JACKSON When I clicked on Dylann Roof's alleged racist "manifesto" yesterday, I wasn't surprised at all to see the name of the Council of Conservative Citizens name-checked. In some ways, I was happy to see it. I and my staff have spent an inordinate amount of time writing and pointing out about how the crime narrative about African Americans in our country is so skewed and that it is and can be used for excuses for all sorts of nasty talk, discrimination and, in the case of Roof, severe violence against strangers just because they are black.
The Council of Conservative Citizens, with its deepest roots in Mississippi—it was built from the old mailing list of the Citizens Council, maintained here in Jackson—has long pushed a black crime narrative to scare white people into fearing African Americans. "It's almost an open war on whites," CofCC co-founder Gordon Baum told me in 2001 in a lengthy phone interview from his home in St. Louis, Mo. "Whites rarely commit crime against blacks. (Black people) ought to be properly penalized."
Baum, who died in March, blamed the media for focusing too much on hate crimes by white people against African Americans rather than the race of people committing any crime. "The media plays down the race angle if the perpetrator is black, and the victim is white," he said. "Where race is not mentioned, it's probably a black perp. It's just that simple."
Except that it's not, and it wasn't then. The vast majority of violent crime between two people has long been committed by a person against someone of their own ethnicity with violent crime between blacks and whites, either direction, rare. And even though black-on-black crime is disturbing—and a sensational meme for people talking about crime by African Americans—white-on-white crime in the United States is serious, but falling as all crime has for the last 20 years. And race-related hate crimes between different races is thankfully rare, last week's massacre notwithstanding.
But for people like Baum who claim adamantly not to be "racist" while stating repeatedly that black people are genetically inferior to Europeans—"how can it be racist if you tell the truth?"—peddling fear of black crime is not only a long American tradition dating back to slavery; it is a way to preserve what he believes to be a civilized way of life. If America becomes a "predominately non-white country," he told me, "we as a people will lose our culture, everything we created." That would mean "back-to-land types," killing of professors, Unibombers, he said, that "reject our trappings of civilization." Baum was a personal-injury lawyer in St. Louis; his client base was about half black in 2001, he said.
When I told Baum that, as a white woman, I didn't buy his vision of the superiority of whites over blacks and that white people have a rather mixed record in America, he proverbially patted me on the head. "The reason you feel that way, Hon, is because living in a European culture, you just take it for granted," he said.
'I Have Never Been the Same'
If the "manifesto" of 21-year-old Dylann Roof is actually his words, the accused terrorist said he was inspired to massacre black strangers at a church—while yelling about black crime in America—by evidence he found on the Council of Conservative Citizens website. I and the Jackson Free Press have tracked the site, and other groups and "paleo-conservatives" it's connected to, for years, especially because so many Mississippi, and American, politicians pander to the organization for votes and due to the potential of its propaganda to inspire hate crimes. The site has long chronicled one after another black-on-white crime, whether or not the crime had anything to do with race and, of course, without balancing the scary accounts with white-on-black or even white-on-white crimes. And, it goes without saying that the CofCC spends no time on the conditions that breed crime.
Roof allegedly wrote in the manifesto that he decided to "type in the words 'black on White crime' into Google, and I have never been the same since that day." The accounts on CofCC hit the right nerve for him. "The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?"
Since that manifesto surfaced, the CofCC has gone into defensive mode, first shutting down the site and then redirecting it to conservative-headlines.com with some different kinds of headline than the ones that touched Roof: "CofCC deeply saddened by Charleston spree killing," ending with "We pray, for the sake of all Americans, that there will not be an escalation of racial tension."
The current president of the organization, Earl Holt III, issued a statement yesterday distancing the group from Roof, but still owning the group's core message: "It has been brought to the attention of the Council of Conservative Citizens that Dylann Roof - the alleged perpetrator of mass murder in Charleston this week - credits the CofCC website for his knowledge of black-on-white violent crime. This is not surprising: The CofCC is one of perhaps three websites in the world that accurately and honestly report black-on-white violent crime, and in particular, the seemingly endless incidents involving black-on-white murder."
