Leading Atheist Legal Activist and Candidate for Alabama Attorney General

Has Some Rather Interesting Views About Jews, Zionism, and the Holocaust: Larry Darby is apparently a pretty prominent atheist legal activist. He was the president of the Atheist Law Center (though he has since stepped down to run for public office); filed amicus briefs in the Supreme Court's Ten Commandments cases on behalf of various atheist groups and also on behalf of Scouting for All; ran the Alabama chapter of American Atheists; got the Atheist of the Year award from American Atheists; has been quoted in various newspapers, mostly in Alabama but also elsewhere; and has appeared on various television programs in connection with his opposition to Judge Roy Moore's actions related to the Ten Commandments. Darby is now running in the June 2006 Democratic primary for Alabama Attorney General — I suspect that he has little chance of winning, but I take it that he'll want to use the race as a platform for expressing his various views, which include juvenile law reform and decriminalization of marijuana.

Mr. Darby also (1) apparently wrote that "David Duke is right on with the problem of Zionism and the Zionist-Occupied Government we live under," (2) seems quite interested in whether media representatives who contact him about such matters are Jewish, and (3) was substantially involved in organizing a speech by noted Holocaust denier David Irving.

I first heard about this when an acquaintance of mine e-mailed me an exchange that included Mr. Darby's "Zionist-Occupied Government" quote. I then e-mailed Mr. Darby to verify the quote. (I had and still have no reason to question my correspondent's veracity, but I thought that checking would be a good idea.) The closest Mr. Darby came to denying the accuracy of the quote is when he eventually said — after an exchange of several e-mails — "Know that what you sent to me as represented by [my correspondent] is not authentic," which seemed to me like a somewhat coy way of addressing whether Mr. Darby indeed said the "Zionist-Occupied Government" item.

I then followed up by asking "My question was simply whether you did or did not e-mail the text I asked you about. Did you or didn't you?" He didn't respond to that question, but instead insisted that I tell him whether I was a Zionist and a Trotskyite. Mr. Darby's e-mails to me also included the following, which further leads me to think that my correspondent indeed accurately quoted the "Zionist-Occupied Government" line:

[F]or the record, Dr. David Duke does offer insight into the neoconservative or Trotskyist government in Washington, DC. Some of what he has been saying for years is bearing out in the news today. Have you ever read anything of Duke's your self? I'm sure he'd talk to you. Write him at and find out for yourself. And read what he really says for yourself, without relying on what Jewish Supremacists say about him.

Have you been keeping up with all the Zionists (Jews and Jewish-Christians) being arrested by the FBI? I know it hasn't made mainstream media, but it is happening and expectations are that when Kidan turns evidence against Uber-Zionist Abramoff, some other members of Congress might be indicted. Those are only two of several people arrested.

If you aren't keeping up with those issues, then likely you won't be able to understand that Dr. Duke knows what he's talking about when it comes to Jewish Supremacism and Zionism. . . .

Earlier in the exchange, Mr. Darby had also asked me whether I was a "MOT," which he later elaborated to "MOT refers to Member of Tribe. In other words, are you a Jew?" A quick Internet search revealed to me Mr. Darby's invitation of David Irving.

* * *

It seems to me very important that irreligious people participate in public debate, to defend the legitimacy of their views, and to protect themselves against religious discrimination and hostility. I don't agree with everything that all atheist activists urge; for instance, I don't think that the Establishment Clause is properly interpreted as banning religious speech by the government. Nonetheless, there are indeed some egregious forms of discrimination against the irreligious (or the less religious), for instance in child custody cases — these should be assiduously fought.

Moreover, there seems to be a great deal of hostility to atheists among the public: A July 7, 2005 Pew Research Center poll, for instance, asked people about their views of various religious and political grounds, and whether "your overall opinion of [the group] is very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?" For Catholics, the total unfavorable percentage was 14%; for Jews, 7%; for "Evangelical Christians," 19%; for "Muslim Americans," 25%; for "Atheists, that is, people who don't believe in God," it was 50%, including 28% "very unfavorable" (only 35% said they had either a "very favorable" or "mostly favorable" view of atheists). Such religious hostility, it seems to me, should also be fought (though of course through argument rather than litigation). Anti-atheist bias is no more justifiable than anti-Jewish bias.

