The host of a Tennessee talk show, America's new nexus of radio hate, is positioning himself to become the next David Duke
When the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) held its annual national conference June 1 and 2 at a Holiday Inn in Greenville, S.C., James Edwards was the golden boy of the hate group's proceedings.
Edwards, 27, is the host of "The Political Cesspool," a shamelessly white nationalist radio talk show that's broadcast for two hours every weeknight from a studio near Memphis, Tenn., where Edwards grew up and still lives.
"The Political Cesspool" in the past two years has become the primary radio nexus of hate in America. Its sponsors include the CCC and the Institute for Historical Review, a leading Holocaust denial organization. Its guest roster for 2007 reads like a "Who's Who" of the radical racist right. CCC leader Gordon Lee Baum, Holocaust denier Mark Weber, Canadian white supremacist Paul Fromm, American Renaissance editor Jared Taylor, neo-Nazi activist April Gaede, anti-Semitic professor Kevin MacDonald, Stormfront webmaster Jamie Kelso and League of the South president Michael Hill have all been favorably interviewed on the "Political Cesspool" this year, along with former Klan leader and neo-Nazi David Duke, the show's most frequent celebrity racist guest, who has logged three appearances.
"I have known Dr. Duke for a number of years and have found him to be a Christian man above reproach," Edwards says on the "Cesspool" website. "Time and again, he has gone out of his way to help me, asking for nothing in return."
Edwards is quite a bit younger than the majority of CCC members who attended the South Carolina conference. Many of those members' involvement in the white supremacist movement dates back to the White Citizens Councils that were formed to oppose school desegregation and the civil rights movement and were later reincarnated as the CCC. Edwards sat with his wife at a table near the back of the conference hall, engaging in conversation with a nearly constant stream of admirers who looked twice his age or more. They slapped his back and shook his hand and congratulated him not only on the success of "Political Cesspool" — which is tailored for a southern, neo-Confederate, white nationalist audience — but also his recent triumphs in smoothly injecting white nationalist ideology into national mainstream media discussions of race relations and crime in America.
Edwards arrived at the hate group conference just three days after his third primetime appearance on CNN in the previous two months. "Crime and violence follow African-Americans wherever they go," he said in his April 4 CNN debut, a panel debate on "self-segregation" hosted by Paula Zahn. "And if you think that is racist, then spend some time on the mean streets of south Memphis."
Zahn, who initially identified Edwards to CNN viewers as merely a "radio talk show host" from Memphis, invited him back on May 21 for a "Paula Zahn Now" episode titled "The Changing Face of America."
"Why not celebrate the diversity?" Zahn asked him in one exchange.
"My primary interest is to protect and safeguard my family," Edwards replied. "Whites are in for the fight of their lives. America is becoming balkanized. We are being robbed of having a future in the very nation our ancestors carved from the wilderness."
David Duke, who calls Edwards his "favorite radio patriot," gave the "Cesspool" host's CNN appearances a glowing online review: "He delivered a powerful performance, stuck to his guns and didn't back down as he articulated an unapologetically conservative viewpoint regarding race relations."
Edwards began garnering similar accolades from his elders on the radical right last year as the "Cesspool" gained a larger and larger audience. (Although the show is broadcast only regionally on the airwaves, anyone can listen to it on the Internet.) "James is a bundle of energy and dedication who is deeply concerned about the genocide against European-Americans," white nationalist Bob Whitaker stated online after appearing on the show. "He is also wiser than many of the older members of our movement. … He sticks with legitimate complaints that gentiles have and our fear of the genocide of immigration and intermarriage that respectable conservatives all advocate. The Political Cesspool is one of the first major steps toward making our perfectly legitimate and generally felt concerns — the ones that are presently denounced as heresy, racism and hate — the mainstream."
The "Cesspool" host is a rising star of the white nationalist movement because he's articulate, charming and equally at ease in a television studio, behind a radio microphone and standing in front of a crowd. He was a specially invited guest speaker at the CCC conference. His topic: "Creating Your Own Media." CCC National Field Coordinator Bill Lord told a "Martin Luther Coon" joke in his introduction of Edwards. Lord and other longtime CCC members casually dropped racial epithets at the conference, but Edwards carefully avoided using such crudely derogatory language, as he always does when speaking in public, on the airwaves or to the media. Edwards allies himself with hate group leaders who call black people "niggers," but he doesn't drop the N-bomb himself. Instead he speaks in the more or less polished code of a suit-and-tie racist, calling blacks "heathen savages," "subhumans," and "black animals," exclusively in the context of discussing violent black-on-white crime.
