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Backtracking Alabama Sen. Tuberville U-Turns, Admits ‘White Nationalists Are Racist’

By Jake Beardslee · July 13, 2023

Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville faced backlash from both Democrats and Republicans for initially refusing to label white nationalists as racist, instead calling them "Americans," but later conceded under pressure that "white nationalists are racist."  U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Mildred Guevara), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville has come under fire for his controversial remarks about white nationalists, which he made during a CNN interview with Kaitlin Collins. The conservative senator initially refused to label white nationalists as racist, instead referring to them as “Americans.” His comments have sparked an uproar among both Democrats and Republicans, leading to a heated debate on Capitol Hill.

In May, when asked by Collins if white nationalists should be allowed in the military, Tuberville responded, “Well, they call them that. I call them Americans.” He later doubled down on these comments, stating, “My opinion of a white nationalist, if somebody wants to call him a white nationalist, to me is an American.”

Tubeville’s remarks drew sharp criticism from Democratic Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, who said, ​​”This isn’t a joke. This is deadly serious stuff. And for a member of the United States Senate to speculate about what white nationalism means, as if it’s some benign little thought experiment, is deeply and terribly disturbing.”

When pressed on the issue by ABC’s Rachel Scott, Tuberville initially maintained his stance, saying, “Listen, I’m totally against racism. And if the Democrats want to say that white nationalists are racist, I’m totally against that, too.” However, after repeated questioning and mounting pressure from his Republican colleagues, Tuberville changed his tone, finally conceding„ “White nationalists are racist.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the Republicans who distanced themselves from Tuberville’s comments. McConnell asserted that white supremacy is simply unacceptable, a sentiment echoed by other members of the GOP.

Despite the controversy, Tuberville’s remarks seem to have bolstered his political standing among Alabama conservatives. A Morning Consult poll published in May showed that 50 percent of respondents in Alabama approved of Tuberville’s performance.

Light Wave commentary

The Tuberville incident serves as a stark reminder of the power of words in politics. The Alabama senator’s comments on white nationalists, initially labeling them as ‘Americans’ rather than acknowledging their racist ideology, ignited a firestorm of controversy. His initial reluctance to reconsider his words, despite common views on the issue that transcend party lines, raised eyebrows and drew criticism from both sides of the aisle. Only after repeated questioning and mounting pressure from his own party did Tuberville finally concede that white nationalists are indeed “racist.” The incident underscores the need for clear, thoughtful communication from our leaders, particularly when addressing sensitive topics such as race and nationalism. It also highlights the potential consequences of ambiguous or controversial statements, which can lead to public outrage and intra-party conflict. In sum, words matter and elected officials have a responsibility to respond to the interests and sensibilities of all those they represent.