Campaigns to Segregate Himself From Extremist Group
the last decade, the senator had contacts with the Council of
Conservative Citizens. He delivered speeches and, in 1997, welcomed
top officials to his office.
PASTERNAK, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, January 26, 1999
© Copyright Los Angeles Times
Miss.--In brochures, the Council of Conservative Citizens
shows the face of classic conservatism, urging a bigger military
and a smaller government.
its Web site warns that blacks may "burn down your cities"
and Third World immigrants are "bringing their inferior cultures."
The council publishes monographs too. One suggests that the United
States be partitioned by race: the South to blacks, the Pacific
Northwest to whites and the West Coast to Asian Americans.
council claims 15,000 members nationally, including neo-Nazis
from home and abroad--a fusion echoed in the stiff-armed salute
to the Confederate flag that opens some of its meetings.
the last decade, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) maintained
contact with the group by delivering convention speeches--in 1991,
1992 and 1995--and by welcoming top officials to his Washington
office in 1997. Amid unfolding controversy, Lott has spent recent
weeks dancing around details of his knowledge of the council and
its extremist views.
grew up with active council members, including his "favorite
uncle," Arnie Watson, and two cousins. He has relied on a
national council leader to turn out Lott-for-Senate volunteers
in northern Mississippi.
Watson, Uncle Arnie's wife, said she believes her nephew was aware
of the council's mind-set all along. "He's bound to have
known the principles: being against black people. If nothing else,
he got it from my husband."
When news surfaced last month in
the Washington Post that Lott had addressed the group, his press
secretary said the senator had "no straightforward recollection,"
although he may have appeared once while he served in the House
from 1973 to 1989. When critics of extremist groups dug up more
recent speaking dates, his spokesman said Lott had "no firsthand
knowledge" of the group's agenda. When newspaper columnists
decried Lott's council ties, his latest statement denounced "white
supremacist and racist views espoused by this or any other organization,"
giving no inkling of how much he knew.
Lott ever favor the sentiments put forward by the Council of Conservative
Citizens? Was he using the organization, or was he used? He won't
say. Citing the time constraints of President Clinton's impeachment
trial, Lott's press secretary, John Czwartacki, refused repeated
silence muddles a key part of the record: exactly how the Senate
majority leader, among the most powerful politicians in the country,
became linked to an organization fanning fear and hatred of minorities.
much is clear: The Council of Conservative Citizens succeeded
the old white Citizens Councils, which played a major role in
thwarting civil rights advances during the 1960s by triggering
state probes of interracial fraternizers, informing on plans to
integrate churches and bus depots, and plotting how to stop them.
The old councils were known as "the Klan in suits."
new council includes familiar faces from the original group, some
of whom are well known to Lott. And the new group took advantage
of Lott's name and photo, generating publicity that helped it
grow from a handful of old men bent on reliving their days defending
Lee Baum, the council's chief executive officer, denied the group
is racist, describing it as "the opposite of the NAACP."
"[Race] is not our complete agenda, but we do speak out more
than most conservative groups on issues that could be considered
racial." Lott understood, Baum added. "I would be shocked
if he didn't, at least generally."
Lott "spoke to these people in his home state, it gave them
assurance that they're being listened to, that their ideas are
taken seriously," Baum said.
conferred legitimacy "is a scandal," said Julian Bond,
chairman of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored
he says loudly to them, 'I violently disagree,' by his presence
[Lott] is endorsing the group," Bond said. "He is speaking
to the heirs of an organization that committed political and economic
terror. . . . It's analogous to speaking to a group of Nazis."
political observers say segregationist appeals are not needed
to win office there. Their prime example: Lott's fellow Mississippi
senator and Republican, Thad Cochran.
Lott's native northern Mississippi, where the river delta gives
way to rolling timberland, pockets of segregationist fervor still
Lott told a local paper in 1996, "I got my values from my
experiences with relatives in Carroll County."
he wasn't hunting turtles, young Trent listened to front-porch
family talk, often about race. Watson, the uncle, was a state
senator and chaired the Carroll County Citizens Council. He helped
start a whites-only school and urged his wife, who was a county
farm extension agent, not to advise black growers.
the University of Mississippi, Lott was president of fraternities
in 1962, the same year James H. Meredith integrated the campus,
setting off deadly riots. The Citizens Councils held a public
anti-Meredith meeting attended by students and covered on the
school paper's front page.
a year as a Pascagoula lawyer, Lott hired on with Democratic Rep.
William Colmer, who was even more ardent than most segregationist
politicians of the day. Colmer labeled civil rights bills "pernicious"
and appeared in more Citizens Councils films than any other elected
1982, the Citizens Councils honored Lott in Carroll County, Jackson
Clarion-Ledger columnist Bill Minor said.
years later, as the councils faded, some veterans met in Atlanta
with kindred spirits for a fresh start under a new name: the Council
of Conservative Citizens.
1992, Lott addressed a national meeting of the revamped group
in Greenwood, a city near Carroll County. "The people in
this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy,"
council has hosted other noted speakers. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.)
delivered the national keynote in June in Charleston, S.C., and
later repudiated opinions heard there. Gov. Kirk Fordice of Mississippi
and former Gov. Guy Hunt of Alabama have given talks, the council
newsletter says, as have columnist Joseph Sobran and cartoonist
Michael P. Ramirez, then of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and
now with the Los Angeles Times.
do vaguely remember speaking to a group with a name like that,"
council ties extend further, to his campaign network. William
D. Lord Jr., a former Citizens Councils organizer, is the council's
national field representative and was Lott's Carroll County co-chairman
in 1994 during the senator's last election campaign.
men from the council are the ones who knock on the neighbors'
doors" for Lott, Arnie Watson said. The council delayed one
barbecue because it conflicted with a Lott fish fry in which "many
of its members will be active," its newspaper reported.
the group touted Lott's apparent support. For years, the council
circulated flattering blurbs from Lott and other politicians to
prospective speakers. Baum bragged about Lott in a British right-wing
magazine--its distributor, a notorious neo-Fascist, became president
of the council's Washington chapter.
press secretary, Czwartacki, said the council used Lott's name
without permission. Lord differs, recalling that Lott approved
eight years ago quoting from a speech to the council.
said Lott even belonged to the council. Czwartacki said Lott "never
considered himself a member, even if his name shows up on a list
Carroll County branch carries on the old council's way. After
the U.S. Supreme Court forced public school integration in 1954,
the first group started the private Carroll Academy for whites.
new council funds academy scholarships and fights improvements
to the public system, where nearly all students are black, said
county school Supt. Billy Joe Ferguson.
loudest one of all," Ferguson said, "is Johnny Cecil
Lott," the senator's cousin.
too, remains "hard on integration" faithfully attending
council meetings despite the onset of Alzheimer's disease, his
new council also took on the Black Hawk political rally, a candidates'
showcase begun in 1975 that had the reputation, said former Mississippi
Gov. William Winter, "of being an audience of segregationists."
a Democrat, said he spoke there in its early days despite warnings
that he'd be heckled. He said he confronted the members about
their racial views.
Lord as emcee, Lott headlined at Black Hawk in 1995. According
to the council newspaper, he "received several ovations."
researcher Tricia Ford contributed to this story.)