UPDATE, November 5, 2014--The subject of this article, Michael Anthony Peroutka, running as a Republican, won a seat on the Anne Arundel County Council in the November 4 election, beating his opponent, by nearly 1,900 votes, according to the Baltimore Sun.
On November 4, 2011, standing on a small stage with Bible verses splashed on the background behind him, Michael Peroutka told a small audience attending his lecture that “when you see and hear folks describe the earth as millions of years old, you know that they are either willfully anti-American, or they are ignorant of their own heritage and history. What I am saying is that the promotion of evolution is an act of disloyalty to America.”
Three years later, on November 4, 2014, Michael Peroutka is standing for election as a Republican candidate for the county council of a sedate Maryland suburb in the orbit of the nation’s capital. Last month, under pressure from his fellow Republicans, Peroutka announced that he had ended his longstanding membership in the neo-Confederate group, the League of the South.
An attorney and co-founder of the Institute on the Constitution—an educational outreach outfit that aims to teach students about what he claims to be the biblical worldview of the founding fathers—Michael Peroutka is a self-proclaimed Christian. On June 24, he won the primary race for the District 5 seat in Anne Arundel County, the third wealthiest county in Maryland, which is the nation’s richest state. But prior to winning the county’s GOP primary, Peroutka was probably best known as the Constitution Party’s 2004 presidential candidate.
The Constitution Party, which some have labeled as a theocratic party, falls far to the right on the political spectrum. Its principles include rejecting the idea that attacks against LGBT people can be “hate crimes,” opposing federal laws that subsidize or regulate education, and denouncing government welfare for the poor. The party platform states that its goal “is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.”
How did a candidate who calls civil rights “make-believe,” doesn’t believe the United States is a democracy, and says multiculturalism is bad for America succeed in a place like Anne Arundel County? While the county’s population comprises more registered Democrats than Republicans, the GOP tends to do well there—but the make-up of the county is especially diverse, racially and socio-economically; there’s nothing to suggest that a far-right candidate would ordinarily enjoy a victory there.
On the day of primary elections, overall voter turnout in Maryland was abysmally low, with just 23 percent of registered voters showing up to the polls—and Anne Arundel County didn’t fair much better, with 24 percent of voters participating in the primaries. Low voter turnout certainly had a role in Peroutka’s primary win but fed-up constituents were likely a bigger factor in the victory. “There’s a very high degree of frustration with currently elected officials,” Anne Arundel County Councilman Dick Ladd told The American Prospect, “and voters were looking for something new—without paying a great deal of attention to what that ‘new’ might be.”
During his 2004 presidential campaign, Peroutka’s slogan was “God. Family. Republic.” Though he frequently spoke of family values as being at the center of his campaign and consistently attacked state funded programs for children, Baltimore City Paper’s profile of him revealed some aspects of his past that directly contradict the ideas he promotes.
Peroutka’s wife, Diane, has two daughters from a previous marriage—Dawn and Holly Hubbard—whom they turned over to the state foster-care system at the ages of 15 and 17. The teenage girls became wards of the state after Dawn accused Peroutka of sexual abuse (she later recanted) and Holly displayed behavior problems. In 2004, City Paper reported that "on May 13, 1992, two weeks after the Peroutkas placed Dawn Hubbard in state custody, Michael Peroutka petitioned for a court order barring Dawn from having any further contact with the Peroutka family or from approaching their Baltimore County townhouse," effectively cutting off her contact with her mother.
Despite his past, Peroutka’s presidential run was relatively successful for a third party candidate: He gained ballot access in 36 states and came away with more than 140,000 votes. Though the Constitution Party is radically different than the Republican Party, Peroutka switched to the GOP in February 2014 and filed his candidacy for the County Council seat.
Peroutka’s current campaign platform, at first glance, seems to fall in line with mainstream Republicans: He vows to never raise taxes (ever!), and is against Obamacare, marriage equality and reproductive rights. But hiding beneath a veil of standard Republican talking points are Michael Peroutka’s far-right fringe views.
County voters, who are in favor of keeping tax rates low, may have also cast their ballots for Peroutka because of his anti-tax stance. “Anne Arundel County has the lowest tax rates in the state, so that feeds very nicely in Peroutka’s campaign. He has pledged to never raise taxes,” says Ladd. The good news for Republicans who are worried Michael Peroutka might hurt the party is that he only won his primary by a mere 38 votes, and Ladd believes that voters won’t be turning away from the GOP or staying home on Election Day. “They’ll leave Peroutka’s spot [on the ballot] open, if they’re that frustrated with him.”
