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Anti-Immigration Congressman, Tom Tancredo, Joins Neo-Confederates

Proceeds from the $15-a-plate fundraiser went to Americans Have Had Enough!, a conservative nonprofit organization.

On Saturday, Sept. 9, around 200 people attended a barbecue featuring Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, head of the House Immigration Reform Caucus.

For Tancredo, it was to be a barbecue with a nasty aftertaste.

While proceeds from the $15-a-plate fundraiser went to Americans Have Had Enough!, a conservative nonprofit organization that lists Tancredo as its honorary chairman, the event was advertised by the South Carolina chapter of the League of the South (LOS), a neo-Confederate hate group, as its own.

"Congressman Tom Tancredo will be our guest," the state League of the South website announced. "Join us at the State Museum for two hours of vital information, fellowship, and good food." The bulletin identified prominent League of the South member Lourie Salley as the event's information contact.

The podium from which Tancredo spoke was draped in a Confederate battle flag, and men in period Confederate battle dress populated the event. The gathering also had a very literal neo-Confederate flavor: The promised "good food" was provided by Piggie Park restaurant chain owner Maurice Bessinger, a well-known League of the South supporter who caters most of the hate group's events and has been widely criticized for selling books defending slavery.

Tancredo's appearance was part of a five-day sweep through South Carolina, which hosts an early GOP primary. Rising to his friendly audience, Tancredo blasted Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) for being soft on immigration and basked in the long applause that followed his harangues against illegal immigrants and "the cult of multiculturalism."

At the close of Tancredo's speech, several men wearing Confederate army uniforms stood up and started to sing the first notes of "Dixie," the minstrel song turned Confederate anthem about a freed slave pining for plantation life. According to Tancredo spokesman Carlos Espinoza, the congressman joined in the singing.

After an account of Tancredo's appearance was published on the Southern Poverty Law Center's Web site on Sept. 12, Espinoza told reporters that the League of the South had nothing to do with the event, calling LOS "a very racist and horrible group that is desperately trying to seem relevant by attaching themselves to an event that they had nothing to do with."

Public records show the room at the museum was rented by Richard T. Hines, a longtime neo-Confederate activist who in 2003 argued that Strom Thurmond, who as leader of the segregationist Dixiecrats in 1948 promised a radio audience that the party would keep "n------" out of whites' churches, schools and homes, was "never a racist." In 1997, Hines was identified by the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens as a member.

Tancredo spokesman Espinoza played down the extremism of the neo-Confederates who attended and helped organize the event. "These aren't racist people who spew out hate. These are just people remembering and cherishing their past," Espinoza told The Denver Post.

Not everyone in Tancredo's district agreed. On Sept. 14, the clergymen of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, representing 40 black churches, issued a joint statement with the Latino clergy group Confianza that condemned Tancredo's appearance at the South Carolina event.

"To join in singing 'Dixie,' to walk into a room that has a huge Confederate flag in it, that should have been his notice to walk out," Rev. Steven Dewberry of Denver's New Horizon Christian Community Ministries told the Rocky Mountain News. "Their [Confederate] past is our anguish, our slavery, our lynchings."