Alot of folks seemed shocked when Vernon Robinson announced that he was organizing a gun raffle for the Forsyth Republican party. The Winston-Salem Journal criticized the local GOP for being “tone deaf” to the recent massacres in Texas and Illinois. In fact, according to Forsyth Democratic party chair Kevin Farmer, two of the assault-style rifles being raffled “appear to be” models used in the Highland Park massacre. Yet true to form, Vernon fired back, saying, “People like gun raffles and it is a great way to raise money. The only people who are upset about gun raffles are people who are hostile to guns and gun owners.”

If Vernon’s use of the word “people” sounds familiar as a misdirection from facts and reality, that’s because it is. A certain Republican President used to and still does attribute unsupported statements to “people say.” I’m a gun owner, so I obviously don’t hate gun owners. However, I oppose this particular raffle because it comes at a time when we shouldn’t be promoting the use of semi-automatic weapons. Still, if you know anything about Vernon Robinson, then nothing about his gun raffle should surprise you.

After serving two terms on Winston-Salem City Council, Vernon became a perennial that also ran for just about every other office on the State and local level. He was also known for his political grandstanding, like the time he placed a one-ton granite replica of the Ten Commandments at the front door of City Hall in an effort to show that God’s laws should be on full display at government buildings. To hell with the separation of church and State.

Vernon would say and do just about anything to get attention and to promote himself, ostensibly as a viable candidate for whatever elected position he sought at the time. He was a rare commodity: an ultra-conservative African-American Republican. In fact, he referred to himself as “The Black Jesse Helms.” He was also Trump before Trump was Trump. And that brings me to the election of 2004.

That year, George Bush was running for re-election and Rep. Richard Burr announced that he was giving up his Congressional seat in order to run for Senate. Burr’s announcement brought no less than eight GOP stalwarts out of the woodwork and into the race to represent the 5th district. The field included Ed Broyhill, Nathan Tabor, State Senator Virginia Foxx, and Robinson. Thanks to Vernon’s high profile, he came in first place in the July primary, but couldn’t muster the 40% he needed to avoid a run-off with Foxx, who finished second. The run-off was scheduled for August 10, so I invited both candidates to appear together on “Triad Today” the weekend prior to the election. 

During their joint appearance, Vernon was typically animated and bombastic, at one point accusing Virginia of “telling whoppers.” But the whopper meter spiked when I called out Vernon for repeatedly bragging about his military combat experience. “What war did you serve in Vernon?” I asked. “The Cold War,” he replied. I continued to press him for specifics about his actual combat experience until he finally admitted that he had none. As I said before, Vernon was Trump before Trump was Trump. Foxx went on to win the run-off, and Vernon later blamed me for his loss.

Had Robinson defeated Foxx in 2004, he would have been North Carolina’s first radical right-wing Congressman in modern times, and by January 6, 2021, he probably would have been up on the stage with Trump, urging the crowd (some of who were armed) to march to the Capitol. Instead, he is a private citizen grabbing headlines any way he can, this time by using guns to raise money for the Republican party.  

You can call Vernon Robinson anything you like, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he is tone deaf. The fact is, when it comes to what the Republican base and its election-deniers are saying, Vernon hears them loud and clear. 

Jim Longworth is the host of Triad Today, airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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