Bennie G. Thompson

© Image Copyright Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: United States Congress

Overview

  • Democratic member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus
  • Former member of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus

Background

Born on January 28, 1948 in Bolton, Mississippi, Bennie G. Thompson earned a B.A. from Tougaloo College in 1968 and an M.S. from Mississippi State University in 1972. After completing his education, he took a job as a schoolteacher.

Thompson launched his political career in 1969 when he was elected to Bolton’s board of aldermen, where he served for four years. From 1973-79 he was the mayor of Bolton, and from 1980-93 he sat on the Hinds County, Mississippi board of supervisors.

Supporter of Violent Black Secessionist Organization

While Thompson was an alderman in Bolton, he openly sympathized with a violent black secessionist organization known as the Republic of New Africa (RNA), which, according to  FBI counterintelligence memos from that era, threatened “guerrilla warfare” against the United States. A March 1969 FBI memo described RNA as a “black extremist, separatist organization whose purpose is the formation of a black nation within the United States and a black army to defend and attack its enemies.” As Just The News reporter John Solomon notes: “RNA was founded in 1968 in Detroit, where its first major run-in with police led to the fatal shooting of an officer in 1969. […] By 1971, RNA was under constant FBI surveillance […] RNA members threatened to renounce their U.S. citizenship and create a separate New Africa country in the U.S. Southeast” […] The group was blamed for several other violent crimes, including a deadly bank robbery in Manhattan and the fatal [1971] shooting of a police officer who stopped a car full of RNA members in New Mexico. Some of those perpetrators were arrested and convicted, while others fled to Cuba to escape prosecution.”

In the spring of 1971, Mississippi law enforcement arrested a number of RNA members after learning that one particular member, who was wanted on an outstanding warrant, was likely to be traveling in Bolton in a stolen car. Following those arrests, Thompson at a news conference accused the police of “often times beating and kicking those who emphasized their constitutional rights.” “My utmost concern in this matter is to see that people who reside or pass through the town of Bolton are treated fairly and given every opportunity afforded them by law,” Thompson added. “This was not done in the case of the Republic of New Africa. They are charged with obstructing justice. […] I believe this is an attempt on part of law enforcement officials to stop the Republic from building its community.” Thompson further characterized RNA as a peaceful group that deserved to be left alone by law enforcement, though by that time the FBI had already determined that RNA was a violent entity whose plan for secession posed a national security threat to the U.S.

Hinds County (Mississippi) Sheriff Fred Thomas, who oversaw the spring 1971 arrests of the RNA members, described how those individuals had greeted the police officers who were tasked with executing the arrest warrants at an RNA facility. “They [the RNA members] started slamming doors in our face and running against the doors and cursing us, and we advised them we was the law, we had to come in,” said the sheriff. “…They didn’t want us to carry out our duties. So we had to make arrests upon these people. And in the meantime, we recovered numerous amounts of guns, ammunition, radio equipment, and a good many more things.”

A few months later, in August 1971, FBI agents and Jackson, Mississippi police raided a home where RNA members were staying. The RNAers opened fire on them, killing one officer and wounding a second officer as well as an FBI agent. An August 28, 1971 Associated Press article in The Greenwood Commonwealth newspaper, titled “Blacks Accuse Police,” reported that in the wake of the incident, Thompson and fellow black community leaders in Jackson held a news conference announcing the establishment of a justice group to support RNA. A separate article in the Times-Picyaune quoted a fellow activist at that same news conference as saying: “This kill-some-niggers attitude [of law enforcement] more than anything else is responsible for the policeman’s death.”

While RNA’s profile and influence diminished greatly in subsequent years, Thompson remained fiercely loyal to some of its members for decades. For example, when former RNA vice president Chokwe Lumumba ran for mayor of Jackson, Mississippi in 2013, Thompson recorded a campaign ad supporting Lumumba’s candidacy. After Lumumba won the mayoral election, Thompson officiated at his installation ceremony.

