Monday, March 5, 2018

Forgotten Heroes of Conservatism- Part 2- Billy James Hargis

I've gotten distracted from this series, but I want to get back to it with a post about Billy James Hargis, who was a radio preacher from the 1950's on, at his peak appearing on over 500 radio stations.  I want to make it clear that I am doing this not because anyone should really care about these people, but because their history demonstrates that the current plague of wingnut madness which is spreading around the country is not a new phenomenon, not a product of Trump or even Reagan, but is the current manifestation of what at this point must be regarded as the essential character of American Conservatism.  Secondarily, by pointing out some of the connections between my featured characters and others in the Conservative movement, I hope to show that the entire thing was produced by a relatively small, interrelated group of charlatans, criminals and corrupt politicians and religious figures.  This should serve as a warning about how dangerous it is to write these people off as ineffectual.

Anyway, on with Billy.  Billy James Hargis (1925-2004) was an American evangelist from an early age.  He attended, for various brief terms, a number of Evangelical "colleges" and seminaries, one of which ordained him at the age of 17, after which he began a career of preaching his ignorant nonsense to the multitudes.  By the early 1950's he had moved to radio, where he flourished for quite a number of years.

He also fancied himself to be a singer.  Here's a picture of Billy from one of his albums.

 I am deeply sorry to report that I couldn't find a single cut  of his online, so you are relieved of the temptation to listen to what is undoubtedly one of the worst singers in human history. Reverb Nation, where is your duty to posterity?

His message, besides the usual right wing religious garbage, revolved around extreme anti-communism of the John Birch Society (of which he was a member) variety, a hatred of desegregation, and tinges of out and out racism and anti-Semitism; i.e. the standard building blocks out of which Conservatism is forged.  In a statement in the 1970's, he described his positions as "anti-communism, anti-socialism, anti-welfare state, anti-Russia, anti-China, a literal interpretation of the Bible, and states' rights."  He also was very active in the anti-abortion movement.

Here's a brief excerpt from his Wikipedia article describing his positions:

"Hargis believed national and world events were part of a cosmic struggle, where the ultimate actors were Christ and Satan. While communism represented the latter, the United States represented the former. He used this as justification for why the United States should return to what he believed were its founding Christian ideals.  Hargis preached on cultural issues: against sex education and Communism, and for the return of prayer and Bible reading to public schools, long before the rise of the late 20th century Religious Right. His belief in conspiracy theories led to a belief that the government, the media, and pop culture figures were promoting "communism" in the late 1960s."

Here, for those of you who care, is a sample of Hargis in action, in which he rails against the Communists in the Kennedy administration.  Watch if if you dare:

In 1950, Hargis founded an organization called the Christian Crusade, which was a forerunner of the Moral Majority and similar later groups which claimed to speak for the allegedly right wing Christian majority in the country.  In 1964 this group was stripped of its tax exempt status because of its obvious political nature; would that Federal authorities today would have the sense to do the same with the hundreds of phony 501(c)3 "charities" currently operated by right wing con men.

During the fifties and sixties. Hargis formed alliances with other right wing luminaries of the time, such as Major General Edwin Walker, who served as a liaison between Hargis' organizations and various right wing politicians (e.g. Joe McCarthy) before being arrested for fomenting riots in 1962 to prevent the admission of James Meredith into the University of Mississippi, and then (inevitably, I guess)  being arrested twice for propositioning undercover policemen for sex in a park bathroom; and the Reverend Carl McIntyre, a popular wingnut preacher in the 1960's who appeared on the legendary radio station KXEL, and who has always been a favorite of mine.

Hargis also founded American Christian College in Tulsa, and ran it for a number of years, before he (God, this story gets old, doesn't it?) at near the age of 50, was accused by a number of students, both male and female, of manipulating them into sexual encounters.  The college collapsed soon after that. As a beloved figure in right wing Tulsa, he was allowed to plead no contest to one count, after which he of course denied for the rest of his life that he had done a thing wrong.

Kind of makes you wonder what Hargis and General Walker got up to on those cold Tulsa nights, huh?

In the sixties, Hargis tried to latch onto various cultural phenomena, for example accusing the Beatles of being Communists in a book, here credited to his co-leader of the Christian Crusade:
Man, that must have been a good read

and spreading ludicrous fantasies about the peace symbol:
After this period, Hargis degenerated into irrelevance, which is, of course, where he should have been all along.

