Fear and Hatred Here at Home

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, December 26, 1998; Page A19

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

Last week's column, "Lott's Odd Friends," concerning Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's association with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a self-described "racialist" group, brought one of his defenders out of the woodwork. The message left on my answering machine was so, shall we say, arresting, that I shared it with my editorial page colleagues and had it transcribed so you could sample it too. Here 'tis:

"Mr. King, Jack [last name withheld] calling. I am astonished by the article you wrote that appeared in my newspaper, containing all kinds of salacious charges against Trent Lott and Bob Barr. You know behind all that facade, you know what? I smell a Jew."

Now let's pause here.

Jack, your olfactory organ fails you. I am not Jewish. In fact, I am probably your worst nightmare – a large black man with an even larger memory. But sorry, I interrupted. Please continue:

"You folks are the worst people in the world. When it comes to being honest, there's not an honest one among you."

Then Jack got all philosophical on me.

"Remember that fellow, I forget his name, Diogenes, that walked through a village with a lit lamp looking for an honest man? Somebody should walk through any city in the country with a menorah lit up looking for an honest Jew. You folks are the masters of viciousness, deceit and stab in the back of any people on the face of the earth. Have you ever wondered why nobody likes Jews? Well you're a perfect example."

Never having achieved perfection at anything, I think I'll accept that. Jack had a little more to say, but this is enough.

Why, it might be asked, during this season of joy, peace and reconciliation should a deep-dyed antisemite be allowed to intrude? Because Jack is a timely reminder -- especially to the baby boomers and Generation X – that quacks haven't gone anywhere; they're still out there, cruising below the radar screen where polls rarely pick them up. They were here at the end of the last century, they were around to make the 20th a living hell for generation upon generation, and sadly, they will be with us as we enter the next millennium.

Trent Lott's associates in the Council of Conservative Citizens are another reminder of that fact.

It may be tempting to think of extremists of the radical right only as gun-toting militia holed up in Pacific Northwest cabins stockpiled with food and artillery for the day when they and the U.S. government finally get it on. Or that racists and antisemites are loud, vulgar, beer-guzzling roughnecks whose idea of a good time is to stroll around the trailer park adorned in cut-off sweat shirts with their belly buttons hanging out. Those are stereotypes and self-delusional fantasies.

In fact, the crude loudmouth probably can't begin to expound on the sophisticated racist and antisemitic theories of the mannerly, clean-shaven suit-and-tie set that populates this area, and those northern, western and southern states of the Old Confederacy where chapters of the Council of Conservative Citizens are found. The council reportedly has 15,000 members and is growing.

Like the first White Citizens Council, which was formed in Mississippi in 1954 to resist the Brown school-desegregation decision and civil rights, today's council is focused on race. But it draws a bead on non-European immigrants and gays as well.

The council's message isn't so naked. It comes cloaked in calls for tax cuts, less government, school prayer and getting tough on crime – stock conservative issues. And of course, opposition to "forced busing," "ending reverse discrimination and racial quotas" and "stricter immigration controls." The racial pitch is also couched in Old South traditions: honoring the Confederate flag, singing Dixie, advocating states' rights and preserving the members' southern "heritage."

Their chief concern, however, is racial purity – theirs. The council's Virginia chapter state coordinator, Michael Masters, wrote this in a 1995 article "What Can We Do?": "We ('European derived' Americans) must defend our identity as a distinct and separate people." "The key is that we are . . . related by birth and blood, and entitled to existence as such. Anyone who wishes to deprive us of our unique and distinct existence commits the crime of genocide against us." And that crime? The forced "mixing of the races to produce a mongrel race" in the words of the Citizens Informer (the council's newsletter, which can be found on its Web site). "Forced integration of schools and forced open housing and forced integration of recreational facilities cannot accurately be called anything else," it said.

So many of the articles and columns on the council's Web site, as well as its direct mail materials, echo the self-pity and feelings of victimization that marked the White Citizens Councils and Ku Klux Klan. Listen to "A Call to White Americans" by Jennifer Passmore: "Among all the races . . . the white American alone cannot feel pride in, defend, or even define his racial identity without arousing suspicion or outright hatred. He cannot form a Congressional White Caucus. He cannot hang the works of white artists on a gallery wall and identify them as such. He has no month, no week, not even a day set aside to teach his children, his neighbors and his countrymen about the origins of the white race, ancient and modern white history, and the accomplishments of white individuals and the issues facing modern white people." (And all along, I thought U.S. and world history we were taught in public school had done that job quite well!)

The redefining of white people as victims in a society hijacked by the undeserving is a continuing council theme. The council uses this sense of white victimhood to recruit those who feel they have failed, been rejected or are losing ground in life because unfair, special treatment has given the upper hand to (you choose): blacks, Jews, women, gays, Damn Yankees, etc.

So their plea for racial solidarity is based on fear. It is a fear, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the council, that caused a featured council columnist to warn that the nation is turning into a "slimy brown mass of glop."

Whether the Council of Conservative Citizens is the "reincarnation of the infamous White Citizens Councils" -- as the law center charges in a report released this month -- may be debated. But the council's high command has learned its lessons well. The council claims to have members and supporters in state legislatures, school boards, city councils, courts and other government bodies around the country, according to the law center. And this much is certainly true as well: The council does boast of its relationship with several prominent politicians including a powerful, national Republican -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. And the council has pictures to prove it.

That unsavory fact alone must send Jack into raptures.

The writer is a member of the editorial page staff.