The clip was short, but surreal: Mitt Romney—his face wrapped in a white mask, his sleeves rolled at the wrists—marches toward the White House alongside protesters chanting about police brutality. A reporter asks him what he’s doing there, and the Republican senator from Utah responds: “We need to stand up and say that black lives matter.”
When the video appeared on Twitter late yesterday afternoon, it drew a torrent of predictable reactions. Trumpites sneered and called him a loser. Leftists sneered and called him a poser. A small but vocal cheering section praised him for marching. And several people speculated—as they always do—that the 73-year-old senator was laying the groundwork for another presidential bid.
In reality, Romney’s path to yesterday’s Black Lives Matter protest began half a century earlier with his father—a man whose legacy has long shaped, and sometimes haunted, his son.
George Romney was the Republican governor of Michigan during the 1967 Detroit riots, which left 43 people dead and 2,000 buildings destroyed. In the aftermath of the violence, he addressed his constituents in a statewide broadcast.
“Some already are saying the answer is brute force such as would be used on mad dogs,” the governor said. “Others are questioning present social and economic programs because they claim Negroes don’t appreciate what has already been done … As citizens of Michigan, as Americans, we must unhesitatingly reject all these divisive courses.”