Why Did Rachel Maddow Liken Puerto Rico’s Nationalist Movement to the KKK?

Oct 29, 2018
1:12 PM

It all started with this October 28 tweet thread from Eoin Higgins:

Maddow’s full monologue from October 26 is here:

At the 10:44 mark and after a very long explanation about the rise of extremist right-wing groups in the Trump era, Maddow said this:

“There have always been violent extremist groups on the ragged edge of American politics, right? Anti-abortion extremists who turn to bombs and snipers to kill people, to try to get their way, to kill doctors, right? Left-wing groups in the 70s who carried out bombings of their own, and hijackings, even prison breaks. Puerto Rican separatist groups shot up the U.S. Capitol in the 1950s. More or less modern iterations of the Klan persist to this day. And violent cults and sovereign citizens. Violent extremism, people who celebrate violence for its political effect, they have always been with us in this country. Or least they have always been off to the side of us, right? They’re here, but they’re usually way off the number line in terms of what counts as normal American politics. Right now, though we are experience something a little bit different.”

The addition of “Puerto Rican separatist groups” in the context of the rise of right-wing violence struck many (besides Higgins) as being intellectually dishonest. In the quest to come across as “balanced” during a lengthy monologue about the dangers of extremists right-wing violence, Maddow and her producers oversimplified Puerto Rico’s nationalist movement of the 1950s. Suddenly, those who fought actual American imperialism, colonialism, being terrorized and targeted and murdered and jailed by the U.S. and Puerto Rican governments didn’t matter in Maddow’s world. The same Maddow who had praised Nelson Mandela for his life of fighting oppression (and yes, using violence as times against an unjust) was now equating Puerto Rican nationalists to Proud Boys or the Klan.

It failed.

It was a shameful comparison that speaks to a complete ahistorical ignorance of Puerto Rico. With that said, we hope Maddow and her team take the time to read up on the complexities behind Puerto Rico and understand that no, the nationalist movement on the island was more that just “violent extremism.” Even the 1954 shooting at the U.S. Capitol.

There are enough specific examples to counter that trope. Maybe Maddow can read up about the 1937 Ponce Massacre, the jailing and torture of Pedro Albizu Campos, the specific targeting of nationalist sympathizers by the FBI or the Jayuya Uprising.

Such false equivalency, such irresponsibility.

Here’s hoping Maddow begins to learn from serious ignorance. Maybe she can start here?