NC Capitol

NC Capitol

In fiery speech to state GOP, NC lieutenant governor covers every culture war base

Posted June 8, 2021 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2021 8:37 p.m. EDT

— Once a woman is pregnant, her body is no longer her own. Black people aren't owed a debt, they owe one to their enslaved ancestors. Republicans must be a bulwark against the “socialist hellhole” President Joe Biden seeks in America.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson made all of those statements to his fellow Republicans last Friday during the party’s state convention.

In the wide-ranging, forcefully delivered and well-received speech, North Carolina’s first Black lieutenant governor visited just about every front of the nation’s ongoing culture wars.

Being transgender is a delusion, he said. Antifa, a loosely knit protest movement around the country, "wants to roam the streets and beat you into submission," he said.

The Black Lives Matter movement “claims to care about the lives of Black people but has turned a blind eye while violence in Black communities is taking Black lives at a genocidal rate,” he said.

Once a woman gets pregnant, “it’s not your body anymore, it’s y’all’s body,” Robinson said. “And, yes, that includes the daddy. She’s not your baby mama anymore. She ought to be your wife.”

The crowd ate it up. Robinson’s 30-minute speech was marked by applause, shouts of agreement and standing ovations. One man yelled, “That’s our next governor.” It was red meat served up for the most faithful of crowds: delegates and other Republicans gathered for the state party’s annual convention.

For the political left, it was more lunacy from a fringe politician who’s now the mainstream of the modern Republican Party.

“Unfiltered, unchecked nuttery,” alternative weekly Indy Week said in its daily email Tuesday.

"The highest-ranking Republican in North Carolina state government, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, has made a large number of absurd and outrageous statements since his meteoric/accidental rise to political prominence last year, but he may well have outdone himself this past weekend at the 2021 state Republican Convention,” NC Policy Watch commentator Rob Schofield said in a column highlighting some of Robinson’s thoughts on abortion.

Robinson’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment placed with his chief of staff and communications director. Robinson himself said during a brief conversation Tuesday as he left the Senate floor, and as a staffer pressed to wrap things up, that the speech spoke for itself.

The lieutenant governor typically doesn’t speak to WRAL News, and he poked at the station a couple of times during his speech. Among other things, he has criticized an editorial cartoon that ran on WRAL.com's opinion page comparing him and other Republican members of the State Board of Education to the Ku Klux Klan over their attempt to limit how the history of racism is taught in North Carolina social studies classes.

Spokespeople for the state GOP also didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday, or for requests Monday and Tuesday for video of the speech.

WRAL News was not in the room for Robinson’s speech, which took place in Greenville Friday night, but reviewed video of his remarks on Facebook after The East Carolinian student newspaper highlighted some of his comments.

The speech was in character for Robinson, whose claim to fame before he rolled through a crowded Republican primary field last year and won state government’s second-highest elected office was a gun rights speech he gave before the Greensboro City Council in 2018. That speech went viral online, Robinson became a hero to the right, and now he’s probably one of the most popular Republicans in the state – so much so that he considered a run for the U.S. Senate this year and had polling numbers suggesting he could win.

A rousing clip from his Friday speech, where Robinson talks about the bravery of American soldiers and first responders and calls on Republicans to emulate them in a fight against the left, was dubbed a "Must-Hear Speech That Will Set Your American Soul on Fire" by a writer for Red State, a website for grassroots conservatives, though the piece initially misidentified Robinson as South Carolina's lieutenant governor.

Another Red State writer dubbed Robinson "a leader to watch" on Tuesday.

“That’s where the trouble is, and that’s what we’ve got to run to," Robinson said in the clip. "There ain’t no reason to be afraid. … We don’t come from some weak, jelly-backed, spineless people. … We are Americans.”

The lieutenant governor also weighed in on slavery during Friday's speech and rejected any argument that Black people are owed reparations for centuries of oppression.

“Nobody owes you anything for slavery,” he said. “If you want to tell the truth about it, it is you who owes. Why do you owe? Because somebody in those fields took strikes for you! … Somebody had to walk through Jim Crow for you! Somebody fought wars and died for you!”

He said that debt can be paid by going to school, getting a job and taking care of your children.

“There is a bill at your feet, folks,” he said. “It’s time you got up off your tail and went and go paid it."

