The Mississippi Legislature has voted once again to honor an occasion organized by a staunch white supremacist.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate approved resolutions last week designating March 2 “The Spirit of America Day” to commemorate the achievements of standout male high school athletes in Mississippi. What the resolutions fail to mention is that “The Spirit of America Day” events are hosted by Richard Barrett, an attorney in Learned, Miss., and the head of the Nationalist Movement, a white supremacist organization that advocates striking down civil rights laws and organizes white power events nationwide.
He’s also chairman of the board of America’s Foundation, the Mississippi sports organization that’s sponsoring “The Spirit of America Day.” The day involves bringing the chosen students to the Mississippi capital of Jackson for an awards ceremony and other activities. This year, seven teenagers were selected on the basis of their athleticism, leadership and citizenship.
“The endeavors of these individual students to be productive and contributing members of society provide the model example for other students to pattern themselves after, in efforts of becoming notable and model citizens for future generations to come,” states the resolution adopted by the House.
That resolution passed on a voice vote even after Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson told his fellow representatives that Barrett was “an avowed racist,” according to the Associated Press. “He’s not ashamed of it; he doesn’t apologize for it,” Johnson said.
Some lawmakers seemed to feel that the resolution was acceptable because it honored the students rather than Barrett. “I’m not concerned about this individual,” Democratic Rep. Joe Warren told the AP. “I’m concerned about these young people being honored by this.”
The resolution is expected to be reconsidered this week; some lawmakers have suggested omitting the “The Spirit of America Day” references from the resolution as a way to avoid helping Barrett while still commending the teenagers.
Nonetheless, Barrett sounded pleased about the resolutions’ passage in an interview with the AP on Friday. “I think that’s a good lesson of how patriotism and Americanism depend on majority rule,” he said. “It’s a great lesson in democracy that we’re learning.”
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have hailed “The Spirit of America Day,” now in its 39th year. “The Mississippi government’s repeated recognition of him [Barrett] would be a comical Ground Hog Day parody but for the vitriol of his bigotry,” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, told Hatewatch.
Barrett, 65, has long denigrated minorities. In his 1982 autobiography, The Commission, he called for resettling non-white Americans to “Puerto Rico, Mexico, Israel, the Orient and Africa,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. He also argued that “the Negro race … possess[es] no creativity of its own [and] pulls the vitality away from civilization.” And he favored sterilization and abortions of those deemed “unfit.”
Never one to miss an opportunity to exploit racial tension, Barrett marched on Martin Luther King Day last year in Jena, La., to deride King and the six black teenagers subjected to unusually harsh prosecutions for an attack on a white student. Nationalist Movement members and supporters chanted slogans such as, “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right.”
Last fall, he planned a Louisville rally in support of James Forde Seale, who was convicted of facilitating the Klan murder of two black teenagers. (The conviction was later overturned on a technicality by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.)
Barrett has also campaigned on behalf of other 1960s-era racist killers. After Byron de la Beckwith was convicted in 1994 of assassinating civil rights leader Medgar Evers, Barrett circulated a petition and led a march seeking a pardon from the Mississippi governor. In 2004, Barrett tried to sponsor a booth at the Mississippi State Fair backing Edgar Ray Killen, the former Klan leader who was found guilty of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of three civil rights workers.
Although he suggested to the AP that he doesn’t share his racist views at “Spirit of America” events, the day isn’t Barrett’s only youth outreach effort. Barrett invited skinheads to his home in December 1988 for a weekend of paramilitary training, according to the ADL. The few teenagers who attended tried to hit a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. during target practice, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.
Despite criticizing the violence encouraged by certain extremist groups, Barrett currently runs an online forum for skinheads, where last week he referred to Obama as “Chimpanzee-in-Chief.” His racist message is a hit with the young men who post there. “No matter how many laws you pass a white woman will always be the ultimate prize and target of black men,” reads one recent post. “Long live you my brave brothers and thank God for this forum and the wise words of Richard Barrett.”