SPLC Exposes Judicial Candidate's Visit to White Supremacist Group

The Southern Poverty Law Center has revealed that an Alabama judicial candidate appeared this past summer at a meeting of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), despite claiming previously that she had never heard of the group.

Terri Willingham Thomas, currently a district judge in Cullman County, is the Republican nominee for the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

The Montgomery Advertiser first reported Thomas' family ties to the Ku Klux Klan and CCC, both of which have been identified as hate groups by SPLC, on Aug. 28. The story revealed that her mother, Violet Willingham, was arrested in August 1979 for transporting guns with an expired permit at a Klan march in Montgomery and that her father, Joe Willingham, received a national appreciation award from the CCC in 1993. In that article, Thomas denied having ever heard of the CCC.

But the Center's Intelligence Project, which tracks hate groups, found a photograph of Willingham recently attending a CCC monthly meeting in Cullman. The photo, in the group's May-June newsletter, shows CCC director Leonard Wilson urging members to support Thomas in her July 18 runoff election, which she won.

"The Council of Conservative Citizens is widely known as a crudely racist group," said Heidi Beirich, deputy director of the Intelligence Project. "It's very hard to believe that Ms. Thomas was not aware of the nature of this group when she attended a meeting."

Contacted again by the Advertiser, which published the photo on Sept. 4, Thomas again claimed ignorance, telling the newspaper that she didn't know anything about the organization and attended the meeting only to hear a history lesson about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Founded in 1985 by Gordon Baum, a lawyer and longtime white-power activist, the CCC rose from the ashes of the Citizens Councils of America (CCA), a coalition of white supremacist groups formed throughout the South to defend school segregation after the Supreme Court outlawed it in 1954.

Though the organization remained a mystery to many through the 1990s, a 1998 Intelligence Report investigation exposed the group's racism. The organization routinely denigrated blacks as "genetically inferior," complained about "Jewish power brokers," called gays and lesbians "perverted sodomites," and accused immigrants of turning America into a "slimy brown mass of glop."