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Mississippi lawmakers have short memories.
That, at least, may be the kindest explanation for their latest decision to laud an occasion organized by a staunch white supremacist. In what has become an absurd yearly tradition, the Mississippi House voted last month to approve a resolution honoring high school student athletes who took part in “The Spirit of America Day” on March 1. As in the past, the resolution does not mention that the day’s events — which have traditionally included an awards ceremony and other activities at the state Capitol — are hosted by Richard Barrett, a Learned, Miss., lawyer who leads a white supremacist organization.
“The thing that is so bizarre about embracing one of the most longstanding and notorious neo-Nazis for a civics lesson is that they keep doing it repeatedly,” Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at the California State University, San Bernardino, told Hatewatch. “To make a mistake of that nature once, I don’t know if it’s forgivable, but twice is downright reprehensible. It would be funny if it weren’t disgusting.”
House Rules Committee Chairman Joe Warren told The Associated Press that he had talked to some black legislators, who weren’t opposed to the resolution if it didn’t include Barrett’s name. “They didn’t seem to have any problems with it as long as it was geared just toward these young people, who evidently are great kids academically and athletically,” he said.
Now in its 40th year, “The Spirit of America Day” recognizes exceptional male athletes in Mississippi. It most recently was hailed by the Mississippi Legislature last year, when both the state House and Senate approved resolutions declaring March 2, 2009, “The Spirit of America Day.” However, the resolution later died in the House after some lawmakers argued it was unacceptable to promote an occasion sponsored by an avowed racist.
That didn’t stop the House from adopting a similar resolution a year later, this Feb. 17. No resolution was brought to the Senate this year for approval.
Barrett’s Nationalist Movement advocates striking down civil rights laws and organizes white-power events nationwide. In his 1982 biography, Barrett, now 66, called for resettling non-white Americans, asserted that “the Negro race … possess[es] no creativity of its own,” and proposed sterilization and abortions for those deemed “unfit.” He has campaigned on behalf of several 1960s-era racist killers, including James Forde Seale, who facilitated the Klan murder of two black teenagers; Byron de la Beckwith, who assassinated civil rights leader Medgar Evers; and Edgar Ray Killen, who was convicted of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.
Barrett has also organized white supremacist rallies that have garnered local and national headlines. In 2008, he marched on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Jena, La., to deride King and the six black teenagers subjected to unusually harsh prosecutions for an attack on a white student. Among the slogans chanted by movement members and supporters: “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right.”