- Roy Moore is a widely popular, and deeply controversial, hardline conservative running for the open Alabama seat.
- Moore has promoted conspiracy theories, including “birtherism,” is virulently anti-gay, and has twice been removed from his position as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
- Breaking with his populist supporters, Trump has endorsed Moore’s Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, fuelling divisions in the GOP.
Roy Moore, the ousted chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and a bombastic voice of right-wing conservatism, faces off Tuesday in a contentious battle against incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the Republican runoff to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated Senate seat on Monday.
Moore, a conservative Christian known as the “Ten Commandments Judge” for his defiance of a federal order to remove a monument to the Bible’s Ten Commandments from a state building, has long been a celebrated leader of Alabama’s right wing.
But while he’s ahead in the polls, Moore is deeply controversial both among those who take issue with his positions on race, religion, and sexuality. And he has detractors among establishment Republicans, supported by President Donald Trump, who say he would be a weak candidate in the December general election and have mobilized almost $US11 million to support his opponent.
The anti-establishment candidate
Moore now stands at the center of a battle within the GOP between the conservative populism that propelled Trump to the White House and the establishment Republican wing.
The establishment GOP has aggressively supported Strange, who was appointed to fill the seat after Sessions’ departure. Trump has enthusiastically joined them, tweeting his support for Strange during the first primary face-off in August and even flying to Huntsville, Alabama, for a rally last Friday.
Trump tweeted twice on Tuesday morning encouraging Republicans to support Strange, who he sometimes refers to as “Big Luther.”
“ALABAMA, get out and vote for Luther Strange – he has proven to me that he will never let you down! #MAGA” Trump wrote.
Some of Trump’s fiercest proponents, including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and right-wing UK politician Nigel Farage, have broken with him, actively supporting Moore.
During a 20-minute speech at a boisterous rally in Fairhope, Alabama, on Monday, Bannon called the primary a “day of reckoning” and charged that establishment Republicans think the state’s voters are “a pack of morons.”
“They think you’re nothing but rubes. They have no interest at all in what you have to say, what you have to think or what you want to do,” Bannon said. “And tomorrow, you’re gonna get an opportunity to tell them what you think of the elites who run this country!”
Trump claims that Moore would be a weaker candidate against Democratic opponent Doug Jones, a former US Attorney who has been endorsed by Joe Biden. And many Republicans fear that a Moore win would encourage other conservative populists across the country to challenge GOP incumbents.
Although Democrats have little hope of winning in a state that hasn’t elected a member of their party to the Senate since 1992, they are hoping that a fringe candidate like Moore would help expand their appeal.
Moore has spoken out against the establishment mobilization against him. Criticising attack ads that questioned his support for the Second Amendment, Moore pulled a handgun out of his pocket at a campaign rally on Monday night.
A history of far-right and conspiracy-aligned positions
Moore has long expressed deeply conservative and sometimes conspiracy-aligned beliefs on issues including homosexuality, race, Islam, and terrorism.
Along with Trump, Moore has consistently cast doubt on former President Barack Obama’s US citizenship and promoted the “birther” conspiracy as recently as December 2016.
In 2005, the former judge said that “homosexual conduct” should be illegal, calling it “immoral.” Moore voiced the same position 10 years later.
Moore has also acted on his virulently anti-gay beliefs. After he was reelected as chief justice of the state Supreme Court, Moore was again removed from the position in 2016 after he directed probate judges to enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriages despite the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it.
Last February, Moore suggested that the 9/11 terror attacks were a punishment from God for Americans’ declining religiosity.
“Because you have despised His word and trust in perverseness and oppression, and say thereon … therefore this iniquity will be to you as a breach ready to fall, swell out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instance,'” Moore said, quoting the Bible. He added, “Sounds a little bit like the Pentagon, whose breaking came suddenly at an instance, doesn’t it?”
He later claimed that God may be angry with the US because “we legitimise sodomy” and “legitimise abortion.”
“You know, we’ve suffered a lot in this country, maybe, just maybe, because we’ve distanced ourselves from the one that has it within his hands to heal this land,” he said.
Moore called Islam a “false religion” in July in response to an Alabama resident’s question about how he would deal with alleged Muslim influence on US law.
Moore has fanned the flames of unsubstantiated concerns that Sharia law is influencing the rule of law in some American communities. Right-wing leaders and politicians have long claimed that Sharia law poses an “existential threat” to the United States, a position critics argue stokes Islamophobic sentiment.
“There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country,” Moore told a Vox reporter in August. Up in Illinois. Christian communities; I don’t know if they may be Muslim communities.”
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