Lawmaker Grabs Spotlight to Attack Racist Fringe

By Mary Jacoby
Friday, March 19, 1999
The St. Petersburg Times Online

WASHINGTON -- The recently notorious Council of Conservative Citizens was the subject of a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, and the event to condemn the group's white supremacist beliefs drew a large crowd.

On an usually warm late winter day, journalists and other spectators basked in the sun as a parade of mostly black and Jewish Democrats -- and two moderate Republicans -- came before the microphones to excoriate the organization and its ties to prominent Republicans.

"The Council of Conservative Citizens has an insidious and treacherous agenda!" thundered Rep. Robert Wexler, the Boca Raton Democrat who has introduced a resolution to condemn the group. "(It) attempts to mask its hateful ideology by posing as a mainstream conservative think tank, but the racist agenda of this group is undeniable."

The organization emerged from obscurity a few months ago after revelations that both Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and House impeachment manager Bob Barr, R-Ga., had spoken before its members.

Lott's response to the controversy has been muddled. He has condemned the group's views. But in what appears to be a bow to constituents who may view the council as a Southern pride organization, Lott will not condemn the group itself.

"It's like condemning the Million Man March for the sins of a few people on the dais," said Lott spokesman John Czwartacki, referring to march-organizer Nation of Islam, whose leaders have espoused anti-Semitic views.

While Lott represents mainstream Republicanism, the council is stirring controversy on the right-wing fringe as well. Two unexpected spectators at Thursday's news conference were a case in point.

One of them was a man in a jarringly bright salmon-colored oxford shirt, which opened at the neck to reveal a gold necklace and hairy chest. On his fingers were three heavy gold rings, which resembled brass knuckles.

The other was a tall, thin man in a dark suit who blended in so well he could have been a congressman. His temples were graying, and he cocked his ear toward the African-American journalists gathered around him for comment.

The man with the gold jewelry stood on the other side of the crowd, watching the tall man closely. "That's Jared Taylor," said Michael Piper, crossing his arms and nodding. "He doesn't like us."

Piper is a writer for a little-known newspaper, the Spotlight, published in Washington by the Liberty Lobby, a self-described populist group that critics call anti-Semitic.

The Spotlight warns of a "new world order" in which America is run by the United Nations. In its pages, convicted Oklahoma
City bomber Timothy McVeigh once advertised for sale a military-style rocket launcher. The paper supports Pat Buchanan for president and David Duke for Congress.

Taylor, meanwhile, is a board member of the Council of Conservative Citizens. He crashed the news conference "to make sure our views were heard," he told reporters.

The two groups should have a lot in common, but in fact they often bicker, Piper said.

The Spotlight, for example, accused Taylor of fomenting a rift in the council over ex-Klansman Duke's run for Congress in Louisiana and Duke's opposition to U.S. support for Israel.

"Some (council members) fear they will be accused of anti-Semitism if they align with Duke," the Spotlight wrote March 15.

Taylor shrugged off the criticism. Of the article, he said, "I found it incomprehensible. . . . They accused me of being in the thrall of Jews."

Groups like Liberty Lobby and the Council of Conservative Citzens tend to run under most Americans' radar, until something happens to raise their visibility.

Democrats and activists on the left have then turned controversies spawned by the right-wing fringes into embarrassments for mainstream Republicans.

For the Spotlight, it was the Oklahoma City bombing, which focused the public on the far-right militia movement. Democrats tried to link then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., to the militias, saying his harsh anti-government rhetoric encouraged them.

For the council, it was the revelation in December that Rep. Barr, a militant conservative, had address a council meeting in Charleston, S.C., last summer.

The news about Barr led to the uncovering of Lott's ties to the group. The majority leader hosted members of the council in his Capitol office two years ago, has spoken to the organization and has been photographed with its leaders.

Democrats and some Republicans, including conservative pundit Arianna Huffington, have called on Lott to support a resolution by Wexler condemning the group.

But Lott does not support the resolution, co-sponsored by 137 House members. "The only trouble with this resolution is that it is a broad-brush condemnation of a whole group of people," said Czwartacki.

Instead, Lott backs a resolution quickly introduced this week by the only African-American Republican in Congress, Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, which would condemn hate groups generally without singling out the council.

-- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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