A pastor with ties to a white supremacist, neo-Confederate organization, the League of the South, is leading a class on the Maryland Constitution hosted by the Montgomery County GOP.
A local Jewish leader said the MCGOP’s decision to host the class conducted by Pastor David Whitney is “outrageous” and, in an interview with Bethesda Beat, called upon the party group to cancel the class.
A representative of the county GOP called the information about Whitney’s ties to the League of the South “old and obsolete.”
Whitney is a senior instructor at the Institute of the Constitution, based in and pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church, also based in Pasadena. He has been a member and served as chaplain of the Maryland chapter of the League of the South, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and reporting from the The Baltimore Sun and other news outlets in 2014.
The League of the South has been classified as a white supremacist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. The League of the South considers itself a Southern nationalist group with a goal of Southern secession from the union. Leaders have been cited as using racist, pro-slavery, antisemitic, homophobic and transphobic hate speech.
The League of the South was involved in the deadly “Unite the Right” neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, where one woman was killed and dozens were critically injured. League of the South member Tyler Watkins Davis was sentenced to over two years in prison for his involvement in the beating of Deandre Harris, a young counter protestor. The city of Charlottesville later banned the League of the South from holding future armed protests in the city, via court order.
Whitney did not respond to multiple emails sent to several email addresses connected with the Institute of the Constitution and his church asking whether he still has ties to the League of the South.
Montgomery County has, since the fall, suffered a wave of antisemitic incidents, including an assault on a Jewish man in Gaithersburg last week; the drawing of swastikas on desks at four schools this month; placing of fliers at Kensington homes this month; harassing emails sent to staff at Walt Whitman High School in December; the defacement of the Whitman sign on the eve of Hanukkah; and numerous other instances of graffiti and flyers.
“It is outrageous that the Montgomery County Republican Party is organizing an event with Pastor David Whitney, who has been associated with extreme right-wing views that have been denounced by mainstream Republicans and is associated with a group that SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League view as a hate group. I call upon the MCGOP to immediately cancel their program with this individual,” Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said in an interview with Bethesda Beat.
“Whitney shouldn’t be speaking for any major political party. He is an embarrassment. I’m not accusing the MCGOP of being racist, but they didn’t vet properly, and they are sponsoring someone associated with racism,” Halber said.
MCGOP representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment in response to Halber’s statements Monday.
In a Jan. 19 email to Bethesda Beat, Candice Clough, MCGOP’s contact for the class, called the information about Whitney’s ties to the League of the South “old and obsolete.”
Clough and MCGOP chairman Del Lamiman have not answered questions on whether MCGOP was aware of Whitney’s affiliation with the League of the South. Whitney’s affiliation with League of the South comes up on the first page of a Google search of his name.
The Maryland GOP has previously allied with alumni of the League of the South, including Michael Anthony Peroutka, who was the party’s nominee for attorney general last year. Peroutka renounced comments made by League of the South President Michael Hill in 2017 and distanced himself from the group during his political campaigns. Peroutka is also the founder of the Institute on the Constitution.
Whitney has unsuccessfully run for political office a handful of times. In 2014, he ran for Anne Arundel County Council, and in 2006, he ran for a District 30 House seat in the Maryland General Assembly.
Whitney ran for the General Assembly under the Constitution Party. According to the party’s national platform, “the goal of the Constitution Party is to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.” The party also believes the United States was founded on Christian principles,
Whitney defended his association with the League of the South to The Baltimore Sun in 2014 and rejected any suggestion that he was anti-government or racist.
“They can criticize me all they want. They are free to criticize,” Whitney told The Sun. “They are … trying to smear me for holding the beliefs of Thomas Jefferson.”
Some Maryland political candidates have been called out by opponents for their connection to Whitney’s classes, after the Salisbury Daily Times reported that several conservative candidates from Wicomico and adjacent counties had taken classes from Whitney in 2021 and 2022. During her run for office last year, Wicomico County Executive Julie Giordano was criticized by the local Democratic committee for having taken Whitney’s class.
Giordano told Maryland Matters in November that she was not “whatsoever” aware of Whitney’s background prior to taking the class. She said she enrolled because “I had never read the Maryland constitution” prior to deciding to run for executive. She added: “At no point in time did Pastor Whitney derail his weekly lessons from the Maryland constitution and instill his own personal feelings…I did not see anything where I would think ‘this person is racist’.”
“Looking back, do I regret taking a Maryland constitution class? Absolutely not. Would I have taken it with a person who was controversial or had this controversy? Probably not. I probably would have rethought it because of what people are saying about me because of taking the course. I’m not about any sort of racism — especially with my students, I’m just not OK with that at all,” she said.
The class will meet every Friday at 7 p.m. for 12 weeks starting this week at the MCGOP headquarters in Rockville. The course costs $175 and includes a student manual, additional DVD lectures and supplemental reading materials.
According to its website, the Institute on the Constitution’s mission is to teach the “American view” of law and government, which it defines as: “There is a God, our rights come from Him, and the purpose of civil government is to secure and protect our God-given rights.”
The Institute on the Constitution is not affiliated with a particular political party and does not believe in theocracy, according to its website.
Clough elaborated on the choice of Whitney in her Jan. 11 email.
“Pastor David Whitney is one of very few certified to instruct the Maryland Constitution course and is knowledgeable on both the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions. With the failure of the Montgomery County Public School system to teach basic civics to our children, going forward the MCGOP plans to host both the U.S. and Maryland classes on a rotating basis for all interested Marylanders,” Clough wrote.
In a statement, MCPS spokesperson Jessica Baxter wrote, “MCPS offers a comprehensive curriculum on civics and government in our schools.” She also provided Bethesda Beat with a lesson plan framework for what civics and government concepts are taught at each grade level.
MCPS teaches national, state and local government to 10th graders and offers Advanced Placement U.S. government and politics and Advanced Placement comparative government and politics to high schoolers.
In the Jan. 11 email, Clough said this is not the first time MCGOP has hosted a constitution class.
“The Institute on the Constitution is a well-established and respected organization that holds classes throughout the country on the U.S. Constitution. Last year, the MCGOP hosted a series of 12 weekly classes on the U.S. Constitution for families and students at our headquarters in Rockville and on Zoom. It was very popular and well-received,” Clough said.
According to the Institute on the Constitution website, Whitney has been teaching “the Christian heritage and history of our country” for the institute for 21 years. Whitney graduated from Rutgers University as a Henry Rutgers Honors Scholar with Honors in History. He received his master’s degree from Denver Seminary and has pastored churches in New Jersey, Colorado, Florida and Maryland for more than 40 years.
The Institute on the Constitution website says that Whitney is currently teaching the only course offered anywhere on the Maryland State Constitution.
Contributing editor Louis Peck contributed to this article.