By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 17, 1999; Page F01
Suddenly, Gordon Baum, Small-Time Race Baiter,
Is Big-Time News. Let's Hear Him Explain How Incredibly Reasonable
BRIDGETON, MO., 3:30 p.m. Gray snow piles
high under a dank, dark sky. A little girl with a smile opens
the door to a modest brick home and leads a reporter down a narrow
flight of stairs. Her daddy, Gordon Lee Baum, a pudgy man with
an oval face, sits behind a desk in a paneled, fluorescent-lit
basement office. He's pulling on a cheap, off-brand cigarette,
a telephone receiver cradled under his chin.
Baum smiles, waves the reporter to a chair. He's
finishing up a telephone interview and he's ready to get a little
candid. He's finishing up a telephone interview and he's ready
to get a little controversial.
"Now this is gasp! gasp! pretty
terrible to say," he says into the phone, "but American whites
have never been in greater danger of destroying themselves through
intermarriage and assimilation."
He wags his eyebrows, looks sideways at the newly
arrived Washington Post reporter to see if a few liberal hairs
are standing on end.
"We're only 9 percent of the world's population,
white Europeans, and our country's going to majority nonwhite
soon. Why can't European Americans be concerned with this genocide?
Is that racial to say that?
He looses a laugh that sounds as if he's massaged
his larynx with sandpaper. It's Gordon Baum's outpost, this dusky
basement room in a working-class suburb of the faded Midwestern
city of St. Louis. He's a 58-year-old former auto worker, a small-time
lawyer churning out worker's comp cases. A guy whose house is
about to become a TWA runway. The airport is buying out Baum's
neighborhood, shutting the place down.
But none of that really defines Baum.
Because Baum's real calling is as chief executive
officer of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group dedicated
to the salvation of White America. To the propositions that Martin
Luther King was a "depraved miscreant," that the North waged a
War of Aggression on the South and that the Confederate flag is
sacrosanct. That affirmative action, intermarriage and black political
empowerment are the wormhole through which the White Race is falling.
Baum and his buddies are, in other words, self-styled
warriors in defense of "the White Race." Their members led the
successful battle against school busing in St. Louis and helped
unseat the Republican governor of South Carolina for daring to
suggest taking down the Confederate flag that flaps over the state
capitol. They even delivered a Rebel flag to French far-rightist
Jean-Marie Le Pen last summer.
And right now this curious man and his movement
at the center of a bona fide national storm.
A few weeks back, The Washington Post
reported that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Mississippi
Gov. Kirk Fordice (R) and Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) had spoken before
the Council of Conservative Citizens. And that Lott, who may or
may not be a member, endorsed the group as a "needed" organization
to "help protect our flag, Constitution and other symbols of freedom"
from the "dark forces."
It took Barr but a day to jump off that train.
Although he sat through a council seminar before addressing its
members, he issued a "had I known of their views" disclaimer.
"The group does harbor some very unusual views that neither I
nor any member of Congress endorses," Barr says.
Lott paused just a moment longer before hurling
himself off that train as well. He laid claim, initially, to "no
firsthand knowledge" of the group. A week later, Lott (his memory
perhaps enhanced when several photographs surfaced showing the
senator posing with the council's leaders) reconsidered and unfurled
the disavowal. "He has absolutely no involvement with them either
now or in the future," a senatorial spokesman said.
The past went unmentioned.
Baum watches and listens and gags as the pols
Sometimes electoral politics is one large pain
in the butt. He has little truck with politicians; the courageous
few George Wallace of Alabama and Lester Maddox of Georgia
ever come to his lips only underline his low regard for
the species. (When they were governors in the 1960s, Maddox and
Wallace each declared Baum an "honorary aide de camp and colonel,"
and the framed proclamations adorn Baum's basement office).