About a month after the Maryland primaries, Carl Snowden—the organizer for the Caucus of African American Leadership—called out Peroutka’s association with the League of the South, designated as a white supremacist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Snowden asked Larry Hogan, the Republican Maryland gubernatorial candidate, to disassociate himself with Peroutka and the secessionist organization—and Hogan did so promptly.
Members of the League of the South cling to the notion that the South will rise again. Their secession fantasy is based on the opinion that the Northern states are so corrupt that the South must free itself from the grip of tyranny and oppression, and become independent entity. Despite the fact that it would be economically unviable, the group still envisions a separate Southern confederacy complete with no income taxes, property taxes or central banking system.
League of the South members embrace an interpretation of the Christian Bible that has the patriarch reigning supreme as the head of the household, and what they deem to be the natural and godly dominion by white European culture over the Southern states. They’re against marriage equality and, unsurprisingly, anti-choice. But, what might be the most appalling (and most damning for Peroutka) is their views on race.
These proud “ethnocentrists” believe that having a “natural affection” to one’s own kind is both healthy and biblical. They shower adulation on George C. Wallace, the late Alabama governor infamous for his “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” inauguration speech. League of the South President Michael Hill has penned essays that profess the superiority of the white race and defend the enslavement of blacks as a biblical institution.
Of course Michael Peroutka’s association with the League of the South isn’t the only thing that has Democrats and Republicans alike worried about his candidacy. His own essays at The American View, the Institute on the Constitution’s website, speaks volumes about Peroutka’s personal beliefs.
He finds a way to invoke his notion of a punishing God in just about everything, even citizenship. To him, real Americans aren’t those that were born here or have passports and Social Security Numbers, but believers in his God. In Peroutka’s America, the 23 percent of the population that do not identify as Christians would have to start looking for new countries to call home.
This God plays a major role in enacting laws, too…at least according to Peroutka. Questioning the validity of the Maryland legislature, Peroutka claims that “an enactment must not violate God’s law.” Which Maryland laws have violated this hard and fast truth? Peroutka cites the recognition of same sex marriage, a stormwater fee to keep the Chesapeake Bay pollution-free, and laws designed to protect the rights of transgender people—or in Perotuka’s words: Maryland declaring that “little girls must share bathrooms with older 'men' who are gender-confused."
Transgender rights aren’t the only rights that rattle Michael Peroutka to his core. Last year, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed Arizona’s SB 1062, a bill that would have empowered businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people on religious grounds, Peroutka criticized Brewer’s decision, saying that the governor “decided to give in to the militant homosexual agenda which desires not only to have perverse behavior and activities accepted by the culture, but validated by every business owner as well.” The rejection of a discriminatory bill was a sure sign of cultural degradation, said Peroutka, who asserts that LGBTQ activists want to recruit children into their gay “deathstyle.”
By the end of July, criticism over his association with the League of the South was mounting and Peroutka sought to do damage control. At a press conference he called with the apparent aim of proving he is not racist, Peroutka opened with a prayer but then defended the League of the South, calling it a “Christian, free-market group” that’s been unfairly labeled—despite ample and easily accessible evidence that the League of the South is, in fact, a white supremacist, secessionist group.
Peroutka didn’t stop at his defense of a hate group though; he insisted that he was only being targeted because he opposed big government. But, despite all this and using the old, “I’m not a racist, I have black friends!” tactic by having two black men stand next to him at the podium, the press conference was decidedly a failure.
In response, Anne Arundel County Council Member James Benoit and attorney Dan Clements launched StopPeroutka.com PAC, a political action committee with an accompanying website that details Michael Peroutka’s political history and profiles some of his associates. The goal of the PAC, according to its founders, is to educate voters on Michael Peroutka and his extreme views.
On October 17, Michael Peroutka announced that he had left the League of the South because its views on interracial marriage (which, surprise, it opposes) did not line up with his beliefs—but made clear that he has no problem with the organization and still agrees with its stances on government and preserving Southern culture.
Republican leaders are probably hoping that voters will leave the District 5 spot blank or even vote for Peroutka's Democratic opponent, Patrick Armstrong. Michael Peroutka’s campaign comes at a time when national political discourse is in constant deadlock with very little legislation occurring at the federal level, so state and local elections are getting more attention than usual from the national media. The older white male electorate that Republicans depend on is shrinking, and the party desperately needs to reach out to minority voters. The last thing Republicans need is a candidate on the fringes of the fringe winning any local elections. Unfortunately for them, Michael Peroutka has provided them with the possibility of just that.