Council of Conservative Citizens marching in support of the Confederate Flag, with CofCC and Traditionalist Youth Network member Matt Heimbach.

Almost Acceptable: The Curious Case of the Council of Conservative Citizens

Council of Conservative Citizens tabling next to the American Freedom Party, a neo-fascist "third positionist" political party advocating white nationalism.
Council of Conservative Citizens tabling next to the American Freedom Party, a neo-fascist “third positionist” political party advocating white nationalism.

The recently deceased Gordon Baum founded the Council of Conservative Citizens in the 1980s to try and resurrect the goals and principles of the White Citizens Councils. Baum was a former staff organizer with the original Citizens Councils of America attempting to stop integration in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement. After his failure he decided to begin working towards attacking social integration by creating an organization that focused on racial issues while remaining tied to the political mainstream.

What stands out as unique about the CofCC is that it maintains continuity to the past. For most groups on the political radical edge, both on the right and the left, it is difficult to maintain the original group structure for decades. Instead, groups that are successful in some historical period become a brand name that has power rather than being able to continue its original structure. A great example of this is the various generations of the Ku Klux Klan. Veterans of the Confederate Army founded the first Klan in Tennessee in 1865. The goal of this was to essentially create a paramilitary force that could overthrow the Republican, Reconstructionist state and re-establish Chattel White Supremacy. It declined and then restarted in 1915, then hitting incredible size by the 1920s. This is generally the KKK that people think of that forced waves of massive lynching of people of color all through the south, but also maintaining political power by getting Governors and Senators elected around the country. At its peak it had 4-5 million members, which was, at that time, about 15% of the eligible population. The third wave of the class started during the Civil Rights movement and were much more subcultural and fragmented, engaging in acts of violence throughout the south. Today the third wave somewhat maintains while dozens of different groups continue to say that they are the true tradition of the Klan, and it has had minimal success mainstreaming with figures like Don Black and David Duke. Each generation of the Klan has no organizational connection to the previous generation. The only connection is essentially the brand, even organizational structures and organizing goals change. The sheets stay the same.

The CofCC on the other hand actually does maintain continuity, to some degree, to the White Citizens Councils. Baum created the CofCC off of the original mailing list, so it was able to re-engage the members of the original councils that maintained their racist anger about the ongoing integration process.

It is from this formation in 1988 that the next complication begins to surface: its connection to mainstream conservatism. Organizations that deal with white nationalism do, in general, rebuke the political system of the U.S. because of its ongoing attempt towards progress, however piecemeal and “in name only.” It is hard for open white nationalist organizations to maintain any connections to mainstream politicians at this point because of the political liability that they maintain. The White Citizens Councils themselves were made up of segregationist conservatives that were a part of the mainstream political conversation of their time, and so when transferred to the CofCC there is still much of the political coherence. This was especially true in the Deep South where being associated with the White Citizens Councils is actually a political benefit even today. Their Statement of Principles included that this is a Christian country, that the United States are for European people, that the U.S. is a sovereign nation, that traditional family is central, and that they support racial integrity.

For years the CofCC participated in the Conservative Political Action Conference, a mainstream political conference that hosts all major Republican candidates of the period. They maintained a table with a large Confederate Battle flag. The late Sam Francis, one of the few paleoconservative white nationalists that somehow maintained a connection to mainstream conservative media outlets, edited their newsletter, the Citizen Informer. Their website and newsletter focuses on political issues that can tie directly to race, like racially components in crime, education, welfare, affirmative action, “forced bussing,” and others.

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A lot has been made recently of their connections to mainstream Republicans, from hosting them at their conference to the $65,000 that their founder contributed to contemporary Republican candidates. This main seem like a certain amount of excessive attention, but the connection here is much more elaborate than people might understand. Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was an early supporter of the CofCC and spoke at their conference in 1993. In 1998, Republican Congressman Bob Bar provided the keynote address at the CofCC’s conference, while former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott spoke to them five times. As recent as the period from 2000 to 2005, 38 elected officials attended CofCC events. These are not flukes, but really key elements of the CofCC that draws people into their events and conferences. The founding of the CofCC also included former Georgia Governor Lester Maddox and later Louisiana Congressmen John Rarick. In 2009, Republican Mississippi State Senator Lydia Chassaniol addressed the group with an appropriately titles speech “Cultural Heritage in Mississippi” where she made offensive claims about African Americans. She later confirmed that she is a member.