His audience of about 150 at the CCC conference included Jared Taylor, whose magazine specializes in race "studies," and Don Black, the former Alabama grand dragon of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and founder of Stormfront, the largest racist forum on the Internet.
Edwards began by quoting Mississippi civil rights activist Fanny Lou Hamer, telling the crowd that he is "sick and tired of being sick and tired" when it comes to reverse discrimination against white people. He described "Political Cesspool" as "unabashedly pro-white" and detailed the show's early success in rallying Memphis whites to "defend" the gravesite of Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first national leader of the original KKK. The gravesite was the subject of a protest in August 2005 led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, at which about 200 whites squared off against a few dozen black Sharpton supporters.
"Sharpton denigrated the general's gravesite with that kind of rabble there," Edwards said. He then boasted of the lavish all-expenses-paid treatment afforded him by CNN, including, he said, fine hotels and limousine rides. Edwards finished by announcing that "as a result of listener demand, support from station ownership and a surge of interest from the recent CNN exposure," beginning the following week "Political Cesspool" would expand from one hour per weeknight to two.
He received a standing ovation.
Biased and Controlled
The radio station that carries "Political Cesspool" — WLRM-AM — is a Christian station (WLRM stands for "We Love Radio Ministries," according to its website). Most of its programming consists of standard nationally syndicated conservative Christian "news and views" content that is often homophobic but generally non-racist, including a two-hour weekday show by the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a well-known anti-gay minister who is African-American.
WLRM is not audited by Arbitron, the radio industry's equivalent of the Nielsen Ratings system, so there's no reliable estimate of the number of "Political Cesspool" listeners. Advertising on the show is cheap: $100 a week for a regular plug. Edwards describes "Cesspool" as primarily "listener-supported," and the show's website claims it has received nearly $15,000 in donations this year.
The WLRM station manager did not return three phone calls seeking comment for this story. Edwards politely refused to comment as well. "I appreciate your request for an interview as much as I do the SPLC's continued interest in our conservative radio program," he wrote in response to an E-mail from the Intelligence Report. "I must, however, respectfully decline your offer."
Proper manners were instilled in Edwards early in life both at home, he writes on his website, and when he attended Briarcrest Christian School, an expensive private school in Memphis — tuition is now $10,000 a year — where "conservative Christian values and morals are taught and practiced in every aspect of school life," according to the Briarcrest mission statement.
When Edwards reached the ninth grade he transferred into a "Christian nationalist" home schooling program. "It was that decision that ultimately led me down the road of political activism," Edwards says on his site. "I could no longer be aware of the problems that are plaguing this Republic without trying to be part of the solution."
He began reading the works of white nationalist politician and commentator Pat Buchanan, who appeared on "Cesspool" last year. "Buchanan was one of the first commentators that I noticed who really seemed to be speaking my language," Edwards told the Mid-South Patriot, a monthly Memphis newspaper, in a February interview. "I felt as though he was articulating a message that resonated within me."
When Buchanan ran for president in 2000, Edwards worked on his campaign. "Politics was in my blood at that point and there was no turning back," he said. Edwards ran for the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2002 on a pro-life, pro-school vouchers platform. His campaign website featured endorsements from his pastor and the fathers of several children on a bowling team that Edwards coached. He lost. But during his campaign, Edwards befriended fellow Memphis-area conservative activist Austin Farley.
The two of them together launched "The Political Cesspool" in October 2004. Farley left the show in 2006 to run for the Tennessee House in District 97, the same district Edwards had targeted four years earlier. Farley also lost.
The "Cesspool" founders won a remarkable token of mainstream political acceptance in 2005, when Memphis City Councilman E.C. Jones, who has been interviewed on "Political Cesspool" several times, presented Edwards and Farley with a certificate "in appreciation of outstanding contributions to the community," and named them honorary city councilmen.
When Jones came under fire from the Memphis media for honoring the "Cesspool," he told the The [Memphis] Commercial Appeal, "It pisses me off when people want to make a big damn deal out of nothing. … Just because they have a different political view, am I supposed to exclude those people?"
When the Mid-South Patriot asked Edwards in February about the accusations that he's a racist he replied: "The horrible defamations we must endure are little compared to the physical battles of blood and bone that so many of our ancestors had to endure so that we could be here now." He also said that David Duke, his favorite "Cesspool" guest, is unfairly maligned. "Most of his detractors come to their conclusions about him based upon what they hear parroted from a biased and controlled global media."
