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Wright voted for Trump and describes himself “ecstatic” at the president’s performance so far. His hardline interpretation of the Bible did not shift when his daughter, Laci, now 28, came out as gay. “We went through a long mourning period. You have hopes and dreams for your daughter, like marriage and children. She knows I love her and will always support her. I would die for my daughter in a split second. I love her girlfriend but that doesn’t mean we have to agree: I’m totally against lesbianism and homosexuality and would oppose them getting married.”
Moore, 70, has long been a divisive figure. He was twice ousted as chief justice of the Alabama supreme court for defying court orders, first in 2003 over his insistence that a Ten Commandments monument be placed on the grounds of the state judicial building, and then last year for trying to defy the US supreme court ruling that legalised gay marriage. Even Trump endorsed his rival, Luther Strange, in the Republican primary. The avalanche of sex allegations – including that he abused a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney – has led Republican central command to ostracise him.
Homosexuality should be illegal
In 2005, Moore said: “Homosexual conduct should be illegal.” In an interview televised on C-Span, Moore added: “It is immoral. It is defined by the law as detestable.” During a debate in September 2017, he went out of his way to bemoan the fact that “sodomy [and] sexual perversion sweep the land”.
September 11 attacks as divine punishment
In a speech in February, Moore appeared to suggest that the terrorist attacks of September 11 were the result of divine retribution against the United States and prophesized in the Book of Isaiah. In comments first reported by CNN, Moore quoted Isaiah 30:12-13, saying: “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 then noted: “Sounds a little bit like the Pentagon, whose breaking came suddenly at an instance, doesn’t it?” He added: “If you think that’s coincidence, if you go to verse 25: ‘There should be up on every high mountain and upon every hill, rivers and streams of water in the day of the great slaughter when the towers will fall.’"
Praise for Putin
In an interview with the Guardian in August, Moore praised Putin for his views on gay rights. “Maybe Putin is right. Maybe he’s more akin to me than I know.” The comments came after Moore suggested the United States could be described as “the focus of evil in the world” because “we promote a lot of bad things”. Moore specifically named gay marriage as one of those “bad things”.
'Reds and yellows’
At a rally earlier in September, Moore talked about “reds and yellows fighting” while discussing racial division in the United States. Moore justified this on Twitter by citing lyrics from the song Jesus Loves the Little Children. He wrote “Red, yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. This is the Gospel.”
Tracking livestock is communism
In 2006, Moore condemned a proposal for a national ID system for animals as “more identifiable with communism than free enterprise”. The proposal received attention after a cow in Alabama had been diagnosed with mad cow disease. Moore, who was then running for governor, was skeptical that the outbreak was real. Instead, Moore suggested it was a ruse intended to promote the tracking system.
Yet Alabama Republicans, some local evangelicals and many voters there remain loyal. On Friday, his wife Kayla spoke at a “Women for Moore” rally, describing the Vietnam veteran as “an officer and a gentleman”. Supporters have blamed a witch-hunt and, drawing from Trump’s playbook, sought to blame the media. In a crude attempt to discredit journalists, a fake robo-caller named “Bernie Bernstein”, complete with Jewish New York accent, claims to be a Washington Post reporter seeking women “willing to make damaging remarks” about Moore in exchange for money.
It is a baffling business to much of the nation and does little to challenge cliches of Alabama as redneck, backward and bigoted. Indeed, in the Trump era, the state has become something of a punchbag for frustrated liberals. Last weekend the TV comedy show Saturday Night Live’s opening sketch featured a parody of Moore and Jeff Beauregard Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, who told him: “I’m Alabama, but you – you, sir, are too Alabama.” Sessions then pulled out a stuffed possum that he called “papa” and sought its advice.
Ambrosia Starling, an Alabama drag queen whom Moore named as his nemesis over LGBT rights, caught the sketch. “I laughed the first time I watched it and I cried the second time I watched it,” she said. “It hit me they were telling the naked truth about how these people behave.
“We have a lot of insecure people who desperately need someone to look down on and they will support any politician who gives them a licence to hate. Alabama’s problems are indicative of the America’s problems. I’ve always said discrimination in America will not end until it ends in Alabama.”
But Starling, 45, is living proof of what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “the danger of a single story”, whether applied to a state, country or continent. She lives in Dothan in the county where Moore performed best in the Republican primary. But she often goes out in “half-drag” and “can count on one hand in 23 years the number of times someone has given me a dirty look and only once has someone said anything”.
Starling, who is Christian, added: “There are a lot of Christians in Alabama who believe the same I do, but I feel that people like Roy Moore drown them out. He has made a very good living for a very long time feeding off the insecurities and motivations of hatred and bigotry.”
Since its humiliation during post-civil war Reconstruction, Alabama has had a reputation for rebelliousness and defiance of Washington. It was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold where, in 1963, demagogic governor George Wallace called for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”. But it was also the crucible of the civil rights struggle. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a crowded bus in Montgomery in 1955; “freedom riders” protesting Jim Crow laws were attacked in Anniston in 1961; four young African American girls were killed in the bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham in 1963 (Jones, as US attorney for North Alabama, brought murder charges against the last two living suspects); hundreds braved police violence to march for voting rights in Selma in 1965.
Diane McWhorter, who grew up in Birmingham and is the author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, noted the city’s history as the industrial centre of the south and the related rise of trade unionism. “What made Alabama different from other deep south states is that it did have this pesky progressive tradition,” she said.
For the state to have gone through so much agony and now be in this position is “deeply heartbreaking”, McWhorter added, describing Alabama as something of a bellwether for the nation. “Looking back at George Wallace, we thought he was a fading and terrible relic, but he’s now in the White House, effectively. After Trump, we’re all Alabamians now.”
Today Birmingham – named after the UK city – has shaken off its reputation as “Bombingham”, though not the legacy of racial segregation. It is enjoying cultural and economic rejuvenation with downtown loft developments, a new baseball stadium and thriving restaurant scene. Like Austin in Texas or Nashville in Tennessee, it is an island of urban Democratic blue surrounded by rural Republican red.
Drinking in the Atomic Bar & Lounge, which opened earlier this year featuring a Sgt Pepper collage incorporating local personalities, and a “jungle” section complete with sounds from the wild, Brent Boyd reflected: “We’re cannon fodder. Unfortunately our politics get talked about more loudly than the positive things that go on here. People love the sensationalism that goes on in the south: attitudes that seem so foreign to the rest of the nation, but I’m not sure the last election didn’t prove those attitudes persist across the nation and just need to be seen under the microscope.”
Boyd, 51, is all too aware of the way Alabamians – with their distinctive southern drawl – are regarded by the rest of the country. “Many of us resent it because many times it’s based on the way we sound. I worked after college to train my accent because of the perception that, if I talk more slowly, I’m not as intelligent as other people.”
Boyd’s past job for a candle manufacturer took him to 24 states. “Almost everywhere I would go in the late 1990s, early 2000s, I would say I’m from Birmingham, Alabama, and they would either apologise or go: ‘What was that like?’ When I decided to start my own business, that question stuck in my head. I decided to change the perception of what Birmingham is for those visiting.”
In 2004 Boyd set up a media company including a TV station, city guide and annual magazine distributed to 13,000 hotel rooms. “It really was my small attempt to take control of the narrative and shine a light on the amazing culinary scene here.”
Boyd and others are frustrated that Moore’s behaviour reverts the narrative to type. Larisa Thomason, owner and administrator of the Left in Alabama blog, said: “Roy Moore represents the very worst of Alabama: not everybody here is like him. It’s really embarrassing to us all. He plays into the stereotypes the rest of the world has about the state and he knows he’s doing it.”