. "Rand is taking it to the next level."
Again however, Hunter said does not think Rand Paul is a non-interventionist when asked by the Free Beacon.
Paul, who is widely expected to enter the 2016 Republican presidential primary, has worked to dispel the notion that he shares the radical antiwar views of his father and political observers say that so far he has been effective in doing so.
"I think he already has to a large extent overcome that perception—whether he overcomes it to the extent that is necessary to win the nomination is another question," said Jim Antle, the editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, said the younger Paul has tried to avoid being associated with some of the elder Paul’s fringier political views.
"I think they’re trying to fight that, and we’ll just see how successfully [Rand Paul] does," said Barone. "Clearly he wants to avoid that perception."
Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), came under fire in 2008 when the New Republic reported that he had published a series of racially-insensitive newsletters in the 1990s. The elder Paul maintains that the newsletters, which were published under his name, were actually written by others at the time.
While the younger Paul has tripped over sensitive racial issues in the past—most notably when he dodged questions about whether he would have voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act—he is viewed as a much more mainstream figure than his father.
"I think it’s obvious, from polling and from the reaction to him within mainstream conservative circles, that [Rand Paul] has a much bigger reach than his father," said Antle. "And I think if you listen to some of the recent speeches he’s given, he’s already trying to make an argument for why his views would have general appeal and might win over some blue-state independent voters."