Lott and Barr Hate Clinton
O E+C O N A S O N + ++ L E F T + H O O K
Joe Conason's Left Hook column appears every other Tuesday in Salon.
Research assistance for the article was provided by Bonnie Simrell.
KEY REPUBLICAN LEADERS MAINTAIN LINKS WITH WHITE SUPREMACISTS
AND RACISTS WHO DESPISE CLINTON AS AN INSIDE-OUT OREO.
Behind all the talk of patriotism and duty, the Republican obsession
with ousting President Clinton from the White House has long carried
a distinct odor of vengeance, not only for the president's political
success but for the lingering wound of Richard Nixon's resignation
in disgrace a quarter century ago. Now, with the delivery to the
Senate of articles of impeachment penned on traditional parchment
paper the task of avenging old grievances falls to Trent
Lott of Mississippi, the Senate Majority Leader.
While Lott himself was first elected to Congress in the Nixon
landslide of 1972, the revenge he now seeks may echo the regional
divisions of a century ago, dating to the last impeachment trial
of an American president when Andrew Johnson, defender
of the white South against black Reconstruction, was impeached
by radical Republicans and escaped conviction by a single vote.
And although the Senate chief likes to style himself as a man
of the New South, he maintains close ties to white supremacist
and neo-Confederate organizations such as the Council of Conservative
Citizens, the Southern Partisan magazine and the Sons
of Confederate Veterans. For those who share his nostalgia
for the antebellum period and the pre-civil rights era, Clinton
symbolizes all that has gone wrong in America since the Civil
Exposure of the neo-Confederate influence among Republicans on
Capitol Hill began with news stories about Bob
Barr, the impeachment advocate from Cobb County, Ga.,
who spoke at a meeting of the Council of Conservative Citizens
earlier this year. Barr denied endorsing the CCC, a direct organizational
descendant of the White Citizens Councils
set up across the South to resist integration during the 1950s;
and the CCC leadership likewise denied that it shares the racist
ideology of its predecessor. But to anyone who has given even
cursory attention to the CCC's publications, that denial rings
false and if anything, Lott's culpability is even greater
As Thomas Edsall reported in the Washington Post last week, Lott
contributes a regular column to Citizen Informer, the CCC's newspaper,
and he has posed for pictures with the group's leaders on more
than one occasion. The most recent photo, published in 1997, was
taken in the senator's Washington office, where he smiled broadly
while standing next to the CCC's national leaders, including William
D. Lord Jr. According to Edsall, Lord was formerly a "regional
organizer" for the White Citizens Councils.
The CCC's affection for Lott is understandable, because the senator
subscribes to the same dubious brand of Republicanism as its leaders
do. Interviewed in 1984 by the Southern Partisan, a leading neo-Confederate
organ, Lott explained why he believes that "the spirit of [Confederate
President] Jefferson Davis lives in the 1984 Republican platform,"
and went on to deplore a national holiday devoted to the memory
of Martin Luther King Jr.
Not that any of this should be terribly shocking to anyone familiar
with Lott's career. After immersing himself in campus politics
at the University of Mississippi during the deadly riots that
greeted its first black student, James Meredith, in the early
'60s, Lott went to law school and then became administrative assistant
to Rep. William Colmer, a fanatical segregationist Democrat. When
Colmer retired, Lott switched parties and won his seat running
with the Nixon-Agnew ticket in 1972. In his spare time, the former
Ole Miss cheerleader joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans,
a bastion of Southern reaction that features Lott in its promotional
Wrong with Being "Conservative?"
Lott has assumed that the Council of Conservative Citizens sounds
sufficiently innocuous to save him any embarrassment. And he isn't
alone in supporting the CCC the group's November national
meeting in Jackson, Miss., was addressed by Gov. Kirk Fordice. (Indeed,
CCC gatherings regularly enjoy the patronage of Republican candidates.)
After all, what's wrong with being "conservative?"
But a review of the CCC web
site shows that it is a front not only for old-fashioned
Southern racism but for modern neo-fascism as well. The leader
of the CCC's Washington, D.C., chapter is Mark Cerr, an immigrant
from the United Kingdom who was active there in the neo-fascist
National Front and its successor, the British National Party, and whose real
name is Mark Cotterill. The top link on the CCC site is to Jean-Marie
Le Pen's National Front, the leading fascist party in France.
Other links lead to openly racist and fascist sites one
of which leads in turn to the National Vanguard, perhaps the most
bloodthirsty neo-Nazi organization now active in the United States.
(Its leader, William Pierce, wrote "The Turner Diaries," a notorious
work of fiction that looks forward to an American Holocaust, with
Jews swinging from lampposts and blacks slaughtered in the streets).
What ought to be even more disturbing to Republicans is the CCC's
attitude toward Abraham Lincoln, the supposed patron saint of
the Grand Old Party. Page after page on its Web site disparages
the Civil War president in the most disgusting terms, calling
him "a tyrant, surely the most evil American in history." Lincoln
was "ugly," "dirty," "grotesque" and a homosexual, too. (Aside
from blacks and Mexicans, the CCC seems most hostile to gays and
lesbians.) The only "morally defensible position" ever taken by
Honest Abe, according to the CCC's writers, was his tepid support
for returning freed slaves to Africa.
Naturally, the CCC despises Clinton. In one essay by a writer
named Millard, the president is described as an "Oreo turned inside
out," ironically agreeing with author Toni Morrison's assertion
in the New Yorker that he may be "America's first black liberal
In fact, racial animus has motivated some of the most active and
angry Clinton-bashers from the beginning of his presidency. Among
the most notable is "Justice Jim" Johnson, a former judge who
made his mark in Arkansas as a leader of the White Citizens Council
in the '50s. Johnson played a cameo role in history when he stirred
the violent mob outside Little Rock's Central High School during
the integration crisis that forced President Eisenhower to dispatch
federal troops. Clinton entered Arkansas politics in 1966 as an
opponent of Johnson's unsuccessful campaign for governor
an affront the unrepentant segregationist never forgot. Johnson's
more recent credits include his appearance in the discredited
Chronicles" videos marketed by Rev. Jerry Falwell, which
accuse the president of complicity in drug smuggling and murder.
To these die-hards of the extreme right, impeachment is vindication,
and they don't care whether the Republican Party is ruined in
the process. But if Trent Lott and Bob Barr want to wax indignant
over the president's sins, they ought to take better care of their
own moral hygiene. Stanley Crouch, the author and columnist for
the New York Daily News, asked pertinently the other day whether
"Republicans will be constantly asked from now on about these
men and their association with unreconstructed Southern racists
the same way that black politicians are always asked about Louis
Don't hold your breath, Stanley; most American media remain far
too invested in deposing Clinton to ask hard questions about his
adversaries. The answers might be just a little too disturbing.
| Dec. 22, 1998