Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore’s top supporter is a hardline Confederate sympathizer with longtime ties to a secessionist group.
Michael Anthony Peroutka (pictured on the right above, with Moore in 2011) has given Moore, his foundation and his campaigns well over a half-million dollars over the past decade-plus. He’s also expressed beliefs that make even Moore’s arguably theocratic anti-gay and anti-Muslim views look mainstream by comparison. Chief among them: He’s argued that the more Christian South needs to secede and form a new Biblical nation.
The close connections raise further questions about the racial and religious views of Moore, the former Alabama supreme court chief justice and the front-runner to become Alabama’s next U.S. senator.
There’s a long history of southern conservative politicians playing footsie with fringe groups that hold controversial views on race. But that’s become more fraught in recent years as the advent of YouTube, camera phones and campaign trackers has made it harder to keep those meetings quiet. It’s also become more controversial to speak to Confederate groups in recent years as parts of the South have changed and in the wake of murderous racist violence in Charleston and Charlottesville. But even by the old standards, Moore’s deep ties to Peroutka — and Peroutka’s views — stand out, as most of those groups weren’t actively calling for the South to secede again.
Peroutka, a 2004 Constitution Party presidential nominee who in 2014 won a seat as a Republican on the county commission in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, spent years on the board of the Alabama-based League of the South, a southern secessionist group which for years has called for a southern nation run by an “Anglo-Celtic” elite. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the League of the South as a hate group (a designation Peroutka regularly jokes about). That organization, after Peroutka left, was one of the organizers of the Charlottesville protests last summer that ended in bloodshed.
During his 2004 presidential run, Peroutka made it clear to the League of the South which side of the Mason-Dixon Line he stood on.
“I come from Maryland, which by the way is below the Mason-Dixon Line. … We’d have seceded if they hadn’t of locked up 51 members of the legislature. And by the way, I’m still angry about that,” he told the group to applause.
In that speech, Peroutka praised his daughter for refusing to play the Battle Hymn of the Republic in her school band, called a visit to Confederate leader Jefferson Davis’ grave “beautiful,” praised his son for calling the Confederate rebel flag the “American flag” and said he’d wished that those in the room had been there during the Civil War fighting for the South.
“We could have used you, there should have been more of us in 1861,” he said.
And he made it clear that his anti-union views weren’t just in the past.
“Of course the South is this remnant of a Christian understanding of law and government where there is a God and government is God-ordained. That stands right in the way of this pagan understanding that the state, the new world order, is God,'” he continued, warning that secularists were out to destroy the South.
The League of the South broke its tradition against involvement in a federal political system they normally reject and endorsed Peroutka’s campaign.
Moore’s Own Views
Moore himself has addressed some extremist groups and made some racially charged comments — in addition to his inflammatory views that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in Congress, that Sharia law is already being implemented in parts of the Midwest and that “homosexual conduct should be illegal.”
Moore led the charge against a 2004 state referendum to remove segregationist language from the Alabama state constitution, claiming that the amendment would somehow open up the state to possible education tax increases. The League of the South was also involved in helping to defeat the amendment, which fell by a narrow margin.
As Buzzfeed reported in 2015, back in 1995 Moore gave a keynote address to the Council of Conservative Citizens — a white supremacist group that Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof would cite as a key influence two decades later.
“I did not consider the Council of Conservative Citizens to be a ‘white supremacist’ group when I spoke to them 20 years ago,” Moore said in 2015, pointing out that other prominent Republicans like former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) had also spoken to the group. “I obviously highly regard the fundamental principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal.'”
As CNN recently reported, Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law hosted the League of the South’s annual “Secession Day” event in 2009 and 2010.
Rich Hobson, then the Foundation’s head and now Moore’s campaign manager, told the AP in 2010 that he’d been the one to grant the space to the League, not Moore, and said Moore’s foundation “is not involved in the meeting.”
Moore’s office is adorned with a portrait of Jefferson Davis and busts of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, though he’s claimed that’s because they’re fellow West Point graduates and not because they led the Confederacy.