As a final note, let me add that the direct mail king Richard Viguere, one of the most important characters in the rise of the new right, and a seminal figure in the stripping of the right wing lust for power of any remaining shreds of values or morality, got his start working for Hargis.  Viguere is such an important figure that I will write a piece on him soon; I actually started on it before deciding to do a couple more earlier figures first.

So there you go; another step down to hell for the American right.  More to come soon.


Infidel753 said...

Kind of makes you wonder what Hargis and General Walker got up to on those cold Tulsa nights, huh?

Not the most appetizing mental image there, but let it pass.

It's very striking how many of these batshit-crazy religious right-wing fanatics turn out to have repressed homosexual impulses. I'm convinced it plays a role in making them what they are. Growing up fervently religious, thinking of homosexuality as an unspeakable sin, and then discovering those impulses within oneself, must create almost intolerable stresses. It's no wonder such people often try to attack those impulses by obsessively attacking "sin" in other people. If people like Hargis, Walker, Mateen, etc. had grown up in an accepting society, they might have lived out their lives as normal gay people instead of turning into persecutors.

I hope to show that the entire thing was produced by a relatively small, interrelated group of charlatans, criminals and corrupt politicians and religious figures.

I hope you'll continue the series. The better we understand the enemy, the better we can fight them. I had barely heard of Hargis before this.

Green Eagle said...

Thanks, and don't worry. I already have a number of names on my list.

And just in case anyone was wondering, my comments about many of these people's sexual orientation have nothing to do with their being gay, but are intended to show that when it comes to their most abhorred acts, their religious values mean nothing to them when they stand in the way of their own behavior. Evangelical Christianity and Conservatism itself are nothing but elaborately constructed screens to hide their greed and hatred.

Professor Chaos said...

Not really the point, but I would bet $ that is a spoken-word albim, akin to Ronald Reagan's album warning about the dangers of socialized medicine.

Green Eagle said...

From what I read, Hargis definitely did make musical recordings as well as some spoken word ones. I believe this is one of the former, but the information I saw was a little unclear. Hardly effects what I was trying to get across, however.

Bigmike said...

How come there is such an association of closeted homosexuals and the conservative movement? I always wondered if anyone has done a study on this to see what the percentage are with regards to the liberal and conservative movements?

Professor Chaos said...

No, I didn't mean that as a criticism, I just thought it might explain why you couldnt find any of his songs online.

Green Eagle said...


I have wondered about this for a long time. First of all, let me say that there is nothing wrong, as far as I am concerned, with being gay. My comments totally revolve around the almost incomprehensible hypocrisy and double standards involved in these particular people, who spent years railing against homosexuality, and then engaged in gay behavior. That comment out of the way, I sort of know what is coming up in this series, and unfortunately this is not the last time that we will encounter people on the right, some of them viciously ant-gay in public, who engaged in a lot of gay behavior in private. Maybe by the time I get to really filthy hypocrites on this subject, such as Roy Cohn, I'll figure out more to say, but I sort of doubt it.

cpinva said...

I note Mr. Hargis had no military service. He was certainly old enough to have served in WWII, but there's no indication, in Wikipedia, that he tried to enlist, but was turned down for some reason, or that he was drafted, but maybe couldn't pass the physical. Nor, does it appear he made an effort to serve in a civilian capacity, for the war effort. this makes him even more like most modern "conservatives": loud and proud "patriots", who do anything necessary to avoid actually going in harm's way.

Pinku-Sensei said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog. As soon as I read about this entry as one of Infidel's links, I wondered if Father Coughlin was one of those profiled. Not yet, although you did mention him in the previous installment. I have a particular interest in him, as I used to live slighly more than a mile down the street from his church. The place gave me the creeps. It's also still a hot bed of the most conservative strains within Catholocism, decades after Coughlin died.

Green Eagle said...

Father Coughlin is absolutely on my list. I've put him off for a little while, because he is the person on the list that I think the most of my readers will already know something about, but rest assured, he has been on the list since I first wanted to do this.

bowtiejack said...

About that sex business with the Christian College students.
Although he later denied doing anything wrong at all, at the time he tried out a defense of saying that his behavior with the students had been caused by "bad genes". [He was the victim, see!]. Apparently that didn't work so he went to a full Trumpian denial of inconvenient facts.
Oh, and his home base of Tulsa was, of course, the scene of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.