09/11/2006

Congressman Addresses Hate Group

By Alexander Zaitchik

For a college football game day, the South Carolina State Museum in downtown Columbia was a busy place on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 9.

On the ground floor, a United States Army brass band commemorated the victims of 9/11. One level up, not far from the museum's permanent Confederate Army exhibit, the state chapter of the League of the South (LOS), a neo-Confederate hate group, hosted a barbeque in honor of Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, head of the House Immigration Reform Caucus. Proceeds from the $15 per-plate fundraiser went to Americans Have Had Enough!, a South Carolina-based non-profit coalition for which Tancredo serves as honorary chairman.

While Tancredo's hard-line "deport 'em all" stance on immigration has made him a favorite politician of white supremacists, this marked the first time the congressman has appeared at a hate group event.

Dressed casually in a yellow t-shirt, Tancredo addressed the standing-room audience of 200-250 from behind a podium draped in a Confederate battle flag. To the congressman's right, a portrait of Robert E. Lee peered out at the crowd of Minutemen activists, local politicians, and red-shirted members of LOS and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Confederate trappings of the event found a mismatch in Tancredo's standard nativist polemic, which stayed clear of references to Southern heritage or direct plaudits for the LOS, a Southern white nationalist organization dedicated to "Southern independence, complete, full, and total."

Tancredo's appearance was part of a five-day sweep through conservative South Carolina, which hosts an early GOP primary and has seen the Southeast's largest percentage gain in foreign-born residents since the 2000 Census. Rising to his friendly audience, Tancredo blasted South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham for being too soft on immigration and basked in the long applause that followed his harangues against illegal immigrants and "the cult of multiculturalism" that glorifies disunity and refuses to acknowledge the "Christian principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution." (Tancredo did not appear to grasp the irony of addressing the "lack of unity" in America in front of a group dedicated to Southern secession.)

The afternoon's proceedings were opened by Garland McCoy, board member of Americans Have Had Enough! McCoy, a veteran conservative activist and treasurer of the telecom industry front-group Progress and Freedom Foundation, declared he "has not been so excited" by a politician in a long time. "Tom Tancredo can go all the way," he said. Most in the crowd appeared to agree. "I brought my son here today to meet the next president of the United States," one man told Tancredo during the question-and-answer period.

McCoy was followed by a lineup of conservative South Carolina politicians and LOS members, including a local preacher who during a rambling invocation called upon the audience to "pray for everyone involved [in the fight] against those coming from desperate cultures and languages [sic]."

At the close of Tancredo's speech, several men in confederate-themed clothing stood up and bellowed the first notes of "Dixie," the Confederate anthem. They were soon joined by voices from throughout the large hall, which was now entirely on its feet. Tancredo, a second-generation Italian-American from Denver, appeared confused by the sudden burst of strange song. He quickly worked his way toward the exit with his staff.

Tancredo's encounter with the League of the South continued outside. On the steps of the museum, Tancredo held court with LOS officials and supporters in Confederate clothing. He held a batch of the materials being distributed at the barbeque, among them a copy of the The Citizen's Informer, the newspaper of the Conservative Citizens Council, the racist organization that grew out of the segregationist White Citizens Councils of the 1950s. When questioned about the newspaper, Tancredo responded that he did not know its history.

Janet Smith contributed to this report.