When Lumumba subsequently died in 2014, just months after taking office, Thompson lamented: “I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba. I have known Mayor Lumumba since 1974. One of the reasons I was so public about my support for the Mayor was that I believed once people got to know the real Chokwe Lumumba, they would find him to be an extremely bright, caring, and humble individual. His election as Mayor and very short term in office demonstrated exactly that.”

Election to Congress

In 1993 Thompson, a Democrat, was voted into the U.S. House of Representatives—representing Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District—in a special election following the resignation of Rep. Mike Espy; he has been reelected to this seat every two years since then. Thompson is a member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. In 2005 he joined the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, and since 2011 he has served on the Homeland Security Commission.

Caribbean Junket, Courtesy of Citigroup

Shortly after Congress had approved a $700 billion bailout of financial services firms in October 2008, Thompson was one of six Democratic members of Congress who enjoyed a Caribbean junket sponsored by Citigroup in November. According to the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group, the trip violated House rules: “The ‘lead sponsor’ was Citigroup, which contributed $100,000. Citigroup was certainly aware that it would be a major recipient of bailout funds. It was also aware that its fortunes had become increasingly reliant on Congressional actions. Citigroup should have also been aware that corporate sponsorship of such an event was banned by House rules adopted on March 1, 2007, in response to the [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff scandal and the infamous golf trip to Scotland.” Joining Thompson on the trip were Charles Rangel, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Donald Payne Jr., and Donna Christensen.

Dismissing the Threat of Islamic Radicalism

When Republican Congressman Peter King in 2012 sought to convene the fifth in his series of hearings on the dangers of Muslim radicalization, Thompson insisted that Islamic terrorism was no longer something to be feared, given that Osama bin Laden, Anwar Al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan had been killed. “Despite a changing world which requires us to look forward, this [King’s] committee seems to want to look back,” said Thompson.

Racist & Racialist Remarks, and a Slur Against Homosexuals

When interviewed on an April 27, 2014 “New Nation of Islam” webcast, Thompson, who views America as a nation rife with intractable white racism, declared himself to be a strong supporter of affirmative action as a means of “trying to level the playing field” in the academic and business worlds. On the same webcast:

  • Thompson identified racism as the major underlying cause of Republican opposition to President Barack Obama‘s political and social agendas. “I never saw George Bush treated like this,” said the congressman. “I never saw Bill Clinton treated like this with such disrespect. That [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell would have the audacity to tell the president of the United States … that, ‘I don’t care what you come up with, we’re going to be against it.’ Now if that’s not a racist statement, I don’t know what is.”
  • Thompson accused Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant of opposing Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) “just because a black man created it.” He added that President George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan had generated far less opposition than Obamacare because “when a black man comes up with an idea [for healthcare] there’s something wrong with it. So again, it’s that race creeping into the picture.” And Thompson likewise attributed the recent increase in anti-government sentiment among many Americans to racism: “Now all of a sudden, government is the worst thing in the world since a black man became president.”
  • Thompson spoke about a then-recent controversy involving white Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, who had refused to pay federal grazing fees and had engaged in an armed standoff with federal government agents. According to Thompson, Bundy had received support from Rep. John Boehner, Senator Ted Cruz, and “a lot of those right-wing Republicans,” but only “until he talked [positively] about slavery,” at which time the Republicans “fagged up” and withdrew their support.
  • Thompson disparaged conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, an African American, as an “Uncle Tom” and “a lackey for Antonin Scalia.” “When I look at decisions he’s been part of on that Court,” said the Mississippi Democrat, “its almost to the point to say this man [Thomas] doesn’t even like black people. He doesn’t like being black.” Thompson cited, in particular, Justice Thomas’s opposition to affirmative action as evidence of his anti-black bias.

