Turning a Blind Eye

The congressional spat over the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group described as a slicked-up white supremacist organization with links to extremist groups around the world, is in danger of devolving into political farce.

In part, that’s because of the stubborn refusal of Republican leaders to permit any direct condemnation of a group that has apparently succeeded in its mission of infiltrating the political mainstream. And, to a lesser extent, it is a function of the refusal of moderates to challenge powerful colleagues who are afraid of ruffling any CCC feathers.

A leading Jewish congressman is definitely — and defiantly — not in that group. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., is doggedly pushing legislation that directly condemns the CCC. But his measure has won almost no GOP support and only limited backing from fellow Democrats.

Recently, the Anti-Defamation League released a detailed report outlining the CCC’s rise.

“Since its inception in the mid-1980s, the Council of Conservative Citizens has cloaked itself in the mantle of mainstream conservatism to mask its underlying racist agenda,” the ADL analysts write. “The CCC co-opts both the language and issues of conservative causes to camouflage the true aim of the organization, which is to regain what it sees as the lost power base of the white population of the United States.”

The group has its origins in the segregationist Citizens Councils of America, created in the 1950s in response to the civil rights movement. Numerous CCC leaders, including Gordon Lee Baum, its chief executive officer, were activists with the Citizens Councils.

Some prominent CCC members have publicly promoted the idea of a division of the United States into separate homelands for different races.

This week, Jared Taylor, a CCC board member, wrote to Wexler and demanded a debate on his resolution. Taylor is editor of The American Renaissance, a publication the ADL describes this way: “The publication uses pseudoscience to justify racism and white separatism.”

In a sense, the ADL report portrays the CCC in drearily familiar terms — just one more angry racist organization among many.

But the debate jumped to a different dimension last year when it was revealed that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., had given speeches at CCC events — and when those stories triggered investigations showing that the organization has gained significant toeholds in state party organizations and state legislatures throughout the South.

In a recent interview, Wexler described the CCC as an “insidious and treacherous organization whose goal is to affect public policy, whose motive is outright bigotry and white supremacy.”

Wexler said the organization operates by stealth, portraying itself as a mainstream conservative group and using all the buzzwords about small government and gun control while really promoting extremist views.

Their goal, he said, “is to infiltrate Congress and state legislatures and to effect change from the inside. That’s why it’s so important to unmask them and show the world who they are and what they are about.”

But many in Congress aren’t interested, because condemning the CCC may be bad politics back home.

Lott, in an exchange with ADL Director Abraham Foxman, expressed opposition to racism and said that “there is nothing conservative about attacks on the religious and cultural traditions that gave birth to the American Republic and still sustain our democratic society,” but dodged the question of the group itself.

Lott has said that he was not aware of the CCC’s leanings when he addressed the group’s national board — a claim that has produced snickers among Capitol Hill staffers.

Republican leaders also claim it would be wrong to single out one group or individual when there are so many organizations, on both ends of the political spectrum, spewing hate.

But they didn’t display any such reluctance when they approved a 1994 resolution that criticized Khallid Abdul Muhammad, the former Nation of Islam leader.

The latest example of the GOP leadership’s refusal to confront the CCC head-on was its support for a bland alternative resolution by Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., the only black Republican in Congress. The Watts resolution merely condemned all racism and bigotry, without naming names. Rank-and-file Republicans were divided on the proposal; most Democrats rejected it as a transparent attempt to kill the Wexler move. In the end, it failed, leaving the Wexler legislation alive — barely.

Wexler said the GOP alternative pointed to a Republican leadership that refuses to risk confronting a group that commands the allegiance, or at least the sympathy, of many home-state voters.

But support for the measure has been weak across the board; in the Senate, even liberals such as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have been reluctant to pick a fight with the powerful majority leader.

Without decisive action by the GOP leadership rejecting racism on the right and strong support from the Democrats, the CCC will emerge from the recent controversy unscathed — bolstered, in fact, by the growing impression that it is a group which powerful national leaders dare not cross.