In December 1977, Trudy Busch, heiress to the Anheuser-Busch fortune in Missouri, was crowned “Queen of Love and Beauty” at the controversial Veiled Prophet Ball. Outside, two protesters from a civil rights group, ACTION, were arrested for demonstrating against him. Inside, photos from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch show, Busch stood alongside the “veiled prophet”: a man chosen to oversee the annual ball whose identity remains hidden under a white cloth resembling the balaclavas worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The 1977 ceremony marked a special anniversary for the Veiled Prophet Organization, an elite secret society in Missouri dedicated to maintaining white supremacy and unchecked corporate power. It was founded by former Confederate officers following the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 – an effort to forge a populist, multiracial working-class coalition to oppose the robber barons of the day – and began hosting the ball as its annual celebration after federal troops broke up the workers’ revolt. A hundred years later, the affair was less secret but no less controversial.
Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
It would have been difficult for Busch — now Busch Valentine and incoming Democratic Senate nominee from Missouri — to avoid learning of the controversy. At the time Busch won the title, blacks and Jews were not allowed to join the organization; that would not happen until 1979. In 1972, five years before Busch’s coronation, activist Gena Scott entered the ballroom and unmasked the “veiled prophet”; Scott’s car was then bombed and his house was vandalized. One of the 1977 protesters was arrested for using a “crippling chemical spray” in the case the previous year. And during Busch’s coronation, “there were extensive and extraordinary security measures,” a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article said.
“I believe in the importance of working together and healing divisions – and that starts with acknowledging my own past shortcomings,” Busch Valentine wrote in a statement to The Intercept. “I didn’t quite understand the situation. I should have known better, and I deeply regret and apologize that my actions hurt others. My life and work go far beyond that, and as a candidate for the next U.S. Senator from Missouri, I pledge to work tirelessly to be a force for progress in healing our country’s racial divisions.
Busch came back at least twice more for the ball. The following year, she “walked the hall and chatted with the man wearing the golden tunic and heavy veils of the Prophet before being escorted to her seat amid former queens”, according to a January 1979 article. in the Post Dispatch. And in 1990, after decades of protests from civil rights activists, she returned to be honored alongside other former queens. (The event still continues today.)
The prom story exploded in the mainstream press last year when it was revealed that Hollywood actor and Missouri native Ellie Kemper of the TV show ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ had been crowned queen in 1999 Kemper issued a lengthy apology, saying he had no knowledge of the organization’s sordid foundation – although the Klan-like insignia, including the high wizard-like costumes, should have been a clue.
Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Busch); Collections of the Ted Dargan/Missouri Historical Society (ACTION protest)
Monday, Busch Valentine announced a Senate candidacy in the Democratic primary. Her late and unexpected campaign to succeed retired Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., coincided with the exit from the race of former Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton, who immediately endorsed her.
Sifton had received support from many elected Missouri Democrats, including state auditor Nicole Galloway, but struggled to raise funds. Leading challenger and political outsider Lucas Kunce, a populist Navy veteran, had outplayed him — along with the many Republicans in the race. In Busch Valentine, the Missouri Democratic Party will get a high-profile donor and insider, the one who held a fundraiser for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 at her family estate. His brother August Busch III is also a prolific donor, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Republican primary candidate and his potential general election rival, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
The seat is generally seen as a shoo-in for Republicans, though the allegations against GOP frontrunner, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, could create an opening for Democrats. Greitens resigned from the governorship in 2018 after being accused of sexual abuse and campaign finance violations. In a court filing last week, his ex-wife Sheena Greitens, a professor of public policy at the University of Texas at Austin, accused him of physically assaulting her and one of their sons.
The Senate candidate has denied all the allegations and has consistently portrayed himself as the victim of a witch hunt like former President Donald Trump, a narrative that has so far been successful with primary voters, who consistently rank him as their first choice. But many in the Republican Party establishment have concerns. In 2012, former Democratic senator Claire McCaskill won after her Republican opponent was criticized for bizarrely claiming that there was “legitimate rape” in response to a question about abortion. After the allegations last week, Blunt, who did not announce an endorsement, called on Greitens to drop out of the race. Meanwhile, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., threw his support behind Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., setting her up for a rise to replace Greitens.