I therefore have nothing at all against atheist political movements in general, nor do I have any reason to believe that atheists generally have any hostility towards Jews, or affection for David Duke. Yet this makes it all the more important, it seems to me, for atheists who are deciding whom to ally themselves with — or for that matter, for members of other groups, such as Scouting for All or any marijuana decriminalization groups — to know Mr. Darby's views that I describe above, views with which I hope most atheists much disagree. Likewise, Alabama Democrats should know who's running in their primary, and should keep in mind the views I note above, even if some of them are tempted to agree with him on marijuana decriminalization, juvenile justice, or even religion in public life. (I doubt there are that many Alabama Democrats who do agree with him on those latter issues, but I imagine there are some.)

And it's also important for Jews — even in America, the place in the world in which it is probably safest to be a Jew — to be reminded that these sorts of views do exist in America, and in what might to many seem like quite unlikely circles.

UPDATE: Corrected "Atheist Legal Center" to "Atheist Law Center"; sorry for the error.

This is the first time I have ever heard "MOT" used by a non-Jew; it always seemed like a pleasant colloquialism among Jews to me. Oh well, another mellifluous phrase despoiled.

I have not observed much anti-semitism at all among atheists, so my initial take is that this fellow seems like a particularly bad apple. I would note that, while I don't know what American Atheists is up to these days, back in Ms. O'Hair's day there were many atheists who considered it to be a rather shrill, exclusionary and unhelpful organization.
12.12.2005 2:12pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
See, it's guys like this who give atheism a bad name ...
12.12.2005 2:16pm
dk35 (mail):
The ironic thing is that atheist Darby's anti-semitism might actually end up winning him votes among fundamentalist Christians in Alabama. Talk about strange bedfellows...
12.12.2005 2:18pm
The Shadow:
"A quick Internet search revealed to me Mr. Darby's invitation of Larry Irving."

I assume that you meant David Irving. I hope that there isn't a Larry Irving out there who will be offended by this.
12.12.2005 2:38pm
None (mail):
As a regular voter in the Alabama Democratic Primary, I can assure you that Darby's crzy anti-semitism won't win him votes among primary voters. Aligning yourself with a well-known former Kluxer like David Duke on any issue will destroy you in a Democratic primary here: a majority of Dem. primary voters are black. Moreover, any nutball that might want to cast a vote for him on grounds of anti-Semitic solidarity (and I am not convinced that there are more than a handful of those types here) will likely be voting in the Republican primary for Roy Moore.
12.12.2005 2:42pm
byomtov (mail):
any nutball that might want to cast a vote for him on grounds of anti-Semitic solidarity (and I am not convinced that there are more than a handful of those types here) will likely be voting in the Republican primary for Roy Moore.

FWIW, I wouldn't dismiss the nutball vote. David Duke found considerable support for his various campaigns in La. He was elected to the state senate, and got 44% of the vote (possibly 65% ofthe white vote) in a run for the US Senate in 1990.
12.12.2005 2:57pm
One problem with atheist political activists is that in order to be one, you basically have to be willing to accept being widely hated and being seen as an extremist. You also have to be either entirely politically ignorant, or to completely lack political aspirations, since winning office as an avowed atheist is impossible.

It thus ends up being a very small group of very contrarian people with basically no accountability to any actual group of people, since such a small number of atheists participate in any way.

This guy seems fairly clearly to fall into that mold.

At the same time, I think the anti-semitism charge is somewhat complicated. I mean, this appears to be a guy who is anti-religious. As such, I bet he's anti-Christian and anti-Muslim too. Now, when you consider that literally the majority of people are anti-atheist, can you really blame him?

As someone who travels in atheism circles, I find that atheists are much more critical of Christians than they are of Jews. I would guess that this guy is an equal-opportunity criticizer of religions. I may be wrong, but it seems likely. It's unusual, and unexpected, but I'm not sure it makes him anti-semitic in the usual sense of the phrase.
12.12.2005 2:59pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The Shadow: It's true what they say -- you do know! Just corrected the one Larry Irving reference to David Irving (fortunately, the other one was right all along).
12.12.2005 3:01pm
None (mail):
byomtov: The key qualifier here is "on the grounds of anti-Semitic solidarity." We have plenty of nutballs who would vote for a pro-Duke candidate based on other criteria; my guess is they're likely Moore voters. There may even be enough of the other flavors of nutball to make Roy Moore the Republican nominee. In that case, and in the unlikely event that the Dem. nominee is indicted former Gov. Don Seigelman, the Ghost of David Duke may make another appearance. We'll bring back the bumper stickers from the Duke/Edwin Edwards Louisiana gubernatorial race: "Vote for the Crook, It's Important!"
12.12.2005 3:10pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Eugene, did this exchange take place before or after your Zionist Pig phone call?

