"Well-Connected Racists Keep Friends
in High Places"
by Diane Roberts, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times (Jan.
17, 1999) D1; 5.
The story has been obscured by the enveloping
fog of the impeachment trial, but the facts are worth repeating.
House Judiciary committee member Bob Barr and Senate Majority
Leader Trent Lott appeared at events sponsored by a white supremacist
group. The Council of Conservative Citizens believes that blacks
are genetically predisposed to law-breaking and unbridled sexuality,
that "the culture and way of life of whites," is superior,
and that race-mixing is destroying America.
In December, the Intelligence Project of the Southern
Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., reported that Barr had
been the keynote speaker at Council of Conservative Citizens meeting
last June, and that Lott gave a speech to 400 CCC supporters in
1992, in which he praised the group as standing "for the
right principles and the right philosophy."
The CCC is not a sweaty cell of working-class
Klansmen, plotting a cross-burning on the black bankerís lawn.
Its members are a thoroughly middle-class, educated bunch. The
Southern Law Center also revealed that the CCCís membership includes
a sitting governor, several former members of Congress and a prominent
Florida State University psychologist who believes that blacks
are genetically inferior to whites.
Both Barr and Lott have tried to downplay their
ties to the CCC: Barr claims he rejects its racist and anti-immigrant
views and insists he didnít realize that it was not "a very
pristine, conservative, grass-roots organization." However,
in a detailed piece by Jason Zengerle in the Jan. 4 New Republic,
CCC chief executive officer Gordon Lee Baum says Barr was aware
of what the group is about. They sent him their literature, including
a brochure with an endorsement of the group by former governor
of Georgia Lester Maddox, an unreconstructed segregationist most
famous for brandishing a pick handle to deny service to blacks
in his Atlanta restaurant.
Lottís denials are as careful as Barrís. He told
the Washington Post on Dec. 16 that he "renounces"
the CCC and has "no firsthand knowledge" of their views.
But CCC officials, including CCC president Tom Dover, claim Lott
is a paid-up member of the group. Lottís spokesman, John Czwartacki,
says the senator "does not consider himself a member."
Even if Barr and Lott are given the benefit of
the doubt, even if they can be forgiven their inattention to the
ideology of people whose hospitality they accepted, their very
presence at key CCC events gilds ugly racism with the patina of
power from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. Other
top-drawer politicians such as Gov. Kirk Fordice of Mississippi,
and former Rep. Webb Franklin of Mississippi and John Rarick of
Louisiana openly endorse the CCC.
Similarly, Florida State University Psychology
Professor Glayde Whitney provides the Council of Conservative
Citizens with quasi-scientific cover. Whitney, a former president
of the Behavior Genetics Association, is well-respected for his
research on the genetics of taste. But his articles and reviews
in American Renaissance, a sort of house journal for the
CCC and its fellow travelers, go very much against the grain of
According to the American Renaissance Web
page, Whitney addressed the 1998 conference in Washington, D.C.,
arguing that, far from being an oppressed minority, blacks are
"primitives" whose behavior in America "is like that of a conquering
tribe" displaying their dominance by raping white women. In a
more scholarly piece in the March 1997 American Renaissance,
"Diversity in the Human Genome," Whitney asserts that race
is purely a biological phenomenon, not a social construction (an
idea he calls "fashionable nonsense"). He claims that scientific
evidence shows blacks are inferior to whites in intelligence.
Most biologists reject such determinism. Joseph
Travis, professor of biology at Florida State, says "most variations
in genes have nothing to do with the category we call race. Race
in humans is a misnomer. It's just a word to describe humans based
on the simplest criteria."
Yet despite the science that shows race to be
a social and not a biological category, and despite what appears,
at least, to be the growing multiculturalism of America, the angry
white men who have convinced themselves they are an embattled
minority keep prophesying doom to civilization if "pure European
Americans" become "polluted" by the blood of people
Miscegenation, or, as the old white supremacists
used to call it "mongrelization," has always been a combustible
topic in America. The DNA-tested proof that Thomas Jefferson had
at least one child by his young slave Sally Hemings, the efforts
of the NAACP to remove from the Alabama state Constitution the
last surviving prohibition on marriages between blacks and whites
and the declaration by former Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist
David Duke that he will run for the seat being vacated by Rep.
Robert Livingston of Louisiana have pushed the politics of Jim
Crow back onto the national agenda.
