Political scientists weigh in on Mark Robinson's controversial remarks at NC church

North Carolina Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Robinson recently spoke at Lake Church in Bladen County where he was video-taped saying “Some folks need killin’,” during his half-hour long talk on the importance of Independence Day and freedom. 

His remarks, first reported by The New Republic, made waves on social media from Democrats saying he is too extreme for North Carolina and from Republicans saying his quotes lacked context.  

In a neck-and-neck race for the opening in the executive mansion, could Robinson’s rhetoric harm his chances of winning the seat that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has held for almost eight years? Here’s a look at what Robinson said and how North Carolina political scientists think it could influence his campaign.  

What did Mark Robinson say? 

In the video posted on Lake Church’s Facebook page, Robinson says the country has strayed from its roots, and that “We now find ourselves struggling with people who have evil intent,” Robinson said, “There was a time when we used to meet evil on the battlefield, and guess what we did to em’, we killed it.” 

The Donald Trump-endorsed candidate later said, “When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, what did we do? We flew to Japan, and we killed the Japanese army and navy. We didn’t even quibble about it.” 

“Some folks need killin’,” he continued. “It’s time for somebody to say it. It’s not a matter of vengeance, it’s not a matter of being mean or spiteful, it’s a matter of necessity. We have wicked people doing wicked things, torturing and murdering and raping,” he said standing behind a pulpit wrapped in American flag decorations.  

Later, he called on the “guys in green” and the “boys in blue” to solve the country’s issues, although it’s unclear what specific issues he was calling on to be fixed in present day.  

Finally, he said the country is at risk as he sees the “tenets of socialism and communism start coming into clearer focus” referencing cancel culture and social media, saying “they’re watching us.”

Democrats jump on Robinson’s remarks, Republicans fight back 

Josh Stein’s Democratic campaign released a statement, saying Robinson’s words were part of a pattern.  

“Mark Robinson’s repeated and repulsively violent rhetoric fits into his pattern of spewing division and hate rather than serving North Carolina families,” Morgan Hopkins, a spokesperson for the campaign, said in an email statement. “We cannot have a Governor who calls for extrajudicial killings. Mark Robinson is divisive and dangerous.” 

The statement is in line with the party’s main attack on Robinson: He is too extreme. They have also repeatedly called into question Robinson’s comments about the LGBTQ community, abortion, and education.  

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The Democratic Governors Association agreed, saying his rhetoric should concern voters. 

“After calling for violence against federal law enforcement and spreading hateful conspiracy theories, Mark Robinson is continuing his pattern of chaos, hate, and violence,” Democratic Governors Association Communications Director Sam Newton said in an email statement. “His continuing calls for political violence are incredibly serious, deeply dangerous and he must immediately answer more questions explaining who he was targeting.” 

The Republican candidate’s remarks have lacked context, Robinson’s campaign communication director Mike Lonergan said via email.  

“He’s speaking about the enemies of the U.S. and the Allied Powers during World War II, the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy,” Lonergan said.  

“We’re certain winning World War II is still very popular among North Carolinians of all walks of life,” Lonergan said in response to whether Robinson’s comments would harm his chances of winning moderate votes.  

Too extreme for North Carolina? 

The last time North Carolina voted for a governor and a president, they split the ticket. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper won the Tar Heel state by almost 5 percentage points and Donald Trump won by just over 1 percentage point in 2020.  

Four years later, Michael Bitzer, politics department chair at Catawba College, said he thinks this race will be close and there’s one group of North Carolinians that are going to decide it.  

“North Carolina elections are decided by a very small sliver of the electorate,” Bitzer said. Further saying he believes about 95% of the electorate has already made up their minds, leaving a small, persuadable group.  

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David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College who directs the Meredith poll, said Robinson’s recent speech likely only reaches his base voters.  

“Robinson is definitely going after the Trump base voters with his extreme statements,” McLennan said. “Although risky with independent voters, he is currently running very close to Stein in the most recent polls.” 

It’s unclear if this strategy could win over swing voters, Bitzer said.  

“Whether this kind of intense rhetoric will alienate them, I don’t think anybody knows per se, but I would have to hazard to guess it probably doesn’t persuade them to vote for Robinson if they are much more mainstream or moderate in temperament,” Bitzer said.  

Jason Roberts, political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said, these types of comments from Robinson are likely the greatest threat to his chances at winning. 

“As to this specific speech, it is hard to say if it moves the needle,” Roberts said. “There are lots of controversial remarks out there from other Robinson speeches, so I do not think this is likely to provide a lot of new information to voters or a lot of new material for the Stein campaign.” 

Susan Roberts, professor of political science at Davidson College, said these comments will be tough to walk back even with the context.  

“I can’t see these remarks urging, really persuading unaffiliated voters to get out there,” a group she sees as an important part of the puzzle this election cycle.  

Despite Robinson being the Republican nominee, beating out two competitors in the primary with over 60% of the vote, she can’t see Robinson’s words being representative of all Republicans. 

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