It must have been extremely gratifying for former Senator Rick Santorum, a Catholic of Italian heritage, to win last nights two Deep South primaries, in Mississippi and Alabama. All the more so given that today is the 111th anniversary of one of the most heinous crimes in the long history of heinous crimes from that region — the 1891 massacre of Italian immigrants in New Orleans.
The Italian immigrants had been rounded up after the murder of a popular police captain. Rumor had it that his dying words were “the dagoes did it” and that was enough for an angry crowd, led by many prominent New Orleans citizens, to storm the city jail and, meeting no police resistance, shoot or club to death eleven Italian prisoners to the “deafening” cheers of the mob. (The story, and others like it, are told here).
Given that history, in a region where hearts and mind seem to change slowly, the former senators wins were impressive. One feels that they would have been even more so without the presence of former Speaker of the House Gingrich splitting the far-right vote.
Of course times change; no longer are swarthy, “not-quite-white” Mediterranean types, clinging to Papist heresy, seen as beyond the pale by white evangelical Protestants.
Indeed, on the evidence of last night, it would seem that the alliance between Neo-Francoist Catholicism and rightist White Evangelicals is alive and thriving and defining the Republican party. Those who see a swarthy, mixed race Hawaiian in the White House and continue to cling to the belief that he is a socialist- Muslim agent provocateur, have their champion in Senator Santorum. Any historical unpleasantness, sectarian or ethnic, will be forgotten in the all consuming passion to drive the President from office. That is, unless you are a Mormon. A papist is one thing, but god-fearing people have to draw the line somewere, right?
All that remains is for the former senator to drape himself in the stars-and-bars for this transformative historical moment to be complete. Then again, if that’s what it takes to win over right-wing Southerners, Romney would have done it already.