The Feb. 20 "Political Cesspool" broadcast featured a phone interview with David Duke, speaking from the Ukraine. Edwards made it abundantly clear during their conversation that he, like Duke, believes Jews control the media, among many other things. "We have a very small minority that has incredible power in the American media, the American government, in academia, and in the economy," Edwards told the infamous author of Jewish Supremacism. "I find it amazing that no movement has been too big or too small that these people have not had their hands in. … You look at all the destructive movements of the 20th century. We're talking about women's rights, the civil rights movement, and today the newly protected minority status for homosexuals."
Duke said in response: "Well, the way they have been able to do that, James, and everybody listening, is through organization. They have an agenda. They make a united front. When I was a university student at LSU [Louisiana State University] on campus, the very leftist, liberal anti-Vietnam war movement was absolutely led by radical Jews." Duke failed to mention another aspect of his LSU years: In 1970, while still a student, he was photographed dressed in neo-Nazi regalia, including a swastika armband, to protest the appearance of left-wing Jewish attorney William Kunstler at nearby Tulane University. That photograph, along with hundreds of others of Duke in his Ku Klux Klan robes, have haunted Duke over the decades and hampered his attempts to win mainstream political office.
Edwards idolizes Duke. At the CCC conference, he repeatedly quoted "Dr. Duke" in conversation. But as much as he admires Duke, Edwards has also clearly learned from his mentor's early mistakes. He does not appear at any hate group events where he knows swastikas and other white supremacist symbols will be photographed or filmed.
A frequent topic on "Political Cesspool" all of this year has been the gruesome murders of a young white couple in Knoxville who were allegedly carjacked, raped and murdered by four black men. "Hate crime laws were made for one reason and one reason only — to protect these black animals," Edwards said during his May 28 "Cesspool" broadcast. "If these two souls [the victims] had been more aware of the racial realities of our time, perhaps they would still be alive today."
Two days before that broadcast, neo-Nazi leader Alex Linder organized a protest against "black crime" in Knoxville. Edwards was nowhere to be seen. When he appeared on CNN May 29, the network rolled footage of the protest showing demonstrators wearing swastika T-shirts and displaying other white supremacist symbols. CNN host Kiran Chetry asked Edwards, "Why has this [murder] case become a rallying cry among the white supremacists?"
Edwards disingenuously dodged the question: "Well, I can't necessarily speak for people that I don't have any association with. But I will promise you this: Had the roles been reversed, and had the victims been black and the murderers white, this would have been the biggest news story in America."
The next day on his blog, Edwards posted this message to his fans: "With regards to those who showed up in Knoxville (who were labeled 'Klansmen' and 'Nazis' etc.), conservative activists often get maligned with nefarious descriptions because they dare stand up and speak out. I don't know the hearts and minds of those who attended the Knoxville rally because I wasn't there. However, with regards to their demonstration, they were doing the right thing by bringing attention to the despicable double standard this case has received. God bless them for that."
It's not exactly a stretch to "label" a man wearing a swastika T-shirt and shouting "Heil Hitler" a Nazi. Edwards knows that, but he's a master of carefully parsing his language so that he walks the razor's edge between conservative commentary and outright neo-Nazi rhetoric. This balancing act allows him to continue building his core audience of white nationalists without doing irrevocable damage to his mainstream political aspirations As this article went to press, Edwards was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a Sept. 15 meeting of the Missouri chapter of the League of the South, a racist, neo-secessionist organization based in Alabama. He also had recently announced that he was in negotiations with a Michigan-based media company to start broadcasting "Political Cesspool" nationwide.
His stated mission is "[f]ighting to advance a nationalist agenda based upon the Christian world view" and turning back the clock in America to the pre-civil rights era, "back when America had a strong moral compass," as he put it during his May 17 show. "You had cultural and racial integrity in those days. …What's been taken away from us, we can take back."
Edwards works hard to maintain a professional appearance and demeanor. He wears suits, not Klan robes. But he's doing more than anyone else in the white nationalist movement at this point to promote the views of neo-Nazis, Klan sympathizers, Holocaust deniers, academic racists and anti-Semites. Helped along by cable news television and the occasional sympathetic elected official, he's beginning to look a lot like the next David Duke — and he'd almost certainly consider that a compliment.
Emily Brown and Janet Smith contributed to this report.