Holt continued: "The CofCC website exists because media either 'spike' such stories, or intentionally obscure the race of black offenders. Indeed, at its national convention some years ago, the Society of Professional Journalists adopted this tactic as a formal policy."
What that statement doesn't say is that the SPJ and other journalism organizations are, correctly, changing the long-time practice of emphasizing race in crimes where it is not a factor, or as the only identifying characteristic of a suspect, precisely because American media have a long history of identifying "black" crime in more sensationalistic ways than crimes committed by whites. In other words, mainstream media in America traditionally often helped profile certain groups with more sensational coverage, and there is a welcome move to repair that problem. The CofCC doesn't like that change.
The CofCC takes no responsibility for motivating the crime with its focus on negative news about black people. "The CofCC is hardly responsible for the actions of this deranged individual merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website," Holt wrote.
Holt's statement appeared on the American Renaissance website, headed by Jared Taylor, now the Council of Conservative Citizens spokesman (these groups often cross-pollinate). Taylor is an avowed fan of the notorious 1961 book, "Race and Reason: A Yankee View," used by racists to justify Jim Crow in Mississippi and other states during the Civil Rights Movement by laying out supposedly scientific arguments to prove that black people are inferior.
In the book, Putnam avows that "[p]ersonally, I feel only affection for the Negro. But there are facts that have to be faced." Missing for those he called "pure-blooded blacks" is "that combination of character and intelligence which is civilization." He calls black children "by nature inferior," adding that white children shouldn't go to school with them because "the full-blooded Negro is congenitally only partially adaptable," especially to life in Western civilization. The New Englander, as Putnam calls himself, allows at the end of the book that black people can attain a certain amount of progress in the right environment. "Only the raw material was genetic. It determined the limits," he wrote.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, an avowed segregationist from South Carolina who died in 2003, blurbed the cover of the book: "In 'Race and Reason,' Mr. Putnam provides a deep, candid and responsible analysis of the circumstances which underlie the problems between the races. It is a challenge to objectivity which no American, regardless of color or status, can safely afford to ignore."
CofCC spokesman Jared Taylor gives a wholehearted approval of Putnam's thesis, writing that it "remains to this day one of the most lucid, persuasive treatments of racial differences and what they mean for society." Taylor was a speaker for at the CofCC national conference in Jackson in 2009, and is editor of American Renaissance magazine, which describes itself as "America's premiere publication of racial-realist thought."
"Race is an important aspect of individual and group identity. Of all the fault lines that divide society—language, religion, class, ideology—it is the most prominent and divisive," Taylor writes. "Race and racial conflict are at the heart of the most serious challenges the Western World faces. ... Attempts to gloss over the significance of race or even to deny its reality only make problems worse."
Integration is a failure, Taylor says, pointing to African American and Hispanic crime rates as proof. Like Baum, he questions the ability of blacks to live successfully in a civilized society, and has said that Central Americans are organizing to invade the rest of North America.
'They're Not Just Old People'
The twisted narrative of using discrimination, and even violence, against African Americans because they're supposedly more violent by nature dates back to slavery times, and was a common excuse for lynching in America. The Citizens Council was founded in Carroll County with former Mississippi State football star Robert "Tut" Patterson as its first leader in response to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and spread all over the state and much of the United States in the 1950s and 1960s as a supposedly more civilized way to keep the races separate. Its "upstanding" members included many white business people and leaders in Jackson, where it was headquartered, run by William J. "Bill" Simmons, who later ran the Fairview Inn and was famous for supposedly saying that he knew where every white person in Jackson stood on the race question. (He later denied to me that he ever said that when I was running the early JFP briefly out of my home across the street from the Fairview Inn).
Simmons and the Citizens Council used the scientific-racism notions of black inferiority to justify its boycotts of people and businesses of any race that supported integration. The Council also provided behind-the-scenes financial and other support of the Ku Klux Klan terrorists who tried to scare black people and their allies out of fighting for freedom, even as they publicly condemned violence. It didn't officially close its doors here until 1990.
