Fears grow in North Carolina as ultra-extreme Republican eyes governor’s mansion
If Mark Robinson wins gubernatorial race in 2024 there would be no one to hold back a wave of rightwing bills in the state
To Mark Robinson, gay and transgender people are “filth”, homosexuality is an abominable sin, and the transgender movement is “demonic” and “full of the spirit of the antichrist”.
Muslim Americans, meanwhile, are invaders, and Robinson is not afraid to dabble in antisemitism: in his mind an international cabal of Jewish financiers make up a modern-day “four horsemen of the apocalypse”, who rule the banks in “every single country”.
Lots of people have offensive and conspiracy-minded beliefs. But not all of them are running, as Robinson is, to be governor of North Carolina.
And to people who don’t share Robinson’s views, the problem is that it looks like he could win – furthering the Republican party’s years-long lunge to what was previously rightwing fringe politics.
“Mark Robinson would be the most extreme gubernatorial candidate but also governor that we’ve ever seen in our history,” said Anderson Clayton, the chair of the North Carolina Democratic party.
The risk Robinson would pose if elected in November 2024 – polling is scarce at this stage, but experts believe the race between Robinson and Josh Stein, his expected Democratic opponent, is a toss-up – is real. Republicans control both the state house and senate, and the GOP expanded its lead in last year’s elections.
Roy Cooper, the Democratic governor whose tenure is forced term limits to come to an end in 2023, has vetoed 52 bills from becoming law in his six years in office, the Assembly reported, including laws that would have rolled back gun control and reduced abortion access.
With a Republican in the governor’s office – particularly a governor like Robinson – there would be no one to hold back a wave of rightwing bills.
“We have bills right now going through our general assembly to ban gender affirming care for trans youth. We have a ban against trans athletes or young people competing in sports right now. We have a lot of discriminatory, just persecuting our own citizens-type of legislation happening in our state,” Clayton said.
“And Mark Robinson is only going to be the person who’s going to make that worse.”
There was a time, not that long ago, when North Carolina was seen as a future Democratic state.
Barack Obama won there, narrowly, in 2008, and Democrats giddily held their national convention there in 2012, with the hope they could triumph in North Carolina for years to come. It didn’t happen, and Republicans have won every presidential election since.
Republicans have super-majorities in the state legislature, yet Chris Cooper, a professor of political science at Western Carolina university, said elections for state positions like governor have tended to be close.
“North Carolina has been right on the razor’s edge between Democrat and Republican. We were the bluest red state in the country in 2020 – of all states that Trump won, his margin was among the smallest in North Carolina,” he said.
“I think it is the definition of a purple state in that it’s right in the middle. What it has not done at the presidential level is to swing – so it is a purple state but not a swing state.”
Taken in isolation, Robinson’s back story is compelling. One of 10 children who grew up poor in Greensboro, he was elected North Carolina’s lieutenant governor in 2020, becoming the first Black person to hold the position.
A former furniture manufacturer who has been declared bankrupt three times, Robinson credits his political career to a moment in April 2018: “My life changed when I gave a speech to the Greensboro city council that went viral,” he writes on his website.
That speech gave a flavor of what was to come.
There had been more than 50 mass shootings between January and March 2018, according to the Gun Violence Archive, but Robinson used his speech to rail against stricter gun control laws, claiming: “We need to drop all this division we have going on here.”
“When are you all going to start standing up for the majority. And here’s who the majority is. I’m the majority,” Robinson said.
“I’m a law abiding citizen who’s never shot anyone, never committed a serious crime, never committed a felony. I’ve never done anything like that. But it seems like every time we have one of these shootings, nobody wants to blame… put the blame where it goes, which is at the shooter’s feet. You want to put it at my feet.”
Polls have shown that most North Carolinians support stricter gun control laws, but it hasn’t stopped Robinson crowing about the issue.
He spoke at the National Rifle Association’s Texas convention in May 2022 – the gun lobbying event was held days after 19 students and two adults were killed in a school shooting in the state. In another event that month Robinson told a crowd that he owns an AR-15 – the assault-style rifle used in a majority of recent mass shootings – “in case the government gets too big for its britches”.
Guns are far from Robinson’s only passionate issue.
Gay rights and trans rights – specifically, the idea that the groups should have fewer – have dominated his communications in the past. After the 2016 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Robinson wrote on Facebook that he would “pray for the souls” of those killed and wounded, but added: “However, homosexuality is STILL an abominable sin.”
In June 2021, Robinson told a crowd at a Baptist church: “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth,” and two months later declared that the transgender movement “is demonic and is full of the spirit of the antichrist”.
Robinson has also said Muslim-Americans are “invaders” who “refuse to assimilate to our ways while demanding respect they have not earned”, and responded: “That’s exactly right,” when it was put to him by a pastor that the Rothschild family of “international bankers that rule every single national or federal reserve-type style of central bank in every single country”.
Since becoming lieutenant governor Robinson has been accused of hypocrisy over his admission that he paid for his now wife to have an abortion in 1989, given he supports banning the procedure from six weeks after fertilization, but little seems to have dented his popularity – he is firmly the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
Robinson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but in the days following his 2020 election to lieutenant governor, Robinson declined to distance himself from several of his past remarks, which also include claiming Obama is an “anti-American atheist” and suggesting “half of black Democrats don’t realize they are slaves”.
“He’s cut right out of the Trump mold, in that he is rhetorically extreme,” Cooper said.
“He has a penchant for making extreme, bombastic and offensive statements, particularly about the LGBTQ community. He’s a candidate who is very comfortable in the culture wars and stoking the flames of the culture wars.”
Given his history, and the looming threat of what he might do in office, Clayton said a victory for Robinson could have ramifications similar to those North Carolina experienced in 2016.
Back then businesses, performers and even the National Basketball Association ditched the state after it passed a law which banned transgender people from using the public bathrooms that match their gender identities.
If Robinson wins the Republican primary – which is “bordering on a certainty”, Cooper said – it could potentially cause problems for the Republican party at large, highlighting the extreme anti-LGBTQ views that lurk within the GOP.
“He’s a risky candidate in a lot of ways,” Cooper said.
“He will have ramifications up and down the ballot. But he’ll also motivate some voters, much like Trump motivated Republicans and Democrats, Mark Robinson’s going to do the same.”