The sight of the Great Replacement invasion at the southwest border should provoke outrage. It hasn’t, but it could, and in very much the old-fashioned way: with the same type of “Willie Horton ad” that catapulted George H.W. Bush into the White House, despite being behind Democrat Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in the polls at the end of July 1988 [The Shadow of Dukakis Looms Over Biden, by David Catron, The American Spectator, August 7, 2020].
Think back to 35 years ago, when William Robert Horton, now 72, a convicted felon, commanded the national spotlight. That was due to an independently produced campaign TV ad aimed at Governor Dukakis for championing a weekend prison furlough program through which Horton committed additional felonies.
Horton had earned a prominent place in the annals of American crime on the night of October 26, 1974, when he and two accomplices robbed a gas station in Lawrence, Mass. One of the perps stabbed Joey Fournier, a 17-year-old attendant, 19 times and then stuffed him in a barrel where he died [35 years after Horton murder, victim’s kin carry on his memory, by Laurel J. Sweet, Boston Herald, October 26, 2009]. In May 1975, all three defendants were convicted of armed robbery and murder. Horton got life without parole. It wasn’t his first stretch in prison. He’d done three years in the slammer in South Carolina for assault with the intent to kill. Unfortunately, this time he had a way out.
In 1972, the Massachusetts legislature had enacted a law, signed by Republican Governor Francis Sargent, authorizing weekend furloughs to prisoners. First-degree murderers were ineligible, but the next year, the state Supreme Court decreed that they were. In 1976, during Michael Dukakis’ first term as governor, the legislature passed a bill overturning the ruling, but Dukakis vetoed it because it would “cut the heart out of efforts at inmate rehabilitation.”
Cut to a decade later. Willie Horton had received nine furloughs. The tenth would be his last. On June 6, 1986, a cop pulled him over for an apparent traffic offense. Rather than comply with the officer’s directive, Horton sped off, crashed the vehicle, escaped to Florida, and resettled in Maryland.
On April 3, 1987, he invaded the Oxon Hill, MD, home of an engaged white couple, Clifford Barnes and Angela Miller. He pistol-whipped and tied up Barnes, raped his fiancée twice, stole her car and drove away. The couple survived. Equally gratifying, Prince George’s County police arrested Horton after a chase and a shootout. He received two consecutive life sentences in addition to his sentence in Massachusetts [Debunking the Willie Horton Ad Controversy, by Carl M. Cannon, Real Clear Politics, December 9, 2018].
Michael Dukakis seemed unconcerned. He not only refused to tighten the requirements of the furlough program, but also declined to meet with, or even apologize to, the traumatized Maryland couple. He even attempted to stonewall a full-scale investigation of the program by the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, which eventually won a Pulitzer Prize for its efforts [Horton case linked newspaper and president, by Lisa Kashinsky, Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, December 6, 2018].
The Horton fiasco became common knowledge. In April 1988, during a debate on the eve of the New York Democratic primary, candidate Al Gore raised the issue with Dukakis. (Watch it on C-Span.) He didn’t mention Horton’s name, merely asking about "weekend passes for convicted criminals” [Willie Horton: The Making Of An Election Issue, by Sidney Blumenthal, Washington Post, October 28, 1988]. In July, Reader’s Digest published a major piece about the furlough program [Getting Away With Murder, by Robert James Bidinotto].
Then, in September, an independent political fundraising group, National Security PAC, broadcast a 30-second pro-Bush ad featuring a mug shot of Horton. “Weekend prison passes: Dukakis on crime,” the voiceover went.
Produced by conservative activists Floyd Brown and Larry McCarthy, the ad lasted two weeks on local cable television outlets and then disappeared. But the surrounding publicity gave it monumental importance.
When George Bush’s chief strategist, Lee Atwater, brought the commercial to his boss’ attention, the campaign was in a quandary. Bush repeatedly had called out Dukakis for being soft on crime. But he also feared that the ad’s racial connotations would damage his image. So, in response, his campaign produced its own ad—a sepia-tinged parade of mostly white inmates walking through a revolving door.
Though Atwater famously said he would “would strip the bark off the little bastard [Dukakis]” and “make Willie Horton his running mate,” Horton did not actually figure in the campaign’s ad [Atwater apologies for ’88 remark about Dukakis, Washington Post, January 13, 1991].
That was no accident. Bush’s media adviser, Roger Ailes, the future founder and head of Fox News Channel, instructed the producers not to display Horton’s photograph.
Nevertheless, Democratic Party leaders accused the Bush campaign of summoning a dark past. Asked on ABC’s This Week if there were racial overtones to the Republican emphasis on furloughs, Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Dukakis’ running mate, responded as one would expect: “When you add it up, I think there is, and that’s unfortunate.” The always self-righteous Jesse Jackson stated at a Boston news conference, “There have been a number of rather ugly race-conscious signals sent from that campaign” [Foes Accuse Bush Campaign Of Inflaming Racial Tension, by Andrew Rosenthal, New York Times, October 24, 1988].
