The message that Hollywood's Moses gave in a speech to the ultraconservative Free Congress Foundation last December was not one of deliverance. Actor Charlton Heston, now chief political pitchman for the National Rifle Assn., didn't stop with his by now predictable defense of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms and verbal assaults on President Clinton, the liberal media and Hollywood. He denounced the "fringe propaganda of the homosexual coalition" and railed against "men-hating feminists," Latinos and blacks who are out to subvert American values.
Avowed white supremacist David Duke was so moved by Heston's venom-laced remarks that he gave the speech a featured spot on his website and demanded that his words be "put in the hands of every American." In his self-proclaimed battle against liberals, gays, women's groups and Hollywood, Heston has lifted virtually intact the language of the far right wing. Heston has made no attempt to hide his zealotry. A few months after his Free Congress speech, he repeated the same sentiments in a slightly sanitized interview in the NRA's American Rifleman.
As despicable as his racial and homophobic utterances are, what's worse is the virtual silence of the nation's press about them. I found no contemporaneous mention of his speech in any of the major dailies, the so-called liberal media that Heston routinely rants about, nor any denunciations by any major public officials. This was in stark contrast to the reaction to the equally silly, anti-Semitic and racist remarks that former Nation of Islam national spokesperson Khalid Muhammad made in a speech a few years ago. Muhammad was reviled in the press, censored in Congress and drummed out of the Nation of Islam.
Unlike Muhammad, Heston is no has-been celebrity, desperately grabbing onto the political fringe, for one last fling at the limelight. Indeed, the night before his Free Congress speech, Heston was one of five artists who received an award at the Kennedy Center in Washington. At the ceremony, Clinton, whom Heston loves to verbally attack, praised him as a "larger than life" movie idol.
It would be a mistake to dismiss Heston's extremist rantings as the hysterical flailing of a man and an organization that in recent years has seen thousands of its members desert in droves, has taken a public beating over the murderous carnage at high schools in Mississippi, Arkansas and Oregon and the epidemic homicide toll in America due to gunplay. With 2.8 million members, millions more sympathizers and a hefty campaign chest, the NRA has managed to torpedo tougher gun control legislation in dozens of state legislatures and Congress. The organization clearly is banking on Heston's celebrity allure and the esteem in which he is held by millions as a one-time champion of civil rights and the arts to reverse the swelling gun control tide.
NRA leaders hope that Heston's homophobic and racially tinged attacks--rather than damaging his and the NRA's image--are in tune with the current law and order, anti-affirmative action, antigay and anti-immigrant mood among millions of Americans.
It's fitting that the journey Heston made to the Promised Land as Hollywood's Moses should be immortalized. And it's equally fitting that the journey he's made to ideological zealotry should be condemned.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black," released in May by Middle Passage Press. E-mail: email@example.com.