Ralph Perry Forbes (1940–2018)
Ralph Forbes was an Arkansas political operator, minister, and former leader in the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. He entered the Arkansas political scene in the Ronald Reagan era, when Arkansas Republicans had seen the election of a Republican governor and two GOP congressmen but were still so weak at the down-ballot level that low filing fees attracted fringe candidates that caused the party no end of embarrassment less than two decades after the heyday of Republican governor Winthrop Rockefeller. One of these fringe candidates was a one-time high official in the American Nazi Party who ultimately made his way to Pope County in the Arkansas River Valley.
Ralph Perry Forbes was born on March 12, 1940, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and his family moved to Flint, Michigan, when he was a boy. He earned his GED after enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1957, and during his six-year enlistment, he married Karen Paula Wright in Washington State; they had twelve children.
After leaving the marines in 1963, he became acquainted with George Lincoln Rockwell, a former U.S. Navy officer who founded the American Nazi Party in the late 1950s. Due to his close relationship with Rockwell, he rapidly advanced in the party, ultimately to the rank of captain and commander of its western division. In 1963, he moved to Redondo Beach, California, where he became a frequent speaker on college campuses. He attempted to organize Nazi rallies in that city’s public parks but was stopped by the Redondo Beach City Council. Accepting representation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Forbes won a judgment in superior court allowing him to hold his rally on August 31, 1963. He canceled the rally, however, after being unable to post the required $5,000 bond, but the case was the beginning of a long love-hate relationship with the ACLU.
He was arrested and jailed for a time in Chicago, Illinois, in 1966 for attempting to interfere with the arrest of Rockwell for inciting a riot. After several more unsuccessful attempts to hold Nazi rallies in southern California, and the assassination of Rockwell in 1967, he began to look for a new base as his party declined. Forbes began to drift to the white supremacist Christian Identity movement, gained ministerial credentials, and settled with his family on a farm in Arkansas near London (Pope County) in 1972. He called the organization that he established there Sword of Christ Good News Ministries. He soon met Thom Robb of Boone County, another minster in the Christian Identity movement and the head of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Working variously as a carpenter and farmer, Forbes also produced anti-Semitic tracts, tapes, and brochures, which were monitored by groups like the Anti-Defamation League. In one tape, Forbes stated that “the multi-headed Jew Beast is setting the stage for the final bloody conflict of Armageddon.” He also sent cards urging people to buy Christmas gifts only from Christian merchants, saying “Kick the Jew habit.” In 1982, he began filing a long string of federal lawsuits, most of which were decided against him. (He also started to call himself “Judgebuster,” a play on the movie Ghostbusters.) The first lawsuit questioned the right of U.S. District Judge Henry Woods to make rulings in the long-running Pulaski County school desegregation case. In 1985, he attempted to file as a candidate for the Little Rock School Board but was denied because he did not meet residency requirements. He continued to file suits questioning the federal court rulings in the school case, some with Warren Carpenter, a retired Little Rock School District teacher and administrator turned strident segregationist and, like Forbes, fringe candidate. In 1986, he filed a federal suit alleging that Halloween should not be observed, as it was “the Christmas of the anti-Christs.”
Forbes went statewide in 1986 when he filed for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. With the blessing and encouragement of the party’s presumptive nominee, former governor Frank White, party leaders recruited Gene Nobles, a former state trooper and owner of a private investigation firm, to run in the primary against Forbes. Forbes sought to downplay his Nazi past and polled a stronger than expected forty-seven percent of the vote. When Nobles withdrew some weeks later, Forbes unsuccessfully sought to be certified as the replacement nominee. Weeks later, Forbes asked to be placed on the ballot that November as the candidate of the America First Party for the U.S. Senate, but a state court ruled that he had missed the deadline for ballot access. He then received fifty-two votes as a write-in candidate.
Just before Halloween 1986, he filed suit in federal court against Satan, the Church of Satan, the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas Education Association, and the Russellville School District on behalf of himself, “Jesus Christ, and Children” to end “all non-Christian rituals in public schools,” which again implied Halloween. The suit further alleged that “the Arkansas educational system was playing footsie with Satan by permitting pupils to wear costumes to school on Halloween.” Federal judge George Howard agreed to hear the case, and prominent defense lawyer John Wesley Hall Jr. agreed to defend Satan “at no cost to the devil himself.” Hall argued that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence that “Satan transacts business, owns property or has committed torts in Arkansas.” Hall also argued that a lawsuit between Jesus and his client “cannot be litigated in federal court under provisions of the First Amendment.” Howard dismissed the suit.