The CofCC has often been tied to this unofficial network of pseudo-political racialist groups internationally, even sending people to the Front National event in France. The members even presented nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen with a Confederate Battle Flag.

So then what kind of demographic makes of the rest of the CofCC? Jared Taylor, a proponent of Race and IQ debates and founder of the white nationalist American Renaissance organization, acts as one of their most prominent spokespeople. James Edwards, host of the racialist Political Cesspool radio program, sits on their Board of Directors. They have members of skinhead gangs like Volksfront, Hammerskin Nation, and Blood and Honour, in their membership, and often hosts discussions about racial inferiority, the innate criminality of black people, neo-Confederate revisionism, and even hosted a “historian” who’s “orthodox Christian” view of slavery is that it was a beautiful relationship between slave and master. Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Youth Network even gave a speech recently calling for white revolution towards an “ethno-state.”

So the curiosity of the Council of Conservative Citizens is how they have straddled the line between open white supremacist vanguard and semi-mainstream conservative activism. As mentioned, their board member James Edwards hosts a radio show that regularly brings on white nationalists, holocaust deniers, klansmen, and others from the “pro-white” movement. This show is hosted by the Christian Liberty News Network, which carries it on regular radio stations beyond its Internet presence. Their radio ads feature a number of conspiracy theory, white racialist, and alternative medicine ads, which also includes one for the CofCC. Here, among its various principles, its says “The CofCC supports racial purity, which is a part of God’s law.” How is this allowed on a relatively mainstream Christian radio network? How can politicians continue to claim that they were unaware of the CofCC’s agenda when it is shown so blatantly and publicly?

Jared Taylor, founder of American Renaissance, speaking at the CofCC conference.  Taylor is a public advocate of white nationalism and race and IQ claims.
Jared Taylor, founder of American Renaissance, speaking at the CofCC conference. Taylor is a public advocate of white nationalism and race and IQ claims.

A large part of this answer is the importance it plays in southern politics even today. As with any institution that represents a vocal minority, politicians will have to pander to be elected. The Council of Conservative Citizens, by many counts, is the largest organization of its type in the country. It is certainly the largest that maintains an aesthetic and structure that blends into similar conservative and Tea Party groups, yet has a very committed membership. This allows for them to be the acceptable wing of the far right for politicians to continue to pander to. At the same time, they continue to represent a Southern Nationalism that is of critical cultural importance to many in the south. Similar to Southern Nationalist organizations like the League of the South they are allowed to have a dual politic by many of the people who look to them for leadership. They provide a revolutionary vision of a white southern state while also providing options for people to engage in contemporary politics. The bottom line is that this open racial rhetoric still plays in parts of the south and Midwest, where as coded racial language often drives whites in the rest of the country.

The CofCC also is allowed to blend into the panorama of American conservative organizations where race baiting, homophobia, and violent nationalism are still acceptable form of rhetoric. On a quick look at the CofCC website it would appear indistinguishable from most Tea Party, Paleoconservative, or Constitutionalist websites. If we are to be honest, many of their ideas are simply more openly articulated versions of many of these “dog whistle” right wing political organizations.

This is not a new type of politic and, because of controversies in recent years; the CofCC is being pushed further to the right as conventional politicians all but shun them. The CofCC is one of many groups that have maintained a bridge between the fringe and the edges of the mainstream. VDare, an anti-immigration website ran by former National Review writer Peter Brimelow, has hosted white nationalists regularly since its founding, but also is a meeting spot for mainstream Republican politicians and anti-immigration activists. The anti-tax movement of the 1980s and 90s was one of the best example of these where the Ron Paul movement was often matched by open neo-Nazis and militiamen, though in the 2000s we began seeing a left-cultural oriented libertarian movement that separated it from its right wing past. In the early 1990s, David Duke represented this crossover point very publicly where a former neo-Nazi and Klan leader, who never rejected his racism and anti-Semitism, almost won by a Senatorial position and Governor of Louisiana. He did with a state legislative seat, which he used to try and push bills to sterilize women receiving welfare. Pat Buchanan also mainstreamed these nationalist ideas in the 1992 Republican primary, though this has more well coded language that the rest. Today, a number of organizations continue to maintain this bridge from a number of locations. Traditionalist Catholics, neo-confederates, paleoconservatives, and other right wing groups have ties that go both ways, that makes them acceptable in both camps.

