Running on Race

Racially charged political campaigns in four states

While the U.S. radical right doesn't yet have its own Jean-Marie Le Pen, extremist politicians have been making waves — and winning a surprising amount of support — in local and statewide elections across the country.

In a related case, an Alabama congressman's supporters are accused of being behind an anti-Semitic attack pamphlet.

In 1992, Scott Sutterlin was featured on a "Geraldo" show taped at a Klan rally, proclaiming that black people should have been sent "back to Africa a long time ago."

A decade later, he entered a state Senate race in southern Illinois — and garnered a healthy 10% of the Republican primary vote.

Sutterlin didn't win votes by running away from his past; in fact, he added a new twist, advocating that U.S. forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan and re-deployed along the Mexican border to put a stop to immigration.

Denying that he is a racist, Sutterlin slightly softened his earlier view of African Americans to suggest that their return to Africa should be optional, and that "we should pay their way if that's what they want."

Resegregation was also a campaign platform for Joseph C. Keller, who earlier this year won 7% of the votes in a run for mayor of Ballwin, Mo.

Keller, who hosts a cable-access television show called White Power!, vowed to make Ballwin an "Aryan freedom zone with segregated schools."

In Mobile, Ala., a leader of the white supremacist Council for Conservative Citizens (CCC) spent the spring trying to convert his own small measure of local fame into votes for the state House of Representatives.

Twenty-nine-year-old Tim Meadows, a painting contractor who claims to be descended from two Confederate generals, was arrested last November after crossing a police line with a Confederate battle flag and joining a Veterans Day march uninvited.

Meadows, who faces a 24-year incumbent in the June Republican primary, calls himself "an average everyday workingman that's just fed up."

In another Alabama case, Harvard-educated attorney Artur Davis accused supporters of five-term Congressman Earl Hilliard of circulating an anti-Semitic flier attacking Davis.

The men, both black, were in a three-way battle to win a June Democratic primary race. The one-page flier, entitled "Davis and the Jews, No Good for the Black Belt [an area of Alabama]," was being distributed by a Hilliard aide and may have been written by Hilliard consultants, a Davis spokesman said.

The flier attacked Davis for supporting Israel's "policy of complete domination" and for sending blacks to prison as a federal prosecutor. Hilliard denied having anything to do with the "deplorable" flier and accused Davis of being behind it.

In South Carolina, a leader of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens is running for governor.

Rebekah "Reb" Sutherland, who writes an inflammatory column about educational issues, joined a crowded field for the Republican gubernatorial primary in June.

Sutherland, who is on the CCC's ruling council, raised a few eyebrows when she called leaders of the NAACP "domestic terrorists" for their campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds.

Then, after the Charleston Post and Courier criticized Sutherland's remarks, she wrote a letter announcing that she had been "called into this race" by higher powers.

"When you attack me, if God chooses to come to my defense, then I am not responsible for what happens to you, your family, or your newspaper," Sutherland fumed darkly. "God is moving to set His children free. It is my duty to warn you."