Mississippi Senator Trent Lott and Georgia Congressman Bob Barr Have Connections to White Supremacist Group Council of Conservative Citizens
When a race hate scandal engulfed a right-wing group in 1998, politicians ran for cover. They didn't stay away long
By Heidi Beirich and Bob Moser
Earlier this year, while President George W. Bush went to Topeka, Kan., to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the CCC's Web site published a story about the historic impact of the decision. The writer was Edgar Steele, one of America's most vociferous anti-Semites.
"Just a lousy fifty years," Steele lamented. "After hundreds of thousands, even millions, of years of evolution, it took just fifty years [for America] to devolve into something on par with Senegal."
Since the 1999 scandal stripped much of the remaining varnish off the CCC's mainstream pretensions, the extremist views expressed on its Web site and in its newspaper have become increasingly direct, even crude. "What do you call ... four blacks, three hispanics, three Russian Jews, and one white guy?" the CCC home page asked last year. "The FBI's Most Wanted List!"
Another home page ran photos of accused Beltway snipers John Muhammad and John Malvo, 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reed. "Notice a Pattern Here?" asked a caption underneath the four photos. "Is the face of death black after all?"
After the NAACP declared its boycott of South Carolina because the state continued to fly the Confederate battle flag over the Capitol dome, the CCC distributed a mock advertisement proclaiming, "South Carolina Now Has Whiter Beaches!" The ad urged Caucasians to vacation in South Carolina and "enjoy a civil liberty that has been denied to them for many years at hotels, restaurants and beaches: the freedom to associate with just one's own people."
In 2002, the Web site featured a photo of Daniel Pearl, the "Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter" who had just been decapitated by Islamic terrorists. In the photo, Pearl was shown with his "mixed-race wife, Marianne." The headline above the couple's picture read: "Death by Multiculturalism?"
The danger "of race-mixing" has been a consistent theme since the days of the White Citizens Councils. "God is the author of racism," according to a story on the CCC's Web site in 2001. "God is the One who divided mankind into different types. ... Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God." Along with such theological arguments, Citizens Informer has published countless stories detailing "scientific" evidence for white people's inherent superiority.
Writing about Brown vs. Board of Education last spring, contributor Michael Polignano noted that many commentators were using the anniversary to talk about "how far America still falls short of racial equality."
According to Polignano, that lack of progress "should surprise no one, because racial inequality is genetic and cannot be changed by social programs. ... Blacks are on average probably less intelligent than Whites and more aggressive, impulsive and prone to psychopathologies."
Flexing Their Muscles
The CCC's increasingly bald extremism hasn't just been rhetorical. This spring, national officer Sam Dickson, an attorney, represented the Council at neo-Nazi David Duke's prison-release party in New Orleans. Along with leaders of America's neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denial movements, Dickson signed Duke's "New Orleans Protocol," pledging to work with other hate groups to achieve their collective dream of a white America.
Even though it has largely left "respectability" behind, the Council still wields a big political stick in Mississippi, where it claims some 5,000 members. The Council helped organize opposition to a 2001 referendum to change Mississippi's state flag to a less Dixie-fied design (the flag included a miniature representation of the Confederate battle flag). The referendum's thumping defeat in a racially polarized vote — 64% to 36% — was a major victory for the CCC.
The Council also flexed some muscle in last year's gubernatorial election, which pitted incumbent Democrat Ronnie Musgrove — who led the fight to change the Mississippi state flag — against Republican Haley Barbour. During the campaign, the CCC Web site ran a photograph of Barbour posing with Council luminaries at the Black Hawk Barbecue, a CCC fundraising event for "private academy" school buses.
When the photo caused a stir, Barbour was quick to call the CCC's segregationist views "indefensible." But he refused to ask that his picture be taken down from the Web site. It was a matter of principle, Barbour explained. "Once you start down the slippery slope of saying, 'That person can't be for me,' then where do you stop?" he asked. "Old segregationists? Former Ku Klux Klan?"
State NAACP President Eugene Bryant wasn't buying that argument. "If you cannot say what's right and do what's right and tell people when they're wrong," Bryant told The Associated Press, "then we really don't need a governor like that."
Mississippi voters disagreed. In November, Barbour easily defeated Musgrove. Ironically enough, before he became governor, Barbour had been best known as a former Republican National Committee chairman — preceding Jim Nicholson, the man who called the CCC "racist" and asked party members to cut their ties with the group.