Four days before the election the New York Times published an editorial that typified the Leftist Mainstream Media’s spin. Though acknowledging Horton was a criminal, the piece focused on the Bush campaign’s deficient moral conduct. “[W]hen Bush supporters ran an anti-Dukakis TV commercial playing on fears of black criminals,” the editorial complained, “it took three weeks for the campaign to disapprove” [George Bush and Willie Horton, November 4, 1988].
But public opinion had already shifted dramatically. In November, Bush was elected, winning the popular vote by 53.4 percent–45.7 percent and the Electoral College by 426-111 (one elector went for Bentsen).
The myth of evil “Willie Horton ads” still enjoys a long shelf life in academia and publishing. “More than likely,” wrote Princeton historian Tali Mendelberg 13 years later, “the Bush campaign used the racial facts of the case intentionally—though subtly—as part of the overall strategy to recruit white voters without drawing the ‘racist’ label” [The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality]. The University of Virginia’s Michael Nelson, coeditor of 41: Inside the Presidency of George H.W. Bush, told the New York Times’ Peter Baker, “In some ways, the Willie Horton ad is the 1.0 version of Trump’s relentless tweets and comments about African-Americans” [Bush Made Willie Horton an Issue in 1988, and the Racial Scars Are Still Fresh, December 3, 2018].
These claims are red herrings. Crime justifiably weighed heavily on voters’ minds during that election year. The FBI later reported that 1988 saw record-high rates for violent crime [Violent Crimes Increase by 5.5% For 1988, Establishing a Record, Associated Press, August 13, 1989]. But the Left harped on the Right’s “racist” caricatures. Political candidates have been gun-shy ever since.
The last gasp of racial candor in political advertising was in the 1990s. A 1990 ad from North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms, which depicted a pair of white male hands crumpling an employer’s rejection letter because Affirmative Action quotas favored minority groups.
The ad was on target. By design and result, quotas punish whites. Helms defeated his Democratic challenger, former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, and did so again in 1996.
Similarly, California Governor Pete Wilson’s “They Keep Coming” ad rescued his re-election bid in 1994:
But the Left remains quick to pounce upon anyone appearing to exhume Willie Horton’s ghost. There were reports that likened the ad about him to President Trump’s mid-term campaign ads [This is the 30-year-old Willie Horton ad everybody is talking about today, by Doug Criss, CNN November 1, 2018].
Writing in New York magazine, Matt Stieb fretted that incumbent Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson rebuked his black Democratic opponent, Mandela Barnes, for complaining about high police budgets, which linked him to the communist Defund the Police movement [“It’s Willie Horton Season in the Midterms,” October 7, 2022]. Ironically, in the same paragraph Stieb admitted that the homicide rate in Milwaukee was running 40 percent higher than in the previous year. But worse still, Johnson produced an ad that linked Waukesha Christmas murderer Darrell Brooks to Barnes through the latter’s opposition to cash bail. Stieb claimed this resurrected Horton:
The spot—blaming a candidate for a crime committed by a Black man recently released from jail—has some similarities with the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad.
Johnson was reelected, albeit by a razor-thin margin.
Stereotypes oversimplify. And in the hands of demagogues, they can be lethal. But all are based to an extent on real-world observations. Other than fear or inertia, immigration-patriot candidates have no reason not to exploit observable race and immigration behavior.
The Biden Regime’s Great Replacement invasion, assisted by nonprofits, churches, corporations, and ethnic capos, has nothing to do with “Civil Rights” or “saving humanity.” That these people seek “a better life” is irrelevant. The desire for a better life has been a fact of migration for tens of thousands of years.
Illegal immigration is inflicting such devastating economic and noneconomic costs that even progressives are demanding the Biden administration stop the deluge. New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, for example, if only to save their political hides, acknowledge that their respective situations are out of control. Even apart from “migrant” crime, New York City will spend $12 billion housing more than 100,000 illegals.
Rather than let this Border Treason go to waste, immigration-patriot candidates must highlight it. Under FCC rules, a television network or affiliate must air a political commercial placed by a “legally qualified candidate.”
My take: If Left and communist Mainstream Media are going to complain about Willie Horton–like ads, let’s give them a reason and create a few on the immigration issue. Here are a few ideas:
The risks are real. The Ruling Class will go berserk and do everything it can to suppress the issue. But think of the resulting hysteria as “earned media.” And the goal is saving our country (and getting elected). Isn’t the risk worth taking?
Oh yes, about that furlough program—the Massachusetts legislature repealed it on April 28, 1988.
Carl Horowitz [Email him] is a veteran Washington, D.C.-area writer on immigration and other issues.