On a different note, let's not forget that the original Nazis were anti-Catholic, specifically, and anti-Christian in general, even though some of the prominent party members were religious. Obviously, they also were violently and virulently opposed to other religions. In some minds that would associate Nazism with atheism, although the connection is a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, most neo-Nazi sects in the US tend to form their own "churches". The connection is probably closer to Roman paganism than to atheism, but to many that's the same thing.
12.12.2005 3:33pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
It happened after the Zionist Pig phone call, and as best I can tell is entirely unrelated to it. Why?
12.12.2005 3:38pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
Randy Newman is an atheist, I think, and he's also said something like, why spend your time campaigning, "This is what I don't believe in!" Maybe someone can come up with a counterexample, but it might be that all remotely visible atheist activists have been crankish. Whether it's because of something inherent to the cause, or because of social context, God alone knows.

another mellifluous phrase despoiled

But a new one created!
12.12.2005 3:47pm
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):

Moreover, any nutball that might want to cast a vote for him on grounds of anti-Semitic solidarity (and I am not convinced that there are more than a handful of those types here) will likely be voting in the Republican primary for Roy Moore.

That's a pretty arrogant statement, to assume that simply because you support an evangelical Christian candidate you are anti-Semitic. Indeed, I think the exact opposite point could be argued.

The evangelicals I know have great respect for the Jewish people precisely because we take our Bible seriously, both the New and Old Testaments.

Our God is the God of the Jews. He sent his only Son as our saviour as a Jew. That's good enough for lots of us.
12.12.2005 3:58pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Maybe one reason atheists are so unpopular is that they are so shrill in their denunciations of others. If I am a Christian/Jew/Hindu/Muslim... (and most Americans self-identify with one or another organiized religion) and someone is taking gratuitous swipes at me, why should I like them? The atheists I know seem to go out of their way to say hateful things about religious believers (sometimes with/sometimes without the "Of course I didn't mean you..." apology). That the majority of Americans say they do not like atheists is no more surprising than would be a finding that the majority of American Jews do not like anti-semites.
12.12.2005 4:05pm
Anon Y. Mouse:

That's a pretty arrogant statement, to assume that simply because you support an evangelical Christian candidate you are anti-Semitic.

UHC, I don't think that None was saying that all Roy Moore supporters are anti-Semitic. Rather, the point was that most anti-Semites voting in the Alabama primary would vote for Moore. If you've followed the Moore saga at all, you'll know that, although plenty of people of good faith support him (mistakenly, in my view), he attracts more than his share of white supremacists, neo-confederates, and the like. Your haste to take offense at imagined slander of Evangelicals is both misplaced and ignores the very real problems regarding a number of Moore's supporters.
12.12.2005 4:15pm

In some minds that would associate Nazism with atheism, although the connection is a bit of a stretch.

In fact, the SS inducted its members into a sort of Boys' Own pan-Germanic pagan mysticism which they made up as they went along. The Nazis didn't object to God, so long as he said "Heil!"
12.12.2005 4:28pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
Hey, here's a possibility-- atheists are the equivalent of libertarians in terms of their political Q-rating.
12.12.2005 4:34pm
byomtov (mail):

Fair enough. Though suspect "a handful" is a bit of an underestimate.
12.12.2005 4:51pm
Mikeyes (mail):
Is there a difference between an atheist and someone who does not believe in God? It seems that there are plenty of the latter out there who are not overwhelmed with the responsibility to make their views known on a national scale.

This brings to mind the Edward Burns' movie "She's the One" in which John Mahoney, who plays the father, berates his son after he says something uncomplimentary about the parish priest. "Dad", the son says, "How can you say that? You don't even believe in God."

"Yeah", replies the father, "But I am still a Catholic."