WRAL reached out Tuesday to the North Carolina NAACP to ask if the group wanted to comment on some of Robinson's remarks about race and racism in America, but did not get a response.

Robinson, 52, said there are only two genders, rejecting the concept of gender fluidity as well as the beliefs of people assigned male or female at birth, but whose internal sense of gender doesn’t match that. In that section of the speech, the lieutenant governor talked about a rainbow unicorn he saw on social media.

“I thought to myself, that is not a rainbow unicorn,” Robinson said. “That is a painted up, marked-up, dressed-up jackass.”

Put whatever you want on that donkey, Robinson said. But test its DNA, and it’s a donkey.

Asked to comment Tuesday on the remarks, spokespeople for Equality NC and Southern Equality, both of which work for LGBTQ rights, declined. Some scientific research indicates that gender is not so simple as chromosomes or genitalia.

The lieutenant governor is a professed Christian and said he doesn’t want to force his religious views on people.

“But at the same time, I’m not going to let you force your demonic views on me and my children and sit by and let it go,” he said.

Robinson has repeatedly made homophobic remarks, along with suggesting Hollywood is demonic and chastising Black people for giving their “shekels” to satanic and Jewish movie producers. On Friday, he focused on the rare transgender athletes competing against women.

“I want to be that person at the track meet that stands up and says … ‘Them two fellas that won this track meet, they’re not girls. Why are they out there?’” Robinson said. “That’s two boys. I don’t care what you call them. They’re painted-up, striped-up jackasses. They’re not women.”

At one point during Friday’s speech, a precursor to the main address former President Donald Trump would give the convention Saturday, the lieutenant governor explained why he rejects all abortion, including in cases of rape and incest.

“What about in cases of rape or incest?” Robinson said, changing his voice to impersonate an abortion rights advocate.

“It reminds me of the argument about seatbelts,” Robinson said. “I can remember this as a young man, when we were arguing whether or not we should be required to wear seatbelts or if we should wear seatbelts. I can always remember there would be one person who would say, ‘What if I get stuck on the railroad tracks and my seatbelt won’t come off?’ No. 1, if you are stuck on the train tracks, that is Darwin. That’s not any of my concern, that is Darwin. You saw those train tracks. If you couldn’t get past them, I cannot help you.”

The crowd belly laughed.

“That is not a good argument,” Robinson continued. “We’re not talking about a bunch of people who go down to the abortion clinic because they’ve been raped or because they’ve been a victim of incest."

The state Department of Health and Human Services, which keeps statistics on abortion, logged 23,495 of them in North Carolina for 2019.

“We’re talking about a culture that we have created in this society that tells you, 'When you want to feel good, go on,'” Robinson said, his voice booming. “'If you get in a little trouble, it’s alright to murder somebody to get out of it.' It is not! It is not OK!"

As he left the Senate floor Tuesday, Robinson said he wasn’t comparing incest to getting stuck on railroad tracks or suggesting rape is Charles Darwin’s survival-of-the-fittest theory in action. He said anyone implying that is muddying the waters because they don't like his position on abortion.

“I was making a comparison between arguments,” he said, “not comparisons between situations.”

Susanna Birdsong, North Carolina public affairs director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, called Robinson’s abortion remarks alarming.

“There are few things more sacred than the decisions we make about our bodies and our families,” she said in a statement. “The lieutenant governor’s comments make it clear that he believes he can dictate these most personal decisions for others, without regard for individual circumstances, viewpoints or faith traditions, and that should alarm us all.”

Core to Robinson’s remarks, both Friday and in other speeches, is the idea that anyone can succeed in America and that racism and circumstance aren’t enough to hold people back. He argues that today’s Republican Party is the same as it was under Abraham Lincoln – the party of freedom – and disagrees with anyone who suggests the GOP has become a bastion of racism.

He has said repeatedly that systemic racism does not exist, and he uses himself as Exhibit A.

"[People] tell me that that is not true,” Robinson said Friday. “Imagine that, a kid who grew up so poor that he didn’t even think he was a human being, who had all the strikes against him – an alcoholic father, a mother who was a victim of domestic violence – who grew up and became the second-highest ranked elected official in North Carolina.

“They will look at me in my face and call me a liar, tell me that freedom is dead in this country,” he continued. “We’re standing up to tell the world that those ideas are not dead. … And you know why they’re not dead? They’re not dead because we’re here defending them.”

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