Roy Moore, Long Divisive in His Hometown, and Even More So Now

Mr. Moore, many people say, clearly had a fondness for younger women in decades past. When he got married to his wife, Kayla in 1985, he was 38 and she was 24. But around Gadsden, a city of 36,000 in the foothills along the Coosa River, opinions about the recent allegations tend to follow lines that were etched long before.

“I simply cannot believe it,” said Albert Morgan, 92, a retired pastor who was sitting down to a meal of chicken and potatoes to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. “He went to West Point, and then he was in the Vietnam War. He’s very intelligent. I’ve always admired and respected him.”

Mr. Morgan’s daughter, Sheila Christian, who had just turned 68, said she was deeply suspicious of the accusers.

“Let’s look at these people’s past,” Ms. Christian, who works in a doctor’s office, said. “Roy Moore — if he did it, that’s between him and God.”

Gadsden has a long blue-collar history, sustained for most of the last century by textile mills, a steel mill — now closed — and a tire-manufacturing plant. It is also a city of churchgoers.

But it is not a well of unfettered support for Mr. Moore. In a runoff for the Republican Senate nomination in September, Mr. Moore won 57 percent of the vote in the county — less than he earned in 42 of Alabama’s other 66 counties. It is easier to find signs for his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, than for Mr. Moore.

But even in a place that has long ago been polarized over Mr. Moore, there are hints of nagging doubt among his supporters, and admissions by critics that they still want more clarity about the allegations.

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that a woman said Mr. Moore had a sexual encounter with her in 1979, when she was 14 years old, and he was 32. Three other women told the paper that Mr. Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18. On Monday at a news conference in New York, a fifth woman, Beverly Young Nelson, alleged that Mr. Moore violently sexually assaulted her in Etowah County when she was 16 years old.

Photo
Beverly Young Nelson, left, with her lawyer Gloria Allred, during a news conference on Monday where she accused Mr. Moore of sexually assaulting her.

Credit
Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America

Mr. Moore’s campaign has denied that he engaged in “any sexual misconduct with anyone.”

“I don’t see him backing down,” said Wanda Fugatt, 48, who works at a store along Broad Street. The timing of all this was fishy, she said, and the accusers would have been more believable if they had come forward six months earlier. She said she hopes that Mr. Moore wins and she did not think he would step out of the race, as many Republican leaders have called on him to do. Unless.

“Unless he is sitting there completely guilty, knowing that he’s completely guilty,” she said. “Then I say he may take himself out of the race. But not yet. No, it ain’t time yet.”

Those who insist they are not politically aligned with Mr. Moore have their own questions about the recent allegations.

“I think it’s a little weird that they’re coming up 40 years later and making these accusations.” said B.J. Morris, 79, a retired professor on her way out of a Chick-fil-A. Still, she said, “I believe it’s true.”

Kathy Fowler, who processes tax credits and who was smoking a cigarette outside of a pub as darkness fell on Monday night, said the newest accuser had made her even more sure of Mr. Moore’s guilt.

“If it was one, I might question it,” she said. “Now they’re popping up. One did a news conference — that holds a lot of ground with me.”

Like many here, her decision about whether or not to support Mr. Moore was already made.

“He’s not going to get my vote,” she said. “But he wasn’t going to get it anyway.”

Billy Smith, an insurance salesman, said he did not know what to do with the information. The allegations were just allegations, he said, not proven in a court of law.

“If he did the crime, obviously it’s disgusting and that breaks my heart for anyone that suffered,” he said. “The other thing is, it’s a little suspicious at this point because it’s taken so long for things to come out.”

Mr. Smith, a Republican, had decided earlier that Mr. Moore was “not intellectually sound enough” to be a Senator. But he was also strongly anti-abortion, and could not fathom voting for a Democrat. He said he might sit the December 12 election out.

Whatever happens in the election, stories long murmured around Gadsden are now out and have to be reckoned with. For some here, the controversy that comes along with that may not have been worth it.

“American people have become a bucket of crabs,” said John Leach, 51, who was reclining at his desk behind a warren of jewelry cases in a shop in downtown Gadsden. “Everybody’s trying to grab each other, destroy each other.”

“Do I think he did it? I think something went on,” Mr. Leach continued. Still, he said, his accusers should have come forward years ago. Or, maybe they should have kept to themselves. Just because long-buried bad things are true does not mean they should be unburied.

“I’m a black guy, 51 years old,” Mr. Leach said. “What would it be like if I started digging up racism? It would be a mess, it would keep it going on and on. Let’s just leave the bones in the cemetery.”

Continue reading the main story

Read Story

Can't Get Enough NewsReportOnline?

Sign up for NewsReportOnline newsletter and get the latest news straight to your inbox!