The far right does fundamentally break from the Republican mainstream in that their value system rejects equality and democracy. Republicans may have a very distorted understanding of this, but many of them will agree in the fundamental equality of peoples on some level. This is not a universalized value by any means, and we see that there are still crossover points that we thought were long closed. The issue here is not that these right wing politicians will crossover to white nationalist organizations, but that their racial ideas will influence contemporary political discourse. Dozens of politicians have been associated with the CofCC, and you can certainly see where their politics of racial fear and separation have been allowed to seep into regional politics.

On the other end, the CofCC has seen a huge influx of press because Dylann Roof, the shooter in Charleston, cited it. In a recent NPR interview, a former FBI Terrorism investigator, who spent the late 1980s and early 1990s going undercover in neo-Nazi groups, mentioned that, while ideologically disgusting, not all of these groups are at risk for violence. He mentioned that it is important to look at the patterns of violence themselves rather than the underlying ideology. There is certainly some truth in this logic in that some people are predisposed to this violent behavior and many people would never engage in this type of violence no matter what ideological foundations they were provided. The problem with this, however, is that the white nationalist ideology and justifications maintain violence as implicit. The CofCC justifies their ideas of racial separation by making pseudoscientific arguments about genetics that make blacks appear as qualitatively inferior to whites. They manipulate news stories to make it appear as though blacks are attacking whites at a genocidal rate, raping white women and attacking children. These ideas create a sense of urgency, as well as separate people of color from the same humanity as fellow white people. This dehumanization fundamentally makes it easier to make them the target of violence, as well as give the sense that violent targeting of people of color as being socially responsible. This is also true in terms of the anti-Semitic attacks where by Jews are seen as essentially demonic cabals controlling and destroying white people. The ideas here are statistically much more likely to lead to acts of violence than almost any other. This is especially true as the SPLC’s recent reports that right wing terrorism has been almost twice as frequent as Muslim terrorism since September 11th, 2001. While the CofCC does not advocate violence, has condemned the attacks, and probably honestly thinks that these acts are counter-productive, the violence is built into their narrative. It feeds into anger and disorientation of many people on the edge, and is built to push them into murderous acts.The CofCC is no doubt in its period of decline, and this recent association with extreme violence will be the final nail in the coffin in terms of their political connections. Gordon Lee Baum died in March of 2015 and his son has proved incompetent in taking the organization forward. Their existence was based on their ability to straddle the fence between open white supremacy and regular politics, but this last push will no longer allow them into the open political sphere. In recent days people like Jared Taylor and James Edwards have begun doing interviews to defend the council, but they continue to go on and on about black crime rates rather than just stand against the murders. The CofCC has slowly become just another meeting place for organized white nationalists, usually with a southern flare, and the kinds of people we are seeing surround the organization now shows that it has finally taken a full plunge into the underground. They, along with the associated League of the South, will likely join in on the coming fight to keep the Confederate Battle Flag up in southern states, but their association with the issue could only help the opposition.

The question really comes to whether or not white nationalists will maintain organizations that can tie themselves to the mainstream. To the right of the CofCC are groups like the American Freedom Party, which was originally the neo-fascist American Third Position Party. The AFP is roundly denounced for its open racial rhetoric, association with Golden State Skinheads, and for essentially being a meeting place of other white nationalist organizations. The CofCC membership that does want to maintain ties may just flood over to constitutionalist and libertarian parties, groups working on border issues like immigration and affirmative action, or they may focus specifically on overturning the recent marriage equality decision.   On the other hand, this may be what is needed to push them further into the radical sphere, which could result in even more acts of isolated ‘lone wolf’ violence. What is clear is that a light has been shown on organizations that were previously able to go under the radar through their ability to mimic the mainstream American conservative movement. What will serve people who want to organize against this type of racism best is to really look at the politics of the CofCC and to be aware of it when it pops up with different aesthetics.

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