"A politician denies us, well, BIG WHOOP!" Baum
waves his hand at theinconsequence of it all. "Poor ol' Trent
did himself in. His photographer took the picture and gave it
He tosses a glossy black-and-white onto his desktop,
a photo of a grinning Lott in his office, shoulder to shoulder
with Baum and a few council buddies. It's signed: "Best wishes
to Gordon, Trent Lott."
Baum stirs a chuckle somewhere deep in his throat
and lights another cigarette. He's not trying to impress anyone.
"Trent Lott is a politician, not Jesus Christ,"
he says. "You have to be realistic. Most politicians are prostitutes
and they'll break your hearts eventually. Why worry?"
In fact, this hullabaloo rather pleases the council,
which claims 15,000 members. It seems that every 20 minutes now
the telephone rings with another reporter on the line: The
New York Times, CNN, Geraldo, talk radio, The Washington
Post, a cable station in the Bronx. Baum just picks up the
receiver and talks and talks.
Talks about race, about quotas, about affirmative
action and history and the devils of immigration and the dangers
of intermarriage with blacks. Talks in the long-suffering manner
of a man who knows that all his words, all his learned references
to science and history, are probably for naught.
To be Gordon Lee Baum and the Council of Conservative
Citizens is ever to risk the distorting filter of a liberal reporter's
pen. Baum's been chopping cords of words for hours when he pauses,
lost in a stemwinder. He peers through a haze of cigarette smokeand
"Letting you in here is like the fly inviting
the spider into his house. You'll probably just say I'm a little
fat guy who chain-smokes and spouts racism."
A Labor of Love
7:15 p.m. Baum's talk turns to St. Louis and political
He grew up there, a kid of German ancestry in
a hard-knuckle Up South city far removed from the Potemkin Village
of Budweiser commercials. Then came civil rights, integration,
rising crime and blockbusting. His father's house lost much of
its value, when blacks moved in, he claims. Unions slowly opened
their ranks to working-class blacks. None of this amused him.
All that was left was escape from St. Louis.
Baum's resentments bubble still.
"Why'd I move? Because black kids were rolling
our kids for lunch money," Baum says. "It's the white working
class that suffers. The rich white fobs live in gated communities."
Baum's pedigree runs deep. He took his political
baptism with Barry Goldwater. But his transformative moment came
in the service of his movement's leader, a revolutionary politician.
A tight-faced Alabaman, a little man whose poke-'em-in-the-eye
cadences and barroom brawler's instincts spoke to Baum's soul.
George Wallace, the late segregationist governor of Alabama.
Baum worked as a field coordinator in Wallace's
presidential campaigns of 1968 and 1972, listening and learning
as the little Alabaman transformed Midwestern crowds into charged
shards of high-voltage electricity and resentment. Against blacks,
against liberals, against therich and pointy-headed intellectuals
and everyone and everything that infuriated them. It was, Baum
recalls with a satisfied drag on the cigarette, culture war at
"Did Wallace pander to racial feelings? Of course,"
Baum says. "The Republicans keep telling me it's the economic
message that attracts those voters. They're damn fools for not
sticking with what the people understand."
He sees in the Wallace formula an electoral catechism
for the cultural right.
"You've got to talk crime, talk quotas, talk
immigration. You've got to put it down where the chickens can
get at it."
This tradition, of right-wing populism and racism
intertwined, has a long, often nasty taproot.
"Populism in the hands of Wallace was associated
with fears of the Bourbons above and the blacks below," says Michael
Kazin, a historian and author of The Populist Persuasion.
"Some vicious racists came to power by feeding on such fears."
Meanwhile, Baum remained in partisan trim between
elections by organizing for the white Citizens Council, the leading
Southern bulwark in the war to preserve racial segregation and
create private, all-white academies as the civil rights movement
took hold. "If the people of Mississippi in their sound judgment
want segregation, that should be their choice," Baum says. "Who
died and gave that choice to the Supreme Court?"
The United States Constitution, maybe? (Baum
says the Council of Conservative Citizens favors letting the states
decide questions of segregation and the like: "We're a group,
not a theology").