Even during his current Senate campaign, Moore hasn’t shied away from racial controversy, continuing to question whether President Obama was born in the United States and referring to “reds and yellows” in the same breath that he lamented racial division. And Moore’s Facebook page shared memes claiming Obama was Muslim, as well as ones like this:
The League of the South has also helped to organize pro-Moore protests both times he was being removed from the Alabama supreme court, according to contemporaneous reports. But in spite of that visible support from the League of the South, his foundation hosting them while he was its president, and his deep ties to Peroutka, Moore has denied knowing about Peroutka’s and the group’s views.
When a Montgomery Advertiser reporter confronted him about Peroutka’s big donations to his state supreme court campaign in 2012, Moore denied he supported secession but refused to disavow Peroutka’s views because “I don’t know anything about it to be concerned or not concerned, but I have no idea what was said or what they stood for.”
Those who have closely watched Moore and Peroutka are skeptical.
“The fact that they are so close and Roy Moore promoted Peroutka, took him out of obscurity and helped him become the presidential candidate of the Constitution Party, says a lot,” Frederick Clarkson, an author with the liberal think tank Political Research Associates who has monitored Moore and Peroutka for decades, told TPM.
“League of the South is a violent secessionist group rooted in the theology of Christian Reconstructionism, states’ rights and white supremacy. There’s no question what they’re up to.”
The Maryland Confederate
Peroutka has been explicit about his support of the Confederacy — and his views haven’t exactly softened over the years.
In 2012, speaking at the League’s annual convention, Peroutka laid out his view that the South needs to rise again while praising the group’s even more hardline leader, Michael Hill.
“I don’t disagree with Dr. Hill at all that this [national political] regime is beyond reform. I think that’s an obvious fact and I agree with him. However, I do agree that when you secede or however the destruction and the rubble of this regime takes place and how it plays out, you’re going to need to take a biblical worldview and apply it to civil law and government,” he said. “I don’t want the people from the League of the South to for one minute think that I am about reforming the current regime and studying the Constitution is about reforming the regime. I, like many of you and like Patrick Henry, have come to the conclusion that we smelled a rat from the beginning.”
In case there was any confusion about his views, Peroutka closed his speech by asking the crowd to “stand for the national anthem” — and then played “Dixie.”
Video of Peroutka at the 2012 League of the South event courtesy Right Wing Watch.
He’s also argued the Civil War was about “consolidating power into the hands of a few people” like Washington politicians and New York bankers, not slavery.
Peroutka explicitly said he wasn’t a racist during his 2014 run — though in a press conference to prove it he twice dodged questions about his earlier secessionist comments.
Moore’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Peroutka told TPM via email that he has “made public statements regarding the issues you describe” and has “nothing further to add at this time.”
Peroutka and Moore share similar Christian Reconstructionist views of government. Both Moore and Peroutka have long questioned the basic right of the federal government to dictate what local officials do, arguing that’s beyond the power God and the Constitution grants to it, though Peroutka has gone much further, openly talking about secession.
They believe that America is a Christian nation, that government is limited to enforcing those rights bestowed by God, and anything else it attempts to do is fundamentally wrong and should be disregarded by the people and officials. That explains Moore’s refusal to follow the rule of law in both occasions he was forced to leave the state supreme court. Both explicitly reject the common interpretation of the separation of church and state, blame America’s woes on an abandonment of their theocratic view, and harken back fondly to a hazy earlier era where devout Christians alone ruled the land.
More than a decade ago, Peroutka found a kindred spirit in Moore, who had become a hero on the religious right by erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments at his courthouse and rejecting higher courts’ rulings to remove it. Moore was suddenly without a job after being kicked off the Alabama supreme court — and Peroutka seemed to have a perfect way to help him fill his days.
Soon, the two were barnstorming the country, with Peroutka giving Moore $120,000 for a speaking tour. The well-known Moore was being courted by members of the fringe Constitution Party as a presidential candidate, and often spoke at the same events as his previously little-known benefactor. When Moore announced he wouldn’t run, Peroutka stepped up — a self-funder who’d helped Moore travel the country and in return got to share his spotlight and boost his profile.
That was the first of many donations, most of them made through the Elizabeth Stroub Peroutka Foundation, a group run by Peroutka and his brother: $60,000 to Moore’s now-defunct Coalition to Restore America, and $249,000 from 2006 through 2014 to Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law.
Peroutka also gave a combined $45,000 to Moore’s two failed gubernatorial runs, and a total of $143,000 for his successful 2012 comeback to the state supreme court, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics, roughly one-tenth of his total money for the race.