But Forbes was not done. Between 1988 and 1990, he spent much time in Louisiana working on the campaigns of David Duke, another former Imperial Wizard of the Klan, in his campaigns for the Louisiana House, president, and U.S. Senate. In the spring of 1990, he returned to Arkansas to file for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor again and found himself in a three-way field with printing company owner Robert Breaux of Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Kenneth “Muskie” Harris, an African American Little Rock businessman and Razorback football letterman. The race was little noticed due to the intense gubernatorial primary between Sheffield Nelson and Tommy Robinson, but once that was settled, Forbes had emerged with forty-six percent of the vote and a runoff berth with Harris, who trailed by eight points.
Events moved quickly as national attention focused on the first ever statewide GOP runoff in Arkansas. As the party organization and all of Forbes’s would-be ticket mates, led by Nelson, united against him, Forbes increased his racial invectives. He referred to the Klan as “a godly institution” that had received bad press and stated that the basic tenet of his religion was the preservation of the white race. He accused runoff opponent Harris of being a cocaine addict and said that the candidate sold drugs in inner-city Little Rock to reverse business losses. He attempted several times to meet with Nelson, who ignored him. The week before the June 12 runoff, he arrived for a television appearance at KARK Channel 4. There, Little Rock activist Robert “Say” McIntosh appeared in the lobby and began hitting Forbes. McIntosh later claimed to endorse him but was eventually jailed for assault in the matter. But four weeks of damage to what was left of Forbes’s image had been done, and he was given a final repudiation by the GOP, emerging from the runoff with just fourteen percent of the vote.
After 1990, Forbes filed several more lawsuits against various officials and made two congressional bids: as an independent in 1992 and as a member of Ross Perot’s Reform Party, the latter which he lost in 1998 to future governor Asa Hutchinson. He never sought public office again, retreating to his farm and his Christian Identity activities.
Forbes’s 1990 bid marked the beginning of the end of an era in which the Republican Party was too feeble fend off the embarrassment of candidates with his kind of notoriety.
Forbes’s health declined after his wife’s death in 2004, and he spent his last years in a Russellville (Pope County) nursing home until his death on June 10, 2018. He is buried in the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock (Pulaski County).
For additional information:
“1986: When a Former Nazi Sued Satan in the Name of Jesus Christ.” Groovy History: Culture, October 21, 2019. https://groovyhistory.com/halloween-lawsuit-against-satan-nazi-ralph-forbes (accessed November 1, 2023).
“Drug Use Denied Again.” Arkansas Gazette, June 7, 1990, pp. 1B, 6B.
Ford, Renae. “McIntosh Guilty of Assault.” Arkansas Gazette, August 16, 1990, p. 1B.
Gnerre, Sam. “The American Nazi Party’s Attempts to Establish Itself in the South Bay.” South Bay History, January 4, 2014. http://blogs.dailybreeze.com/history/2014/01/04/the-american-nazi-partys-attempts-to-establish-itself-in-the-south-bay/ (accessed November 1, 2023).
Lyons, Gene. “South Doesn’t Want ’50s Back.” Indiana Gazette, April 28, 2018. https://www.indianagazette.com/opinion/south-doesn-t-want-s-back/article_deed54ad-7d9f-529a-bb31-d4862158b4fe.html (accessed November 1, 2023).
Nelson, Rex. “One-Time Nazi Takes Lumps, Surfaces as House Candidate.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 11, 1992.
“Obituary: Ralph Perry Forbes.” Humphrey Funeral Service https://www.humphreyfuneral.com/obituary/Ralph-Forbes-3 (accessed November 1, 2023).
Reed, John. “Forbes Softens Racist Rhetoric to Gain Votes.” Arkansas Gazette, June 10, 1990, pp. 1A, 14A.
———. “Forbes Visit Misses Nelson.” Arkansas Gazette, June 9, 1990, pp. 1B, 6B.
“Voters Face Racial Choice in Arkansas Runoff.” New York Times, June 12, 1990.
Wells, George. “‘Judgebuster’ Now Asking Jurists to Ban Satanic Halloween Activities.” Arkansas Gazette, November 2, 1986.
Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism
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