But it started losing power sooner. Once the Civil Rights Movement and government-enforced Jim Crow segregation came to a federally mandated end (at least officially) in 1970 when the Supreme Court forced states including Mississippi to integrate right away, organized racism had to become something else. One of the things that it became was the Council of Conservative Citizens.
In 2001, Baum described to me how he took the old mailing lists of the Citizens Council to rebuild its membership and moved the headquarters from Mississippi to St. Louis (even as Bill Simmons started remaking his image into an easy-going innkeeper who welcomed black patrons at the Fairview Inn in his ornate home in Jackson's Belhaven, which is under very different ownership now).
"We're strongest in the South because that's where we got our start," Baum said. The group has always claimed probably stronger membership than it has—the meetings are often a handful of aging white men complaining about race-mixing—but the group took strong advantage of the Internet, as have many white-power organizations. During my interview with Baum in 2001, he was concerned about wavering membership, but by the time a writer for our paper interviewed him again in 2009, he was encouraged by the potential the downturn in the country, and the election of a black president, presented.
"They're not just old people," Baum told Jesse Wright for the JFP about new recruits. "The vast majority of our new recruits are under 40."
The membership spike was due to tough times. "Anytime in which people are, in a large degree, appealing to people who have been marginalized, then the pool from which you draw these people expands," Hodding Carter III, an expert on the Citizens Council and its offspring, told the Jackson Free Press then.
Building on the fear among many whites in response to a black president, and an uncertain economy, fits what Baum told me in 2001. "If you're a poor, white male, you've got everything going against you," he said. "You're in the most discriminated (against) group. ... We have more poor whites than anybody else." And, he said, whites are the "least racist group."
Baum said poor whites resent that black people—which he called a "subspecies of the same species"—are getting special privileges even as they do worse on the "Bell Curve" of intelligence. He checked off a laundry list of public institutions and policies that many whites don't want to fund because they believe, falsely, that they mostly benefit African Americans. "Headstart was a total flop. All the money we've spent for education, none of it has worked. Educaiton doesn't make it any better. ... We need to either halt or limit immigration, the way it's going today."
Then Baum sounded like an old-time eugenicist. "There's something wrong with rewarding those people to have children ... to encourage the least genetically well endowed to have children. IQ rates are going down," he said.
Ultimately, Baum insisted, it's not racist to say these things; it's about preserving what's great about white people. "Other than a handful of Asians, Nobel Prize winners and an overwhelming majority of movers and shakers are still European whites. What happens when we're gone?" he asked.
'The Cross and the Confederate Flag Cannot Co-exist'
The CofCC, which it's often called (and that they prefer to CCC, for perhaps obvious reasons), in many ways has long been a haven for aging racists who don't want to give up the past and hold on to antiquated ideas about white superiority. But, its real power has been somewhat behind the scenes and, starting in the 1970s, has fit well with the "new" Republican Party that emerged from the Civil Rights Movement—the one that political strategists Lee Atwater and his young mentee, Haley Barbour, helped reconfigure into a party that was suddenly more the Party of Strom (Thurmond) than the Party of Lincoln that had helped free the slaves.
The new GOP welcomed the southern Dixiecrats, who were angry after Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party caved by embracing federal civil-rights legislation. That made it harder for them to continue denying black people the right to vote or access to public businesses and accommodations, not to mention public schools (which most of them started hating, as a result, even as many of them had attended public schools themselves, back when they were segregated by law). But maybe they would settle for a lot of rhetoric, and perhaps action, against government programs now seen to benefit black Americans, including welfare and public education.
First Richard Nixon and then Ronald Reagan capitalized on the new "southern strategy" by using coded phrases that cynically played into many white southerners' anger and fear at losing the race war once again: Suddenly, the Republican mantra was to ensure that all those black "welfare queens" and "Cadillac liberals" didn't take their heard-earned cash. Reagan even kicked off his campaign for president at the Neshoba County Fair, just down the road from where the bodies of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were found in 1964, after being excoriated by the Citizens Council, tracked by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission and then killed by local law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan. At a fair where old white men stood at attention when my high school band—I was on flute—played "Dixie," Reagan rallied my hometown with the loaded "I am for state's rights" mantra. That code phrase had long served as the weak excuse used to obfuscate why the South seceded and fought a Civil War, which was to retain and expand slavery and white supremacy, which Confederate leaders made clear in their own words then.