Baum became the council's emissary to anti-busing
battles in Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville and St. Louis; he
was a most expert agitator. And so the white Citizens Council,
which is based in Jackson, Miss., sent him to Boston during the
busing battles of the 1970s.
He says he found a scared working class in the
middle of an uprising against the WASP Brahmins. He shared beers
and yuks with tough Irish politicians in Southie. Watched a hail
of bricks stampede a "bunch of coppers on horseback." Had a hell
of a time.
None of this paid much; it was a labor of love.
And when the Citizens Council petered out in the early 1980s,
as the white Southern business and political establishment realized
that integration had not diminished its control of the levers
of power (the irony is that white planters and businesses dominated
the Citizens Councils; they were never a populist organ), Baum
spent a few years kicking around the fringes of a resentful issue
or three. Then he rounded up some old movement friends and formed
the Council of Conservative Citizens in 1985. It's a curious grab
bag of right and further right: right-to-lifers, right-to-workers,
gun lovers, populists, creationists, segregationists, John Birch
Society members and old-fashioned cultural conservatives.
There's no percentage in being judgmental about
the lot of them, even if the liberal press throws a tantrum or
"Do we have a few members who might have been
in the Klan? Probably but so what? None are leaders," says
Baum, who allows that some Klansmen are a tad too violent for
"We have alot more coppers and priests."
Wallace's ability to spinal-tap white working-class
resentment and angst is one Baum dearly wants to replicate. He's
got no truck with the fat-cat Republicans of the Beltway, those
capital-gains-cutting fops who wouldn't recognize a true cultural
conservative if they ran over one with their Mercedes.
"We aren't some make-believe conservative organization
with a couple of talking heads," Baum says. "We want to get out
there where the rubber meets the road."
A Rose by Any Other Name
8:45 p.m. Cigarette smoke pancakes along the basement
ceiling. A jet rumbles somewhere very close overhead.
Baum's been talking for four hours but he hasn't
used the N-word. No no no. He won't say "miscegenation," he won't
say "brown glop," he won't say any of those whoop-de-do words
that the liberal media have spotted on the council's Web site
and now beg him to utter. He's no cracker puppet on a string.
He smiles, a bit sardonic. "I know what you guys
want to hear."
It's true, he does. And he flirts and flickers
near that racial flame, a meaty old moth who knows the game. He'll
relate an old "folk" saying, but inquire first if you object to
the "N-word in that historical context." He asks, Baum the ingenue,
if it's okay to call blacks "coloreds." And what, he asks, should
he call Mexican immigrants?
Chicanos, he's told. "Chicanos. Right."
There are the fine gradations. A columnist for
the council's Web site writes that Preisdent Clinton's sexual
misbehavior and "inner black culture" made him "an oreo turned
inside out"; Baum says that's not necessarily the organization's
view. The organization doesn't necessarily endorse those council
members in Tennessee who dedicated a statue to Gen. Nathan Bedford
Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Nor does the council
necessarily endorse a column by Robert B. Patterson. Patterson
is a patriarch of the Old South, a founder of the white Citizens
Council, a segregationist of long lineage. Now he writes a column
for the council's newspaper, the Citizens Informer.
"No one can deny the importance of the question
of miscegenation," Patterson opines in a recent column. "Western
civilization . . . would never have achieved its greatness without
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
The problem for the Council of Conservative Citizens
is that open racist talk has been bled out of the political mainstream.
Populism and the notions of a separate white race that must be
preserved don't just walk side by side in this group's politics;
they're fused at the hip. And that can lead to talking in a peculiarly
A cloud of smoke trails Baum as he walks up those
narrow stairs to get a slice of pizza in the kitchen. He shakes
his head. He feels so darned bad for his old friend.
"I tried to explain to Bob that miscegenation
is 1950s talk, it just doesn't work in our new context," he says.
