Lonesome Racist of the Week: Robert Copeland of Wolfeboro, N.H.
He’s not as wealthy or prominent as Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but the 82-year-old Copeland is no less detestable.
Until recently he served as one of three elected police commissioners in Wolfeboro, a town of about 6,300 people in central New Hampshire. A resident had complained to the town manager that, while dining at a local restaurant, she overheard Copeland use the N-word to describe President Barack Obama.
Copeland didn’t deny making the slur, and brilliantly sent the following email to the other commissioners: “I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse (sic). For this I do not apologize — he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.”
Many people in Wolfeboro felt Copeland met and exceeded the criteria for being a bigoted gasbag, and a public meeting was convened. The crowd was virtually all white because fewer than two dozen African-Americans live in the town.
Copeland sat there listening to all the outraged demands for his resignation, and never said a word.
It wasn’t as if Copeland could be ignored or led away like some demented old uncle. The police commission is in charge of hiring, firing and disciplining officers, and also setting their salaries. Copeland also worked as a dispatch supervisor.
The governor of New Hampshire and several state lawmakers condemned Copeland’s remarks about Obama and said he should resign immediately. So did Mitt Romney, who owns a house in the state.
After a few days Copeland gave up and quit. He’s now free to shamble around the house in his bathrobe and boxers, spewing the N-word as much as he wants.
He has little in common with Sterling besides hateful prejudice and advanced age (the Clippers owner is 80). After Sterling’s embarrassing mangled apology while being interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, some began to wonder if creeping senility is what causes old white guys to drop their guard and blurt whatever racist thought enters their brains.
They point to Cliven Bundy, 67, the deadbeat Nevada rancher who for two decades hasn’t paid grazing fees for the cattle he lets roam upon federal lands. When officers showed up last month to remove the livestock, they were met by a defiant Bundy and a band of armed supporters.
Bundy has claimed native rights to the lands, saying he doesn’t recognize the existence of the U.S. government. For “standing up” to the feds (and stiffing American taxpayers for more than $1 million), he was lionized by conservative radio hosts, Sen. Rand Paul, Sean Hannity and the other parrots at Fox News.
If at that point he’d shut his mouth, Bundy would still be a media darling of the bug-eyed right. But while chatting with a New York Times reporter, he decided out of nowhere to offer some casual thoughts about “the Negro.”
He mused that black people might be “better off as slaves” rather than living “under government subsidy.”
Whoops. Here we go again.
Instantly Bundy became politically toxic. His cheering section at Fox fell silent, while Sen. Paul, who has presidential ambitions, declared he didn’t agree with Bundy’s view on slavery and even unholstered the O-word (“offensive”).
Like Sterling, Bundy’s attempts to clarify his feelings about black Americans only made things worse.
On CNN Bundy labored to stem the backlash with an incoherent reference to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, while on his Facebook page he stated more clearly that he doesn’t believe anyone should be put back into slavery today.
That’s comforting to know, but at this point Bundy’s trespassing cows are his biggest audience.
He, Copeland and Sterling have blabbed themselves into caricatures. It’s not that they’re harmless (Sterling’s discriminatory practices as a landlord were punitive to many black families), but all the repudiation and ridicule has reduced them to their proper size.
They are just small men with small ugly thoughts, and every so often it’s useful to be reminded that they’re still out there.
Lots of ’em.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.