The sum total of Peroutka’s donations to Moore, his causes and campaigns: at least $622,000 since 2004.
Screen shot from Moore’s Facebook video of Moore greeting Peroutka backstage on primary election night, Sept. 27, 2017.
Peroutka has also honored Moore on numerous occasions — including in 2007 when he had installed a replica of Moore’s Ten Commandments memorial on his Maryland farm and dubbed the area “Roy S. Moore Field.” Flying at the ceremony: the state flags of Alabama and Maryland, and the Confederate national flag. The stars and stripes were nowhere to be seen, according to coverage and photos from the liberal secular Americans United for Church and State and the liberal blog JewsOnFirst.
The two seem to have remained close. Peroutka maxed out to Moore’s current Senate campaign and appeared onstage at Moore’s primary victory rally in late September. Moore embraced him backstage after shouting an exuberant “This guy, this guy! Michael,” upon spotting him (it can be seen at 33 minutes into the Moore campaign’s Facebook livestream of the event).
As recently as 2015, Moore participated in a promotional video for Peroutka’s “Institute on the Constitution” — an organization set to teach a biblical view of the Constitution — calling Peroutka his “good friend.”
Promotional video from Peroutka’s group, the Institute on the Constitution.
The League of the South’s Dark Record
Peroutka has used his personal wealth to fund a number of right-wing causes over the years, from various anti-abortion and anti-gay groups to money to maintain Confederate monuments and grave sites to $1 million to the Creation Museum for the fossilized skeleton of an Allosaurous dubbed “Ebenezer.”
But his League of the South support has drawn the most ire. It convinced now-Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and other local Republicans to disavow Peroutka’s candidacy in 2014.
The group and its leader Michael Hill (the “Dr. Hill” Peroutka was referring to in his 2012 remarks) have become more openly militant in recent years, shortly after Peroutka left the group.
Hill has recently suggested organizing a violent “Southern Defense Force” militia in preparation for “guerrilla war,” predicted “race war,” and attacked “Organized Jewry.” He was a scheduled speaker at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville alongside former KKK head David Duke, and members of his group were caught on camera brawling during the violent protests there that ended up with a white nationalist ramming a car into a group of anti-racist protestors. In its aftermath, he wrote a Facebook post titled “Fight or die White man.” The group has had billboards reading “Secede” posted across the South since 2014.
While Peroutka repeatedly praised Hill in speeches as recently as 2012, he left when he was gearing up for a 2014 run for office, claiming he’d just found out top members opposed interracial marriage. He recently denounced as “outrageous” and “inappropriate” Hill’s pledge “to be a white supremacist, a racist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a xenophobe, an Islamophobe and any other sort of ‘phobe’ that benefits my people.”
But while the group has grown more extreme, its basic tenets haven’t shifted all that much since Peroutka was first involved. At the same 2012 League conference that Peroutka spoke, Hill made it crystal clear what he and the group stood for. It’s apparent Peroutka was listening, as he referred back to parts of Hill’s speech in his own.
“We want out and we want them out of here,” Hill said about the federal government, calling for a “New southern republic,” speaking out against interracial marriage and for the “Superiority of the Christian West.”
“If you can’t be proud of the fact that God created you as a white southerner and you can’t defend your patrimony then you ain’t much,” he said. “Look around. You all look like me. … You cannot deny when you look around in this room who makes up this movement.”
From the start, the group had long had ties with white supremacists. A founding board member, Jack Kershaw, was an ardent segregationist who’d served as the attorney of Martin Luther King’s assassin, erected statue of early KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest in Nashville, and repeatedly argued that slavery had been good for black people.
Longtime observers of the group called laughable Peroutka’s seeming shock about the group’s views.
“It’s pretty transparent bullshit that he couldn’t see racism in the League of the South until he ran for office,” said Miranda Blue, who has long tracked Peroutka and the League for Right Wing Watch and the liberal group People for the American Way.
And much as Peroutka’s claim he didn’t know about the League of the South’s motives is questionable, observers say Moore’s close ties with Peroutka are telling.
“These are the moral and political choices Roy Moore made with his close friend and financial backer, Michael Peroutka,” said Clarkson. “If he didn’t share substantial portions of the vision, why did he do those things?”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Peroutka’s middle name.