The Magazine

Cynthia McKinney (D-Conspiracy)

From the January 3 / January 10, 2005 issue: She's back.

Jan 3, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 16 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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THE INCOMING REPRESENTATIVE FROM GEORGIA'S 4th congressional district is the outspoken Cynthia McKinney. She is a Democrat, she is 49 years old, and she has held the job before. She held it for a decade, in fact, from 1992, when she became the first black woman elected to Congress from Georgia, to 2002--when, she says, the "hostile corporate media," allied with Republicans, "repeated falsehoods" about her, "distorted" her positions, and drove her from "my seat."

That is McKinney's explanation for her 2002 primary defeat, and she is sticking to it. But there are other explanations. Her father, Georgia state legislator Billy McKinney, shared his version with an Atlanta television reporter on August 19, 2002, the night before she lost. The reporter had asked Billy McKinney about his daughter's use of a years-old, moth-balled endorsement from former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. Such endorsements were worthless, the elder McKinney replied, because "Jews have bought everybody. Jews." In case the reporter didn't understand, he spelled the word: "J-E-W-S." (A few weeks later, in a runoff against a political neophyte, Billy McKinney became a former Georgia state legislator.)

The actual reason why Cynthia McKinney left Congress in 2002 was that, for once, she couldn't outrun her mouth. She had walked along the cutting edge of progressive politics for years--appearing with Louis Farrakhan, calling globalization a "cruel hoax," advocating for Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe--but then, in a March 25, 2002, interview on KPFA Pacifica radio, she suddenly fell off.

"We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11," McKinney said that day. "What did this administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered? What do they have to hide?" McKinney thought she knew the answer. "What is undeniable," she explained, "is that corporations close to the administration have directly benefited from the increased defense spending arising from the aftermath of September 11th."

It was all downhill from there. On April 12, 2002, a synopsis of the interview appeared in the Washington Post. Democrats began distancing themselves from McKinney. She released a statement admitting she was "not aware of any evidence" proving "President Bush or members of his administration have personally profited from the attacks of 9/11," but "a complete investigation might reveal that to be the case." Then again, it might not. For that matter, McKinney might have had no idea what she was talking about.

Appearing in print just months after the September 11 attacks, McKinney's charges couldn't be excused. Nor could her list of campaign donors, which included both terrorist sympathizers like Abdurahman Alamoudi, the former executive director of the American Muslim Council, and apparent actual terrorists like former college professor Sami Al-Arian. Nor could her October 12, 2001, letter to Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in which she rebuked New York mayor Rudy Giuliani for returning the prince's post-9/11 "gift" of $10 million and urged bin Talal to donate the funds to "charities outside the mayor's control," especially those that dealt with "poor blacks who sleep on the street in the shadows of our nation's Capitol." Giuliani had returned the Saudi's money because it came with the implicit condition that America "address some of the issues that led to such a criminal [9/11] attack," among them "its policies in the Middle East," where "our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek." To Giuliani, such a statement made excuses for terrorism. This wasn't a problem for McKinney.

And why should it have been? Her bent for conspiracy theories and racebaiting had never cost her politically. When she said in 1996 that "we need to get the government out of the drug business," she was not talking about a possible prescription drug benefit. Whether it was the time she told USA Today that "My impression of modern-day black Republicans is they have to pass a litmus test in which all black blood is extracted," or the time she accused Al Gore of having a low "Negro tolerance level," she emerged unscathed from the ensuing kerfuffles. Facing a tough race in 1996, McKinney said Georgia Republicans like her opponent John Mitnick were "neo-Confederates" remaindered from "Civil War days." Amazingly, McKinney ignored the fact that Mitnick was Jewish.