AP Release on CCC
By Allen G. Breed, Associated
Press Southeast regional reporter
Associated Press, Tuesday, February 2, 1999, 11:22 PST
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Behind a wooden partition
in a back room of the Lizard's Thicket restaurant, about 30 members
of the Council of Conservative Citizens -- many wearing Confederate
battle flag pins and belt buckles -- hovered over plates of fried
catfish and chocolate cream pie as Dennis Wheeler laid out the
struggle before them.
Wheeler, a freelance writer from Atlanta, opened
last week's meeting with a reading from Revelation about the beast
that "opened his mouth in blasphemies against God."
Among those blasphemies, he told the group, is a "Yankee
radicalism" known as equalitarianism.
"(I)t is exactly this philosophy that our
Confederate forefathers fought against in the War Between the
States," said Wheeler, head of a council chapter in Georgia.
"The current mark of the beast is the equalitarian
religion which names as sins racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and
homophobia, among others, rather than the Ten Commandments."
The only blacks within earshot were the waitresses
and busboys working the tables on the other side of the partition.
Just what is the Council of Conservative Citizens?
It was formed 13 years ago, it claims 15,000 members and lately
it's been in the news since Sen. Trent Lott and Rep. Bob Barr
landed in hot water after it was revealed they had addressed the
But what else? Is it a reincarnation of the old
White Citizens Councils, as some suggest? Is it a white supremacist
"We are not racists," insists South
Carolina director Frances Bell, citing her American Indian background
and noting the group has some Jewish members.
Is the council merely an organization so devoted
to free speech and assembly that it refuses to silence racist
or bigoted views?
The questions have sent Lott, R-Miss., and Barr,
R-Ga., scurrying for cover. The chairman of the Republican
National Committee has called on GOP members, including national
committee member Buddy Witherspoon of Columbia, to quit the organization
that calls itself the "active advocate for the no longer
silent conservative majority."
Gordon Baum, the St. Louis attorney who runs the
group, says attacks on the council -- especially by people like
law professor Alan Dershowitz -- are liberal diversions to take
the heat off President Bill Clinton. "It all has to do with
protecting Billy's butt," he said.
"Why are they so afraid of us?"
Baum said in a telephone interview last week, noting that the
council is best known for opposing affirmative action and quotas
and defending the Confederate battle flag against those who would
remove it from public display.
He answered his own question: "Because
these are all politically incorrect (stances), and they would
prefer that we would not have a voice. I mean, neither the Republicans
nor the Democrats will touch these issues, and they're afraid
of the people out here's growing discontent with the parties."
But to the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who founded the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr., the group is "the Ku Klux Klan with a coat
"What they stand for sounds like just a recycled
White Citizens Council," the Atlanta preacher said. "A
cocklebur by any other name is just as thorny."
In fact, some of the group's original members
came from the old Citizens Councils of America, a pro-segregation
group formed as a response to the 1954 Supreme Court decision
integrating public schools.
Baum was its Midwest field organizer and Robert
"Tut" Patterson its founder. Patterson now writes
a column for The Citizen Informer newsletter for Baum's group.
Mark Potok, a researcher for the Southern Poverty
Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said the Council of Conservative
Citizens is more dangerous than the KKK or neo-Nazis because it
has been "successfully masquerading as a mainstream conservative
"They're not going to produce a Timothy McVeigh;
they are much more interested in genuine political power than
in any kind of violence or terrorism," Potok said.
"I mean, Timothy McVeigh can kill 168 people, but he is never
going to be elected your senator or president or congressman.
So, yeah, on a political level they're much more dangerous."
Indeed, the group claims as dues-paying members
dozens of elected officials, from local school boards to state
legislatures. It does not, however, claim ex-Klan leader and sometime
GOP candidate David Duke, who caused Baum considerable discomfort
in November by showing up at a national board meeting in Jackson,
The group's Web site welcomes visitors to "join
the vast right-wing conspiracy!" -- an ironic reference to
Hillary Clinton's comment about who was behind the impeachment
effort -- and offers such publications as a pamphlet revealing
"the ugly truth about Martin Luther King."
The South Carolina chapters have fought to keep
the Confederate battle flag flying over the state capital and
criticized The Citadel for not playing "Dixie" often
enough during functions at the military college.
"Being pro-white is not equal to being anti-black,"
said Rebekah Sutherland, an executive committee member from Aiken
who ran for state school superintendent last year. "It's
OK to be white, isn't it? That's what this group is about. It's
OK to be white."
Don MacDermott, a Birmingham, Ala., city councilman
and Council of Conservative Citizens member, campaigned with his
chapter last year against a proposed 1-cent sales tax that he
felt would go to fund "just a bunch of wish lists for some
local bureaucrats." He said he wouldn't belong to the
organization if he felt it was racist.
"The chapter I belong to is definitely not,"
he said. "They're just some well-grounded beliefs in
conservative values. Most of the group I'm involved with
were Ronald Reagan supporters in 1976."
A.J. Parker, a siding contractor who is director
of the group's North Carolina chapter, doesn't like being condemned
for the views of a few members.
"Why should I pay for deeds that took place
100 years ago, or even 50 years ago?" he said during a break
from burning brush in front of his Asheville home. "They've
tried to identify us with David Duke and people like that, and
anybody who speaks out against affirmative action and quotas and
immigration, they're automatically tagged with that dirty brush."
But critics point to anti-Semitic postings on
the group's Web site, and to Informer columns like this from Patterson
"Western civilization with all its might
and glory would never have achieved its greatness without the
directing hand of God and the creative genius of the white race.
Any effort to destroy the race by a mixture of black blood is
an effort to destroy Western civilization itself."
Baum noted that the Informer has a disclaimer,
"like all newspapers."
"It was there; we can't lie. We did
not endorse it," he said. "Our people don't walk
in lock step. Organizing conservatives is like herding cats."
But Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the South Carolina
Democratic Party, offered a different animal analogy: "Birds
of a feather flock together."
"If David Duke and those kinds of folks are
showing up at those meetings, they obviously have some interest
in them," he said.
"There's a fight for the heart and soul of
the Republican Party. Is it the party of Lincoln or the
party of extremes? So far, the extreme's winning."
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., is calling on
members of Congress to denounce the Council of Conservative Citizens.
"They can hide behind whatever curtain they want to hide,
but we know what they are," Wexler said in a telephone interview.
Baum said the debate has devolved into a kind
of '90s McCarthyism, where guilt by association is the order of
"Really, Trent Lott's involvement wasn't
other than what he would do with any larger constituent group,"
Baum said. "I mean, to us it's sending a signal that
any political figure should not meet with conservatives. I mean,
they did this with the Christian Coalition; they did it with the
pro-life movement. They've tried to demonize them."
The Council of Conservative Citizens meeting last
Saturday in Columbia was supposed to be open. But when members
learned an Associated Press reporter planned to attend, the executive
board voted to close the partition.
"They're all afraid," Mrs. Bell said.
"People are afraid they'll lose their job if their name comes
But Wheeler exhorted the back-room crowd to "look
at our duty. ...
"The war for the hearts and the minds of
the people must be won before the political war can be won."