In the aftermath of the horrific June 17, 2015, church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, which left nine African-American parishioners dead, questions emerged about the alleged gunman’s links to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC).
In an on-line manifesto believed to have been written by 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who has allegedly confessed to the shootings, the author explains how the Council played an influential role in his radicalization following the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a young African-American man, by George Zimmerman.
From the website “The Last Rhodesian,” thought to have been created by Roof and where the manifesto was posted:
“The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. 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?”
Interest in the Council grew in the wake of the Charleston shootings after journalists revealed that the group’s current president, long-time Texas white supremacist Earl Holt III, had contributed substantial sums to a large number of GOP candidates and officials, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The candidates, who seem to have had no knowledge of Holt’s white supremacist connections, have pledged to either return the money or send it to a charity honoring the victims of the Charleston church attack.
Diminishing membership, sustained influence
The CofCC traces its roots directly to the racist anti-integrationist White Citizens Councils (later organized as the Citizens’ Councils of America) of the 1950s and 1960s. Long-time Missouri white supremacist Gordon Baum, who had been an organizer for the Citizens’ Councils of America, helped found the CofCC in 1985 and became its “Chief Executive Officer.” Baum died in March 2015; Holt has been running the group since.
Unlike many white supremacist groups, from Klan groups to neo-Nazis, the CofCC has always attempted to promote itself as a conservative advocacy group—despite its explicitly white supremacist nature—and has in the past enjoyed success in this realm, particularly in the deep South. The group exploits hot-button issues -- immigration, “black-on-white crime,” gun control and the preservation of so-called “Southern culture” -- to promote its bigoted views.
The national organization has been headquartered in St. Louis since its inception, but the group’s approximately dozen local chapters operate mostly autonomously. Those chapters have shrunk significantly in recent years – both in number and in member counts. The CofCC website no longer even lists the group’s chapters, a tactic that white supremacist groups of diminished status frequently employ in order to hide their declining numbers. Since its heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the CofCC has suffered a slow but steady decline, precipitated in part by Baum’s increasing age.
The organization’s website reflects that shift away from an operational to an ideological focus. Once an organizational and advocacy powerhouse within the white supremacist movement, it now functions primarily as an Internet clearinghouse for fear-mongering “news” stories about black-on-white crime and America’s shrinking white majority. As evidenced by comments on the group’s website, those stories clearly still have considerable sway and emotional appeal among racists. Though physically diminished, the CofCC still retains an ability to influence and motivate racists and bigots—among them, it seems, Dylann Storm Roof.
Declining influence on mainstream politicians
Throughout its history, the CofCC has tried to reach out to conservative politicians, especially in the South at the state and local levels, occasionally enjoying success, particularly in the 1990s. Haley Barbour, while a candidate for governor of Mississippi, spoke at one of the group’s meetings, as did Mike Huckabee while lieutenant governor of Arkansas. In 1992, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott delivered a speech at CofCC's annual conference, and in 1998, Georgia Representative Bob Barr spoke to the organization. The connections of Barr and Lott to the group erupted in scandal in 1998 after they were revealed. Both politicians claimed after their appearances that they were unaware of the group’s racism, Barr with some justification.
Because of the scandal, GOP chair Jim Nicholson, calling the group racist, instructed all Republican candidates and public officials to sever ties with the CofCC. Not all politicians rushed to distance themselves from the group, however. At the time, then-Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice told a Washington Post reporter that “There are some very good people in there with some very good ideas. All this stuff about them being racist, that’s hearsay, as far as I’m concerned.” A number of local politicians also continued to maintain ties with the group for some time, although the group’s decline effectively ended many such relationships.
In lieu of prominent politicians, the CofCC’s recent annual conferences have attracted well-known white supremacists. In 2013, for example, long-time white supremacists Ed Fields, Jared Taylor, and Paul Fromm were among the speakers.
While the CofCC tends to attract an older crowd, the group has occasionally tried to do outreach to younger white supremacists. One of the featured speakers at the group’s 2013 national conference was Matthew Heimbach, the founder of the Traditionalist Youth Network, a small white supremacist group that targets college and high school students. Heimbach used his platform at the CofCC conference to call for “secession along racial lines” so that “we are not completely destroyed and wiped out as is the agenda of the elites.” He also attacked Jews as wanting “to subvert our people and our civilization.”
In addition to its conferences, the CofCC participates in activities alongside other extremist groups. In February 2012, CofCC was part of the nationwide Free South Africa Project, an effort by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists to bring attention to the alleged “genocide” of white South African farmers. A year later, in February 2013, a number of local CofCC chapters took part in the so-called Free America Rally project, holding protests around the country against America’s changing demographics. The CofCC joined white supremacists from a number of other groups, including the American Freedom Party, at that event.
In November 2013, CofCC joined the League of the South, a racist group that wants to preserve “Southern culture,” in protesting the removal of a statue of Tom Watson, a white supremacist politician from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from the Georgia State Capitol.
Extremism in the guise of conservatism
In 2005, the CofCC voted to adopt a “Statement of Principles,” which it still uses today as the basis for the group’s positions. Drafted by Sam Francis, a well-known racist who died in 2005, the statement mixes conservative political principles – the idea of the U.S. as a constitutional republic, the primacy of states’ rights, the right to bear arms—and more extreme views, including the need to maintain a white majority and to segregate the United States. The CofCC asserts that America is a Christian country and that the “American people and government should remain European in their composition and character.”
CofCC also explicitly states that it opposes “all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called ‘affirmative action’ and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.”
Members of the CofCC express their views in the pages of the group’s magazine, The Citizens Informer. Most articles focus on alleged threats to the white population of the U.S., such as loss of political power and increasing non-white immigration. In one issue, CofCC member Sidney Secular describes immigrants as “mainly mestizo half-breeds” and decries the “ethnic and racial balkanization and hostile anti-white attitudes framed by liberalism.” Another member, Robert Slimp, who often writes about preserving the “culture” of the South, refers to immigration as an “invasion” of the country, and claims that “if this state of affairs continues, a majority of the U.S. population will be non-European aliens, and then our country will be gone forever.”
The group also belittles the African-American community by steadily repeating anti-black stereotypes and racist tropes, asserting that whites have an innate superiority and that blacks are prone to crime and violence. The CofCC website features dozens of daily articles that highlight alleged crimes by blacks against whites.
In 2013, a year after penning his attack on Trayvon Martin, Kyle Rogers, a long-time CofCC activist, who also runs the group’s website, wrote an article in which he attacked the federal government for allegedly planning to forcibly integrate white neighborhoods. He disparaged blacks for not wanting to improve their own neighborhoods and claimed that the federal government was implying that the only way for blacks to live in a safe neighborhood was to move into a white area.
While CofCC does not make anti-Semitism its main focus, preferring instead to concentrate its vitriol on African-Americans and immigrants, it invites well-known anti-Semites to speak at conferences, and members have expressed anti-Jewish views at CofCC events.
In November 2013, Gordon Baum’s daughter Renee Baum married white supremacist Brad Griffin, a CofCC member and, under the pseudonym “Hunter Wallace,” founder of the racist “Occidental Dissent” blog. Griffin is an anti-Semite who claimed in a 2013 article written after the CofCC’s national conference that "White Nationalists have legitimate fears of Jewish sabotage."