See No Evil
During the 1998-1999 controversy, as Southern politicians were making haste to distance themselves from the CCC, Gordon Baum shot back a warning. The Council ceo told The Washington Post that by shunning the group, the Republican Party was "doing a pretty good job of running off" white, working-class voters in Dixie.
"The Wallace-Reagan Democrats are the ones who made the Republicans have enough votes to win," Baum said. "Sometimes it's remarkable how dumb [party leaders] are. They let the liberal media run their campaigns. They apparently don't even know why these people vote Republican."
Five years later, it is rare to find an office-holder, even in the Council's Mississippi stronghold, who will admit to being a CCC member. But those "Wallace-Reagan Democrats" are not being ignored — not by the 23 Mississippi lawmakers who've attended CCC events in the past four years.
Some of these officials said that despite its national notoriety and deep roots in Mississippi, they weren't fully aware who they were talking to when they addressed the CCC.
"I know very little about the group," Kay Cobb, presiding justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, told the Intelligence Report. During her 2000 campaign, Cobb said she "accepted every offer to speak" — a policy that led her to two separate CCC events that year.
At the first one, Cobb introduced speaker Virginia Abernethy, a retired Vanderbilt University psychiatry and anthropology professor and self-described white "separatist" who serves on the hate group's editorial advisory board (see White Supremacy); also attending that day were Baum and Tom Dover, national CCC president. Cobb said she spoke "at the invitation of an elderly couple, friends of the family."
She said she has "never been" a member of the CCC, "which I perceive to be a very small, loosely knit group of ultra-conservative, mostly older, white, rural citizens."
Asked about his speech to the Great Southern CCC in Jackson this February, state Rep. Bill Denny first told the Intelligence Report, "I have no idea who in the world that might be. I can't imagine taking an invitation like that." But during the interview, Denny's recall improved. He remembered that another legislator had "called and asked if I would come over to speak to some groups in his district."
Though he was asked to "speak on the Voting Rights Act," Denny said he was under the impression that the CCC was "a business group." Instead, he says, it turned out to be "kind of a rough-looking group, I'm telling you."
Denny paused thoughtfully, then added, "I gotta be careful what I say."
Some of Denny's colleagues said they knew a little more about the CCC — but not enough to stop them from meeting the members. "I think that it is an organization that preserves some of the symbols of something, like the Sons of Confederate Veterans," said state Rep. Gary Chism, who has spoken at three CCC gatherings since 2001.
State Rep. Danny Reed said he had "seen some of their literature from the national organization" and could understand why the CCC had been designated a hate group. But Reed still saw no problem with addressing the Webster County CCC twice during his latest campaign, in April and September of 2003.
"I'm not a member," he said, "and I haven't been to any meetings except when I was speaking." Plus, he said, "I'm not familiar with any activities that the local organization has been involved in that would be considered a hate crime or anything like that."
When state Rep. John Moore was asked about his two speeches to CCC chapters, he replied with a question: "Is the NAACP on you-all's hit list?" Told that it was not, Moore joked, "Well, they need to be." In a more serious vein, Moore said that he would "not brand" the CCC "as a KKK-style organization," and added that he felt "very comfortable" meeting with Council members.
"They had folks there in suits and ties, and folks who just left the garage," Moore said. "It was very diverse occupationally."
State Rep. Tommy Woods, the rare legislator who will still 'fess up to being a CCC member, strongly disputed the hate-group label. "That's not true, lady," he told the Intelligence Report. "It's very conservative, Christian people that believe in Jesus as their savior. I've never known any one of them to do anything that would cause anyone any suffering. They've helped people. We've had blacks come to our meetings and had no problems."
Shannon Warnock tells a different story. While she was serving as Haley Barbour's campaign liaison to conservative groups, Warnock accepted an invitation to speak on his behalf to the Greater Jackson and Southern Magnolia CCC. Warnock says that Barbour, perhaps sniffing trouble after his own encounter with Council members at the Black Hawk Barbecue, warned her it was "not a good idea" to go.
But Warnock went anyhow — and, after being bombarded with intemperate questions and intolerant attitudes, came away convinced that "hate group is probably an appropriate term" for the CCC. "It was the low point of my campaign experience," said Warnock.