"He felt real bad, too. He's an old war horse."
Make no mistake. Baum's talking a difference
of tactics, line discipline for the council faithful.
"Jeezum, philosophically Bob and the council
aren't faaaar apart," Baum assures a reporter. "Our new rule is
that we're not supposed to give our personal views," Baum says.
"We were too dang candid. That's what got us into trouble."
Baum points to a more "politically correct" column
by another council acolyte known simply as Millard. Here's what
"Take 10 bottles of milk to represent all humans
on earth. Nine of them will be chocolate and only one white. Now
mix all those bottles together and you have gotten rid of that
troublesome bottle of white milk. There too is the way to get
rid of the world of whites . . . genocide via the bedroom chamber."
Baum smiles as a reporter reads that. "Now I
can live with that analysis," he says.
In fact, Baum doesn't mind "getting a little
controversial." Shoot, it's not like he heads the Kiwanis Club.
So he'll talk of his support of a poll test because some people
are just too dumb to vote. Or his notion that the nation was gulled
by the first wave of wealthy, white-skinned Cuban immigrants.
Then came the Marielitos, "the typical ones,the normal ones. We
saw what was really there."
As for genetics, well, it's just his personal
view that blacks, on average, are inferior to whites. And when
you mix the two races?
"You get dysgenics."
"Y'know, genetic dumbing down."
It may not be science, but it's clear. But most
of all, what Baum and the Council of Conservative Citizens seek
is another Wallace, another fine young white man who wouldn't
mind calling race and guns and immigration as he sees it.
"If a couple of good young people stepped up,
it'd become monkey-see, monkey-do for a lot of those white politicians.
That's my dream."
11:08 p.m. "Lincoln, like Mao Zedong, proved that
all power comes from the barrel of a gun."
Baum's talking history now and the thought occurs
that this is a rather strange place for Southern adherents to
the Party of Lincoln to cavort. Consider the council's view of
the 16th president. Its web site is rather explicit: "Abraham
Lincoln was a tyrant, surely the most evil American in history
. . . ." Lincoln was, this tract continues, anti-religious, mentally
aberrant and possibly a bastard.
It's tempting, when reading such stuff, to adhere
to a narrative that dismisses the council as a collection of aging
and isolated cranks, dying embers of a segregationist South passed
into history. But that fails to account for its spider's web of
political connections throughout the Deep South, the fact that
Republicans as prominent as Lott and Fordice and Sen. Jesse Helms
are regular and featured speakers. More than 20 Democratic state
legislators in Mississippi are also members.
Lott once served as a legislative aide to an
avowedly segregationist congressman, and has an uncle and a couple
of cousins in the council. In a 1984 interview, he offered that
the "spirit of Jefferson Davis lives in the . . .Republican platform."
And he has not flatly denied ever having council membership.
The majority leader's spokesman offered a carefully
tortured formulation for The Washington Post last week:
"Senator Lott has made his distance from the point of view of
this group clear and isn't going to comment further."
Baum blinks those hooded eyes and stifles a wheeze
of a laugh. He'd like to be sympathetic but it's hard to take
politicians seriously when they keep treating those racial issues
like a third rail.
"They used to be a stupid party," he says. "Now,
jeesum, they're a stupid stupid stupid party."
12:05 a.m. Baum's driving a reporter to an airport
hotel across a sludgesicle of a landscape. Ice plates clog the Mississippi.
Baum points out the catfish joint where the council meets and cracks
the window to let out a thin stream of cigarette smoke.
Nine hours into it, he's still talking, still
pumping for a little information on this other Post reporter,
this Tom Edsall, who's trying to track down the council's political
connections. All day long Baum's fielded calls from members who've
heard from Edsall. How silly, how truly silly.
"I mean, the politicians have been coming to
us the past two weeks and telling us, don't worry. We're with
He fires up a raspy little laugh.
"You think they'll tell him the truth? It's no
crime to lie to a journalist.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company