Lott's Association with Supremacist Group Questioned

By Joan Lowy, Scripps Howard News Service
Naples Daily News, Saturday, January 16, 1999
© Copyright 1999 Naples Daily News

WASHINGTON - While shepherding the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi has been struggling with a potentially damaging political embarrassment of his own.

Lott has been widely condemned in newspaper editorials and columns in recent weeks for his association with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that disseminates white supremacist views and has strong ties to groups that enforced segregation in the South during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, issued a report last month calling the council "the reincarnation of the infamous White Citizens Councils" which battled desegregation in the '50s and '60s and was also known as the "white-collar Klan."

Lott is not the only Southern politician to associate with the council, which boasts 15,000 members and 22 state chapters. The group's Black Hawk rally, an event held every four years in Mississippi before election day, is a mandatory stop for most of the state's politicians, including some Democrats.

However, Lott's association appears more extensive. He gave the keynote address to the council's semi-annual board meeting in 1992 and met privately with top council officials in his Washington office in 1997. The council's newsletter, The Citizens Informer, has run several pictures of Lott posing with council officials and regularly prints a column distributed by his office to newspapers.

The newsletter is devoted largely to race issues with an emphasis on the notion that interracial marriage and unfettered immigration are threatening the future of the white race.

"No one can deny the importance of the question of miscegenation or race-mixing," wrote Robert Patterson, a columnist for the newsletter and a council founder. "Western civilization with all its might and glory would never have orchestrated its greatness without the direct hand of God and the creative genius of the white race.

"Any effort to destroy the race by a mixture of black blood is an effort to destroy Western civilization itself."

When The Washington Post first disclosed his involvement last month, Lott sought to distance himself from the council and denied any "first hand knowledge" of the group.

However, in subsequent news interviews, council officials and Lott's uncle - a member of the executive board of the council's Carroll County, Miss., chapter - indicated Lott was closely familiar with the group.

A spokesman for Lott declined to comment.

The controversy has rankled some African-American members of Congress and some interests groups who say it shows Lott is unfit to continue as the top GOP leader in the Senate and one of the party's top leaders in the country.

Lott and other Republicans who have addressed the council "do not reflect what this nation supposedly stands for - equal treatment under the law and the rule of law," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

"People ask me all the time why black people are so wedded to the Democratic Party? This is why. We're not stupid. We know who these groups are and what they stand for. You can't tell me this (the Republican Party) is a party we can feel comfortable in," Clyburn said.

Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., another African-American member, said she was dismayed that moderate Republican members of Congress have not spoken out publicly about Lott's conduct.

"I expect them not only to say to Trent Lott that those kinds of (contacts) are unacceptable, but also I would expect that they would say Trent Lott's leadership is no longer acceptable to them. This is leadership that goes backwards," McKinney said.

Kevin Ivers, a spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans, which represents gay Republicans, said Lott's association with the council was "extremely inappropriate" and should disqualify him from serving as GOP leader.

"Lott's lending the party's label to an extremely hateful and totally distasteful group is part of the problem the party is having in general with being perceived as too extreme," Ivers said.

Lott clashed with gay activists last year when he described homosexuality as a sin and compared gays to alcoholics and kleptomaniacs.

Some of Lott's Democratic colleagues in the Senate have also begun to gingerly question the propriety of the association.

"I would hope that (Lott) would not lend encouragement to an organization that has racist reasons for being," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

Republicans who were willing to discuss the issue mostly defended Lott.

"I think Senator Lott is doing an outstanding job and I'm very enthusiastic about his performance," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Some Republicans said they could see how Lott might have accidentally associated with the council.

"There are a lot of groups that share those sort of views. We have some of them in my state. They are called the Freemen," said Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. However, Burns was quick to add that he would never accept a speaking invitation from the Freemen or any other hate group.

Clyburn said the black caucus may raise the issue later this year in connection with Republican opposition to Clinton administration nominees for federal judgeships, especially African-American nominees.