Indeed, the Council of Conservative Citizens is
nothing more than the gussied-up grandchild of the old White Citizens
Councils; interracial relationships have always been their special
bete noir. Described by historian Neil McMillen as a "movement
of white-collar or country club Klans," the councils were founded
in 1954 in reaction to the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board
of Education desegregation decision. Robert Patterson, a charter
member of the old Citizens Council, is a stalwart of the new-look
CCC and a frequent contributor to its newsletter. He recently
called for the repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the
Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Other prominent members of the CCC claim feminism
is unnatural, Abraham Lincoln was both homosexual and insane,
and that America was founded to be and should remain "a white
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center
says the re-emergence of anti-miscegenation rhetoric shows we
are in a period of regression: "America is a more segregated society
than we were 10 or 15 years ago. It used to be that only groups
like the Klan spoke of affirmative action as bad policy. Now thatís
practically a mainstream opinion."
Universities are popularly thought of as bastions
of progressivism, even political correctness. But this is no longer
true, according to Potok, "at least not in the sciences." Barry
Mehler, director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism
at Ferris University in Michigan, concurs. "Liberal hegemony in
academia was the blink of an eye."
According to Mehler, the academy in America has
a long tradition of scientific racism, at least since "the 1830s
when Samuel Morton at Harvard began measuring black people's skulls,
concluded they were smaller than whites, and so pronounced blacks
stupid as a race."
C. Peter Ripley, editor of The Black Abolitionist
Papers and a historian of race in America, points out that
as soon as the progressive intelligentsia mounted a critique of
slavery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the conservative
intelligentsia countered with a pseudo-science of black inferiority:
"The assumption of racial inferiority is almost as old as America
Glayde Whitney, who did not return phone calls
or answer e-mail messages for this piece, complains in American
Renaissance that academia's censorious "ideologues of egalitarianism"
try to "block research" and "even discussion" of the genetics
of race and the "truth" of Caucasian superiority. Mehler counters:
"Censorship? Work like this is pouring out of the academy. The
Bell Curve, J. Philippe Rushton's book Race, Evolution
and Behavior - the stuff is everywhere."
At some level this is all about sex: interracial
sex. The ideology of slavery rested on early characterizations
of blacks as more physical, more passionate and therefore less
rational, less spiritual, than whites. As early as 1681,
Maryland passed a law prohibiting white women from marrying black
men, since the only reason for such a thing would be "for the
satisfaction of their lascivious and lustful desires." In the
19th century, the myth of black promiscuity held that black women
didn't mind being sexually exploited by white men (maybe Sally
Hemings was madly in love with Thomas Jefferson) and that black
men had but one desire: to rape white women. This fear led to
the foundation of the first Ku Klux Klan1in 1866 and bans on intermarriage
like the one still operative in the Alabama Constitution.
The terror of race-mixing is an irrational thing
that doesnít recognize itself as irrational but as God-ordained
or whatever," says Amilcar Shabazz, coordinator of the African
American Studies program at the University of Alabama. He says
issues of racial purity get into "fundamental taboos."
C. Peter Ripley agrees, saying that dire warnings
of the end of Western civilization appear from the right "every
time there has been a real impulse toward integration and egalitarianism.
These arguments are simply riffs off the most rigorous defenses
Many in Alabama wonder if the state will leave
the 1901 Constitution and its admittedly-unenforceable intermarriage
prohibition intact. South Carolinians voted in November to remove
a similar ban from their constitution, leaving Alabama the last
state with such a law. State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery,
who has pledged to try to repeal the ban, argues that it gives
Alabama "a bad image, and we've already got a bad image for how
we treat black people."
But the new governor of Alabama, Democrat Don
Siegelman, has indicated that he has little interest in pursuing
the issue, preferring to concentrate on changing the Constitution
to accommodate his education lottery. Professor Shabazz admits
to some nervousness that voters would actually support a repeal.
"Miscegenation is dynamite," he says. Certainly the Council
of Conservative Citizens can be counted on to defend a law it
sees as upholding both a divine and a biological hierarchy.
Several black members of the Alabama Legislature
have vowed to force the issue. Meanwhile, Bob Barr and Trent Lott
keep having to explain their ties to the CCC. Gordon Lee Baum
told a New York Times columnist that Lott's determination
to distance himself from the group is a "mistake" that will hurt
him politically in Mississippi. And David Duke is traveling the
country, raising money for his congressional campaign. He's selling
copies of his new book, My Awakening - an autobiography
with an admiring foreword by Glayde Whitney.
Some political observers think that Duke has a
chance of winning this time. Barry Mehler of the Institute for
the Study of Academic Racism warns, "Right now we still have a
political consensus to work with that's anti-racist. But not for