Racist Council of Conservative Citizens Finds Home in Mainstream Politics
Gordon Lee Baum was having a bad day. Standing in a Jackson, Miss., hotel meeting room in November, the 58-year-old lawyer and leader of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) was doing his best to portray his organization as mainstream.
Gov. Kirk Fordice was scheduled to speak the next day to more than 300 people attending the CCC's national board meeting, lending the group the kind of political credibility that Baum has sought continually during his 14 years as chief executive officer.
But then David Duke, the former Klan leader and unrepentant racist, showed up and spoiled the party.
"Hi, Gordon," Duke told Baum with a toothy smile.
"Damn you, Dave," Baum said, later threatening a local newspaper with a lawsuit if it reported that Duke was part of the CCC conference.
"Don't say you're involved with us," Baum said. "The politicians won't show up. We use these politicians. The main reason people won't become involved, they're afraid. But if they see important people, they'll become involved because they think the water's safe and there's no sharks out there."
In the end, Baum allowed Duke to sell his literature, but only until the politicians were to show up the next day. Duke on his own was not the problem. It was the bad press.
And how had the reporters known to show up? Who tipped the local black newspaper and others off that Duke had appeared at this "mainstream" gathering?
"One of the niggers at the front desk," Baum fumed.
White Citizens Councils Reborn
Baum's comment — which he denied in an interview with the Intelligence Report — was much more than the slip of an irate tongue. Despite the fact that his group has flirted with such politicians as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Gov. Fordice and Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), the CCC has racism at its core.
Indeed, the Council of Conservative Citizens is the reincarnation of the racist White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s.
Formed by Baum in 1985, the CCC claims 15,000 dues-paying members. Like its predecessor White Citizens Councils, the CCC's greatest strength is in the South, primarily Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, where it claims 34 state legislators and 5,000 other members. The CCC has members in 22 states and its influence now reaches California and the East Coast from Florida to New York.
Its main publication, Citizens Informer, circulates to 20,000 subscribers. While its local chapters have taken up a variety of issues, the CCC in general has focused on national issues like support for the Confederate battle flag and opposition to affirmative action, school busing and non-white immigration.
But its chief interest remains race.
"Western civilization with all its might and glory would never have achieved its greatness without the directing hand of God and the creative genius of the white race," influential CCC columnist Robert "Tut" Patterson wrote in the Informer last fall.
"Any effort to destroy the race by a mixture of black blood is an effort to destroy Western civilization itself... ."
"Let us pray that our citizens will awaken and vote themselves out of this dilemma," Patterson wrote last spring. "There is still time. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 should be repealed!"
The Council's Predecessor
Robert Patterson is no stranger to the world of organized racism. He founded the original Citizens Councils of America (CCA) — commonly known as the White Citizens Councils — in the wake of the Supreme Court's May 17, 1954, Brown v. Board of Education ruling, outlawing "separate but equal" black and white school systems.
"Integration represents darkness, regimentation, totalitarianism, communism and destruction," Patterson, the great-grandson of a Confederate general, said at the time. "Segregation represents the freedom to choose one's associates ... the survival of the white race.
"These two ideologies are now engaged in mortal conflict and only one can survive. They cannot be fused any more than day can exist without night. The twilight of this great white nation would certainly follow."
Patterson's CCA organized private, whites-only schools, boycotted black merchants who supported school desegregation and black voting rights, flooded the South with segregationist literature and supported segregationist politicians.
But the group also came to be known widely as the "white-collar Klan."
While it sought a veneer of social respectability, the CCA membership had significant overlap with that of the Klan, and was tied in some instances to violence. In 1960, a segregationist riot followed a New Orleans CCA meeting where members were told, "These Congolese rape your daughters."
Byron de la Beckwith, murderer of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was a key member of the Greenwood, Miss., CCA chapter, which raised money for his defense.
As a group, today's CCC has no similar record of violence.
But an alleged member, Marshall Catterton, flew into a rage last year when a black youth, 15-year-old Jason Riley, tried to tear down a CCC sign promoting the Confederate flag that Catterton had erected earlier.
Catterton shot and wounded Riley in the chest with a .38-caliber handgun. In an interview with The Press & Standard of Colleton County, S.C., Baum said he might react "just as Catterton did" in the same situation.
The links between the CCA and the CCC are not tenuous. In addition to Patterson, Baum was for years during the 1960s the White Citizens Councils' midwest field organizer. Bill Lord, the CCC's current Mississippi leader, was a regional CCA organizer. Baum and other CCC leaders have acknowledged that they built their group on the basis of the mailing lists of the old White Citizens Councils.
Four years ago, one leader boasted that the principles of the CCA had been successfully integrated into the CCC. Both groups have employed a strategy of surface respectability backed by open racism.
By the 1970s, the CCA had lost its battle against desegregation. But the 1980s brought new struggles for its former members, with increased immigration from Central America and Asia rekindling racist fears of white extinction.
In 1985, a group of 30 white men met in Atlanta to decide what to do about it. Many of them were old CCA members like Baum, former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox and John Rarick, a former four-term Congressman from Louisiana. The group hoped to build unity on the far right.
On March 7, 1985, the Council of Conservative Citizens was born. The CCC was set up on that day as a 501(c)4, meaning that it does not pay taxes but that donations are not tax-deductible.
The same day, Baum organized the Conservative Citizens' Foundation as a 501(c)3. Donations to the foundation, unlike the CCC, are tax deductible.