When CNN reporter Dana Bash subsequently asked Rep. Thompson to clarify his “Uncle Tom” reference, the Democrat said that Thomas’s rulings had been “adverse” to the black community. Miss Bash then noted that the term “Uncle Tom” could be viewed as racist and inappropriate if used by a white person, to which Thompson responded, “But I’m black.” “That makes it OK?” asked Bash. To this, Thompson replied: “I mean, you’re asking me the question, and I’m giving you a response. The people that I represent, for the most part, have a real issue with those decisions—voter ID, affirmative action, Affordable Care Act—all those issues are very important, and for someone in the court who’s African American and not sensitive to that is a real problem.”

Defending Chief of Staff Who Had Evaded Taxes for Years

In 2015, federal agents learned that Thompson’s longtime chief of staff, Issac Lanier Avant, who earned an annual salary of $170,000, had paid less than $450 in federal taxes in 2006 and 2007, and then had paid no taxes — nor even filed a single tax return — from 2008-12. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Avant during that time had “caused a form to be filed with his employer that falsely claimed he was exempt from federal income taxes.” Rep. Thompson, however, refused to fire Avant, stating in August 2016 that he would only terminate his employee “if he’s proven to be guilty” after having “had his day in court.” According to prosecutors, Avant lied throughout their subsequent investigation over the ensuing few months, and when he finally did file his delinquent tax returns, he falsely claimed to have donated $50,000 to a religious group. Avant eventually pleaded guilty to tax evasion, and in January 2017 he was sentenced to a month-long jail term, to be followed by an additional year of weekends behind bars. Yet Thompson quietly kept Avant on staff, where he continued to earn a large salary funded by American taxpayers.

Introduction of a Bill to Remove Confederate Statues From the U.S. Capitol

In September 2017, Thomson, along with Rep. Barbara Lee and Senator Cory Booker, introduced a bicameral bill to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.

The three legislators re-introduced this bill in February 2021. “I am happy to join Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Senator Cory Booker in efforts to do away with symbols that continue to divide and haunt this country. We do this in a spirit of racial reconciliation and healing,” said Thompson.

Refusal to Denounce Louis Farrakhan & Nation of Islam

When the Daily Caller in February 2018 contacted Thompson and a number of his fellow Congressional Black Caucus members to ask if they would be willing to publicly denounce the notoriously anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Thompson was one of 20 who not only declined to denounce him, but refused even to issue any comment at all regarding Farrakhan’s incendiary rhetoric.

Accusing Trump of Disrespecting MLK’s Memory

In an appearance on CNN on Martin Luther King Day 2019, Thompson complained that President Donald Trump’s visit to Dr. King’s memorial statue in Washington was too brief: “[F]or him to go to Martin Luther King’s statue today, for 2 minutes … on a national holiday, for a man [King], so great, who gave his life for this country, to make it a better place. I think it’s an insult.”

Asserting That Certain Republican Senators Should Be Placed on “No-Fly” List

In a January 11, 2021 interview with Sirius XM’s The Joe Madison Show, Thompson warned that Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — both of whom formally objected on January 6 to accepting the Electoral College votes of states where election fraud was alleged to have occurred — could be placed on a no-fly list if they were deemed responsible for having incited a subsequent incident where several hundred people claiming to be Trump supporters temporarily occupied the Capitol building in Washington to protest what they viewed as a stolen presidential election. “There’s no exemption for being put on the no-fly list,” Thompson said. “Even a member of Congress that commits a crime, you know, they expel from the body.” “There are ethics charges that can be brought against those individuals,” Thompson continued. “And people are looking at all this. What Hawley did and what Cruz did was horrible.”

Chairman of the January 6 Commission

On July 1, 2021, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named Thompson to chair the January 6 Commission, a special congressional panel investigating the causes and ramifications of the January 6, 2021 protest during which several hundred supporters of President Trump had illegally entered the U.S. Capitol building to express their objections to the result of the 2020 presidential election. “January 6 was a devastating black eye on our democracy, and we have to make sure that it never happens again,” said Thompson.

Thompson’s Voting Record

For an overview of Thompson’s voting record on an array of key issues, click here.

Further Reading: “Bennie Thompson” (BioGuide.Congress.gov, Votesmart.org, Ballotpedia.org)

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