Leader Defends Conservative Group from Charges of Racism

By Scott Canon
The Kansas City Star, January 24, 1999, 10:15PM
� The Kansas City Star

Gordon Lee Baum opens conversations these days with a protest.

"We are not monsters," he says, his speech quickening in agitation. "They're trying to make us out as ogres."

Indeed, his Council of Conservative Citizens emerged recently as an ideological skeleton lurking in the closets of two Republicans who figure prominently in the effort to remove President Clinton from office.

That increasing scrutiny of the St. Louis group, Baum insists, reeks of guilt by association that overstates the council's racial ideas in order to tar politicians involved in the impeachment effort.

"We're not white supremacists," he says. "We are pro-European Americans. We are pro-white."

Read racist, say critics, including the Republican National Committee.

Columnists in the CCC's newspaper, the Citizens Informer, have described interracial marriage as "an effort to destroy Western civilization." Writers on the group's Web site ridicule Martin Luther King Jr. as a "liar" and "sex addict," proclaim Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as history's greatest American and worry that nonwhite immigrants will make the country "a slimy brown mass of glop."

Yet, especially in the South, the group mingles regularly with political powerbrokers. U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, one of the House managers of Clinton's Senate trial, has spoken at a national meeting of the group. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi spoke at CCC meetings on several occasions.

The CCC led the successful effort to keep the Confederate flag waving over the South Carolina state capitol. Its annual rallies in Black Hawk, Miss., have drawn Lott, plus the state's Republican governor and Democratic attorney general.

"They have a several-year track record of successfully marrying the white supremacist fringe types with local and state Republican politicians and thereby having an influence in the mainstream discourse," said Leonard Zeskind, a Kansas City author who has received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation for his research on right-wing groups.

After recent articles appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times noting their presence at CCC gatherings, Lott and Barr said they did not know what the group's views were.

Recently Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson urged party leaders to resign from the CCC. Buddy Witherspoon, a national party member from South Carolina, has resisted that call.

But at RNC headquarters, there's no fudging in the denunciation of the group.

"It appears that the group does have racist views," said RNC spokesman Mark Pfeifle. "The Republican Party rejects and condemns such views very forcefully and without hesitation."

At the CCC's headquarters in St. Louis, Baum greets the repudiation with a disappointed chuckle.

"They've baited the RNC into something stupid here," said Baum, the group's chief executive officer. "It's like they've decided to chase off the Wallace-slash-Reagan Democrats.... It's like they're saying, `Let's get rid of the angry white guys.' "

The CCC is a philosophical successor to the "citizens councils," made up primarily of white businessmen, that sprouted across the South in the 1950s and 1960s in opposition to the civil rights movements.

Baum and about 30 others formed the group in Atlanta in 1985. That core group, Baum said, included people who belonged to the old citizens councils. But this new organization was designed to focus on a broader range of conservative causes that included support of tighter immigration, stronger states' rights and opposition to gun control, forced busing and affirmative action.

The national CCC set up shop in St. Louis because that's where Baum has a law practice. The CCC has active chapters in 28 states -- throughout all of the former Confederacy and border states -- including two chapters in eastern Missouri. There is no chapter in Kansas City, although Baum said he has members here.

More than 15,000 people pay annual dues of $25 or more to the CCC, Baum said. He said the group has members on school boards and city councils. More than two dozen state legislators in Mississippi belong to the group, Baum said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center published a paper in December saying the CCC has ties to Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and a variety of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.

Zeskind said the CCC plays the role of a "bridge group" that connects openly racist right-wing groups to pragmatic politics.

While Zeskind saw no evidence suggesting the CCC holds the violent views or intentions of racist groups such as the neo-Nazi Aryan Nation, its perspectives on race are much the same.

The literature distributed by the CCC clearly advocates at least a separation of the races. But Baum notes that it has never taken a position on formal segregation.

The columnist who wrote about nonwhites making the country "a slimy brown mass of glop" was "out of bounds," Baum said. But he said the same writer, H. Millard, appropriately criticized interracial marriage.

"(A) genocide being carried out against white people hasn't come with marching enemies," Millard wrote on the CCC's Web site. "Instead it has come with propaganda that is calculated to brainwash whites into willingly jumping into the Neo-Melting Pot... Genocide via the bedroom chamber is just as long-lasting as genocide via the gas chamber."

That sort of outlook prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to conclude "the CCC has racism at its core."

It's not racism, Baum said, just a desire to preserve a "white" America.

"We want to keep this," he said, "a predominantly European country."