Of course, many of the policies behind the scare tactics wouldn't benefit the people scared into supporting them, but the politics of emotion worked. A head of the Republican National Committee, not named Barbour, may have later apologized for divisive, harmful vote strategy, but it unquestionably helped Republicans take over much of the South.
The strategy especially worked brilliantly on southern white politicians, with some help. The CofCC quickly positioned itself as the "conservative" group that would basically vet politicians on the race question, which Baum openly talked about in interviews, insisting that the group made sure every politician who appeared with the group—from former Govs. Kirk Fordice and Haley Barbour to Sen. Trent Lott—knew exactly what the group was about.
"Believe me, they all knew what we were—we made sure of that. They're just protecting their rear ends," Baum told the Jackson Free Press in 2009. He always seemed amused at the notion that any politician would argue that they have no idea who they were appearing before.
In CofCC conventions and their propaganda, always sent to politicians, the group didn't hide their racist proclivities, even as the website famously talked about race-mixing turning America into a "shiny brown glop," but they controlled politicians in the South with the fear that they would and could turn white voters away.
Lydia Chassaniol is a Mississippi Senate leader from Carroll County, and the chair of the Tourism Committee. In 2009, the Council of Conservative Citizens made a huge deal about her being the "surprise" speaker at its national convention here in Jackson. Even after she was called out by ministers and others, she refused to give up her membership in the group and played it off as just another tourism effort on her part.
"As chair of the tourism committee in the Mississippi Senate, I felt it was appropriate to invite the members of a national organization to visit our state's tourist attractions," Chassaniol wrote in a statement. "I do not consider myself racist, have never before been accused of such, and believe that a person's membership in any organization is a private matter."
Everything soon returned to status quo, and she's still in those roles, much as Lott, Fordice and Barbour were unscathed politically by their CofCC associations. In Mississippi, at least, politicians still aren't punished at the poll both for cozying up to white supremacists who believe that black people are genetically inferior to "Europeans" in what Baum called "attitudes, temperature and intelligence" to me in 2001.
So, a long trail of white (and a few black) politicians have prostrated themselves before the CofCC, with many of them enthusiastically selling their souls to the racist devil both in front of the group and to the public by slamming Headstart, public education, immigration and all the supposedly anti-European ideas that the CofCC has long hated. And, of course, that meant these politicians had to support the Confederate flag at every turn to get the group's support.
The Confederate battle flag, which still flies in various forms officially in several southern states, was brought back as a symbol of resistance to ending Jim Crow segregation after the Brown v. Board decision. A lot of the CofCC's time and organizing has been spent to keep the flag in place as a taxpayer-funded talisman so that it continues to fly in front of state buildings, public schools and remains a reminder of a certain way of life that some still don't want to let go 150 years after the bloody scuffle over slavery ended.
"Because of our resistance, we're the group that kept the flag over the capitol for seven years in South Carolina," Baum told me in 2001, the same year that the group's influence helped turn out the votes needed to keep the antiquated symbol in the Mississippi state flag. In the 14 years since we first spoke, the CofCC has never let up on its support of the flag, which is supposed to symbolize heritage, while to many it says treason and hate.
In the post-Charleston climate, many people are trying to take that flag down in South Carolina and beyond. Even as Roof is pictured waving and holding the flag in many photos, even leaders of religious organizations that in years past turned their heads away from the flag, not to mention segregation and race hatred, are climbing on the wagon to bring it down.
"White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them," wrote Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative religious institution that has long struggled with the role it played, or didn't play, in the Civil Rights Movement.
"The gospel frees us from scrapping for our "heritage" at the expense of others. ... The Confederate battle flag may mean many things, but with those things it represents a defiance against abolition and against civil rights. The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night."
Moore, who is a native Mississippian from Biloxi, then challenges the flag in a way that must keep CofCC leaders awake at night. "That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ. The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire. White Christians, let's listen to our African American brothers and sisters."
See jfp.ms/cofcc for more coverage of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Additional reporting by Ronni Mott.