I'd venture to say that there are plenty of quiet athiests out there who would not vote for a loud mouthed bigot like Larry Darby even if it meant that the ten commandments had to be tatooed on every child's backside on birth if they didn't. How can you have a strong belief in nothing? People who don't believe in God also don't have a unified ethic as a result.

Atheism in the "Outstanding Athiest of the Year" mode is simply a political position that most of the country will not vote for hence the poll results. I don't think that comments about this style of rigid atheism reflects a true understanding of those who don't believe in God, rather it points to the fears that some people of faith (in the non-political sense) might take if they see a Darbys' position as a threat to their faith and the cultural context of that faith. Those fears are not limited to angst about athiests but can cover a multitude of other belief (or in this case non-belief) systems not similar to theirs. The concept of a secular state with separation of religion and state was formed to specifically to address these fears. Faith is by definition non-rational and in practice very emotional. So where is the mystery when you see "atheists" so low in the poll numbers?
12.12.2005 5:12pm
Joe in Australia (mail):
My experience accords with Marcus1's. In fact, it seems to be a sort of Peter Principle of lobby groups: lobbyists tends to rise to their level of looniness.

Pressure groups necessarily attract people who are strongly committed to the cause. Most people have views on (say) vegetarianism, but the only people willing to sacrifice significant amounts of their time are the ones who believe that eating meat is morally wrong. These pressure groups tend to run on the labor volunteered by their members. The people who are willing to spend the most time are the extremists, the ones who believe that "Meat is Murder!" Eventually the whole agenda of the organisation is set by the extremists; the more normal people leave it; and the pressure group either becomes marginalised or exists as a sort of media sideshow.

I am frequently surprised by the nuttiness I encounter at the top levels of pressure groups. The only ones that keep extremists at bay are the ones that are frankly run as money-making organisations.
12.12.2005 5:18pm
Richard Bellamy (mail):
I really think you have to differentiate between atheists and people who belong to "Atheist Groups."

It seems completely normal to me to chose not to believe in a higher power. It seems pretty weird to be associated with a group based solely upon that non-belief.

Lots of people don't listen to the radio. How many of those would join a group dedicated to not listening to the radio?
12.12.2005 5:34pm
Darby has some interesting political views. He seems like a radical pre-Marxian German-- strongly opposed to the Jews and desiring liberty from government power.

Also, the link between evangelical Christians and anti-Semitism is something of an urban legend. The strongest anti-Semites tend not to be the evangelical Protestants (who strongly support Israel) but unreconstructed pre-Vatican II Catholics and pseudo-Darwinian racists.
12.12.2005 9:15pm
??? (mail):
This post is a good expample of why academics should be kept away from sharp objects.

The Atheist Legal Center is an extreme, fringe and often wacko organization. Is it news that the president of an extreme, fringe, wacko organizaton would hold other extreme, fringe, wacko views?

As for your observation "I suspect that he has little chance of winning," . . . er, hello. The president of the Athiest Legal Center is running for office in the land of Roy friggin' Moore! 'Little chance of winning'?!? To say he has zero chance of winning doesn't begin to capture the futility of his quest. David Duke has as much chance of getting elected president of B'nai B'rith as this bozo does becoming Alabama Attorny General.
12.12.2005 10:12pm
Richard Bellamy,

>Lots of people don't listen to the radio. How many of those would join a group dedicated to not listening to the radio?<

You'd be surprised how gratifying it can be, as an atheist, to talk to other atheists. Most of us grow up not knowing any other people who think similarly. It's kind of liberating to find out that there are other people who also think all that stuff is BS.

Religion is all-encompasing in our society. Imagine if you lived in a world where 90 percent of people centered their lives around astrology. 10 percent, although they were chastized for talking about it publicly, think none of that is true. Can you see why those 10% would enjoy getting together to chat now and then?
12.13.2005 12:03am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
That's a pretty arrogant statement, to assume that simply because you support an evangelical Christian candidate you are anti-Semitic. Indeed, I think the exact opposite point could be argued.

Hey, unhyphenated! You have a problem with your logic. The best that can be concluded from the statement you object to is that anti-Semites are more likely to vote for an Evangelical than for his Democrat opponents. It says exactly nothing about the likelyhood of Evangelicals being anti-Semitic (other than the probability is non-zero). After all, should I draw conclusions about all conservatives' ability to think logically based solely on your illiterate comments? I think not!
12.13.2005 1:54am