RNC Chair Wary of Right-Wing Group

By Glen Johnson
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 1999; 10:40 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (AP) – The chairman of the Republican National Committee called on his fellow party members Tuesday to resign from the Council of Conservative Citizens because "it appears that this group does hold racist views."

"A member of the party of (Abraham) Lincoln should not belong to such an organization," GOP Chairman Jim Nicholson said.

He appealed directly to Buddy Witherspoon, one of the party's national committee members from South Carolina, to resign from the council. Witherspoon, an orthodontist from Columbia, S.C., told Nicholson he would not do anything of the sort.

Witherspoon insisted the council's South Carolina chapter holds no racist views, but is simply an advocate for conservative causes, especially fighting to retain the right to display the Confederate flag in the South.

"Never have I heard anything said about race in any way, shape or form," Witherspoon said in an interview.

The St. Louis-based council has mushroomed into a national embarrassment for the Republican National Committee in recent weeks amid reports that both Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., spoke at its meetings.

Both Barr and Lott have said they were not aware of the council's racist positions. Barr said last month he disagrees "with many of this group's ridiculous views." Last week, Lott also distanced himself from the group.

The council's World Wide Web site includes numerous articles suggesting that the white race is under siege. On Tuesday, visitors were urged to forget "petty pretenders" such as Martin Luther King Jr., and celebrate the birthday of "the greatest American who ever lived" – General Robert E. Lee, leader of Confederate forces during the Civil War.

"There is no room for racist views in the Republican Party," said Nicholson. "I never heard of the CCC until a few days ago, but it appears that this group does hold racist views. The Republican Party rejects and condemns such views forcefully and without hesitation or equivocation."

The issue is likely to come up at this week's RNC's winter meeting.

At the meeting, Witherspoon is planning to also attract action because he plans to propose a resolution that would require the GOP to stop taking donations from gambling interests, and require that party donations be withheld from any candidate who supports legalized gambling.

Common Cause, a government finance watchdog, reports that from 1988 to 1998, the gambling industry made $7.2 million in "soft money donations" to the GOP, versus $6.3 million to the Democratic Party.

The video poker lobby also played an instrumental role this fall in defeating South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, a Republican who opposed creating a state lottery. Witherspoon said he supported Beasley.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press