Lott hounded by link to supremacists

On a crusade: NAACP leader wants resolution denouncing group

Washington Post/March 30, 1999
By Kevin Merida

Everywhere he speaks, Julian Bond unfurls the refrain: "Where are the senators?"

He did it in Connecticut, in Florida, in Tennessee, in Louisiana, in Georgia, in Indiana, in Virginia. He named names, too.

"They were there for Khallid Muhammad. Where are they on this?"

Denouncement wanted

Khallid Abdul Muhammad is the former Nation of Islam lieutenant whose hateful rantings to a group of college students were condemned by the U.S. Senate in 1994 on a 97-0 vote. That kind of senatorial unanimity is hard to come by. But who's going to vote against denouncing racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism?

So the NAACP chairman wants to know where the same senators are when it comes to the Council of Conservative Citizens, which promotes the preservation of the white race and whose Web site features articles warning that the nation is turning into a "slimy brown mass of glop."

Sen. Trent Lott once addressed the group's national board, welcomed its leaders to Washington, had photos taken with them in his office and then said he didn't know what they were about. The CCC's directors wink and nod at that. One of them was a county chairman of Lott's '94 re-election campaign. One of them is his uncle.

Asked recently during an impromptu news conference why he couldn't support a resolution condemning the CCC, Lott's face conveyed that it was not the kind of question he yearned for.

"I think if anybody wants to have a resolution condemning any groups that advocate white supremacy or racism, then we should support that," he said. "But when you start naming one group or another group or this group or that group, the list is going to get to be pretty long."

Lott was reminded that he was one of the 97 senators who condemned the speech by Muhammad, in which he called the pope a "cracker," talked of killing white South Africans, demeaned black social commentators and labeled Jews the "blood suckers of the black nation."

"That was one individual, and then are we going to start doing that repeatedly and naming individuals?"

Lott was asked if it might be seen as hypocritical to condemn Muhammad but not the CCC.

"No, that doesn't seem hypocritical to me."

Then the Senate majority leader turned away. Next question, please.

In the spotlight The Council of Conservative Citizens, founded in 1985, was not even on the national radar screen before December, when it was disclosed that Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., had spoken before the group. Then the Washington Post revealed that Lott also had addressed the organization and it was reported in Mississippi that he was a member.

He initially denied any "firsthand knowledge" of the group's agenda and added through his spokesman that he didn't consider himself a member. (Lott's uncle says he paid his nephew's dues.) A week later, Lott's office was told of a 1992 CCC newsletter that pictured the senator delivering a speech to the group's national board in Greenwood, Miss.: "The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."

At that point, Lott renounced the group but continued to decline interviews on the subject. Lott had his spokesman explain that he wasn't aware of the CCC's views on white supremacy, that he deplored those views and that he wouldn't have anything to do with the group now or forever more.

In January, Lott put out a two-sentence statement saying that use of his name by the CCC "is not only unauthorized -- it's wrong." Recently he sent the Anti-Defamation League a letter of further clarification.

Receiving CCC leaders in his office, the letter said, was an innocent act. "I have always made a point of seeing, however briefly, as many of my home-state visitors to Washington as possible. . . . It's just not possible to research the backgrounds of all these folks, and I don't think anyone would want me to."

Lott declined to be interviewed for this article. His press secretary, John Czwartacki, said his boss is not eager to engage in a discussion of his racial views.

As the highest-ranking Republican in the land, Lott has drawn darts from the left and right. Conservative columnist Arianna Huffington called on him "to end any speculation that he has ongoing ties with that group" by introducing a Senate resolution condemning it. Tom Cosgrove, a longtime Democratic consultant, established Citizens for Tolerance, which asked the Senate ethics committee to investigate Lott's CCC ties.

Within the Senate

But these criticisms are gnats that Lott dismissively swats away. From his peers, in the regal setting where he makes his living, there has been not a whisper.

Which is why Bond has been on this crusade.

"For them to condemn one of their fellows is an admission to them that this virus exists among them, and they can't bring themselves to do that," Bond said. "And I'm not just talking about Republicans; it's Democrats, too."

Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the former Democratic chairman, hasn't taken up the campaign. Neither has Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who, an aide explained, needs Lott's goodwill if he's to be successful with his minimum-wage and managed-care legislation. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., has been busy, his spokesman says. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., who co-sponsored the condemnation of Muhammad, is worried about being involved in a partisan hunt for Lott's head.

Pete Domenici, R-N.M.? "I don't have any comment on that." Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.? "What (do) they want to censure them for?"

Finally, a question for Richard Lugar, R-Ind. It is the question Bond keeps asking: Why haven't more of Lott's peers challenged him about his ties to the CCC? "Largely, probably, because there are an endless number of issues. If each one of us was busy censuring each other every day on every meeting we have attended or not attended, it would be a long day."

This issue, Lugar added, "has not been a central focus for the Senate or public life in America."

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