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
Despite the widening gulf between the CCC and mainstream conservatives, the group has held on to some of its political clout outside Mississippi as well. The Council claimed a role in the defeat of Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia in 2002, after Barnes championed a new state flag that de-emphasized Confederate imagery.
CCC officials helped organize several protests aimed (unsuccessfully) at keeping the Confederate battle flag flying over the South Carolina state capitol. They also say they've orchestrated the defeat of two straight South Carolina governors who disagreed with them on the flag issue — Republican David Beasley, who lost in 1998, and Democrat Jim Hodges, defeated in 2002.
During the CCC scandal of 1998-1999, the group had no more ardent defender than South Carolina state Rep. Charles Sharpe, who was proud to say he was a member. "They think like I do," Sharpe told The Miami Herald. Especially on the issue of racial intermarriage.
"Cows and horses don't mix," Sharpe told the Herald. "I don't want any of my people doing it."
Sharpe is now South Carolina's commissioner of agriculture. He was arrested on July 29 and charged with taking at least $20,000 in bribes to protect an illegal cockfighting ring. If he still belongs to the CCC, he has decided to keep quiet about it; Sharpe declined to answer questions for this story.
Another political heavyweight in South Carolina, longtime Democratic state treasurer Grady Patterson, was photographed in his office last year with state CCC chairwoman Frances Bell and her husband, George Bell. Citizens Informer said that the Bells "played a significant role in Patterson's re-election," but Patterson disputes that claim.
Insisting he had never heard of the Council and never authorized any use of the photograph, Patterson expressed his distaste for "organizations like this," saying he fought in World War II "for the American ideal that all men are created equal."
Unlike in 1999, the Republican National Committee has declined to comment about its elected officials' continuing association with the CCC. But Jim Herring, state Republican chairman for Mississippi, was eager to put some distance between the party and the hate group.
Without mentioning the CCC by name, Herring said that the Mississippi GOP would "denounce any group that holds racist views. Any kind of segregationist views. Period. These issues were settled long ago, and we want to look forward, not move backward."
Mississippi's most powerful Republican undoubtedly wishes he had taken that attitude to heart. Three years after he weathered the CCC controversy, Sen. Trent Lott ignited another one when he expressed a view of American political history that could have been lifted straight from the pages of Citizens Informer.
"I want to say this about my state," Lott told an audience gathered for a 100th birthday bash for Sen. Strom Thurmond, who ran for president on the segregationist "Dixiecrat" ticket in 1948. "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either."
Gordon Baum's reaction was swift and celebratory: "Thank God for Trent Lott." But after Lott issued an apology to "anyone who was offended by my statement," the CCC stopped cheering. The Indiana CCC's Web site said Lott's backpedaling showed him to be "little more than a political prostitute."
The second time around, Lott's dalliance with white-supremacist politics cost him the Senate majority leader post that he was about to regain — largely because his comments about Thurmond brought down a hailstorm of criticism from his fellow conservatives, including former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, the National Review's David Frum and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, who simply exclaimed, "Oh God," when he heard about Lott's remarks.
No conservative leader expressed stronger outrage than Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, a powerful right-wing lobbying group. Connor told CBS that he and others on the right were furious because Lott's "thoughtless remarks ... simply reinforce the suspicion that conservatives are closet racists and secret segregationists."
The man who would later replace Connor as head of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, spoke to the Louisiana Council of Conservative Citizens on May 19, 2001. At the time, Perkins was a Republican state legislator.
Perkins, who still heads the Family Research Council and is regularly quoted in media from The New York Times to National Public Radio, has declined to answer questions about his ties to the CCC.
Nia Hightower contributed to this report.