Case in point: Haley Barbour, the Governor of Mississippi. Of the civil rights era, he said "I just don't remember it as being that bad," he told the Weekly Standard. "I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in '62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white." In Barbour's world, the races lived side by side during Jim Crow segregation, and the White Citizens' Council--known to many as the white collar Klan-- was a force for good in his hometown of Yazoo City:
You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.
The reality of these councils was far different, as neo-confederate expert Edward Sebesta documents in his Citizens' Council newspaper historical website. The councils were established as a direct response to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, to resist desegregation and maintain white supremacy in the South. An article in the October 1955 edition of The Citizens' Council entitled, "Mississippi Citizens' Councils Are Protecting Both Races" had this to say:
Citizens' Councils, 60,000 strong and growing fast, are mobilizing Mississippi to guard both whites and Negroes.
Their aim is to preserve separation of the races against assaults form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in alliance with the federal government. At the same time, they are dedicated to protect the rank and file of Negroes from the wrath of ruffian white people who may resort to violence.
And in an article called "Texans Will Fight To Preserve Segregation":
There's a rainbow of hope in the dark "integration" sky in Texas.
The courageous spirit of manhood which had been somewhat dulled by more than twenty years of imported propaganda, brought into this country by way of Washington, is re-asserting itself and definite steps are being taken to counter the worst blow directed against the South since the Civil War.
Following the Supreme Court's ruling, which applied only to certain Negro children in Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, Kansas and the District of Columbia, the NAACP, composed partly of Negroes but mostly of rich white trash, saw a chance to put a fast one over. They gave the South the rush act, with their attorneys and representatives spilling out into each State and insisting that de-segregation was now the law of the land. They were about to get by with it when the people of Texas, as well as its officials waked up and went into action. ...
The people of Texas, like those of the Deep South, have always been extremely fond of good Negroes....But in the final analysis and when the chips are down, they just don't go much for arrogant Mullatoes who come barging into the State from out of the East making threats...before rolling away in long black Cadillacs....
While the matter is far from settled, it is now clear that Texas, along with other States in the South, will exhaust every legal resource available in resisting the attempt of a Marxist-conscious Supreme Court to bring about mongrelization of the white race by judicial ruling.
And a pamphlet from the Association of Citizens' Councils titled "Why Does Your Community Need a Citizens' Council?" referred to the NAACP as the "National Association for the Agitation of Colored People." "We will not be integrated. We are proud of our white blood and our white heritage of sixty centuries," said the pamphlet. "We are certainly not ashamed of our traditions, our conservative beliefs, nor our segregated way of life."
Barbour seemed to backtrack from his comments praising the racist group, which is akin to getting a bucket of water after you just committed arson. After praising the Councils, he said the groups were "indefensible" and called segregation "a difficult and painful era for Mississippi."
Meanwhile, the GOP standard-bearers are taking sides in the latest battle between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Family Research Council. The SPLC, a civil rights group based in Montgomery, Alabama, released a report called 18 Anti-Gay Groups and Their Propaganda. One of the groups named in the report is the Family Research Council, which is described by SPLC as a font of anti-gay propaganda that calls for the criminalization of homosexuality, and pushes false accusations linking gays to pedophilia. Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana state representative and the head of FRC, once paid $82,500 to use the mailing list of former Klan chieftain David Duke. Moreover, in 2001 Perkins gave a speech to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group that is the ideological heir to the White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s.
FRC is fighting back with a "Start Debating, Stop Hating" campaign. Not surprisingly, the Republican Party leaders are siding with the hate group. In a full-page ad in Politico and the Washington Examiner, FRC calls SPLC a "liberal fundraising machine." The ad also accuses the civil rights group of character assassination, and attacking groups that "uphold Judeo-Christian moral views, including marriage as the union of a man and a woman." Among the 150 conservative leaders--including 22 members of Congress-- who signed the letter are Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), Sen, Jim DeMint (R-SC), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. "It was a remarkable performance, given that it was precisely the maligning of entire groups of people -- gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people -- that caused the SPLC to list groups like the FRC," SPLC responded on its blog.
This comes as civil rights groups push for a federal review of curriculum changes made by the Republican-owned Texas Board of Education, including the removal of people of color in the textbooks, the watering down of the civil rights movement, and teaching slavery, Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy in a positive light. The groups claim the board is discriminating against black and Latino students, and failing to provide equal educational opportunities to these students.
Here's the deal: The GOP cannot have it both ways. They cannot take a stand in favor of hate groups--white supremacists, neo-confederates, and homophobes-- and take offense when their critics call them out for it. Moreover, they cannot rewrite history and attack civil rights. Since the Goldwater presidential campaign and Nixon's Southern Strategy, the Republicans made a deal with the Devil. And the Devil's in the details. Appealing to disaffected Southern whites on states' rights and skin-color solidarity, the GOP became the Dixiecrats. Tax cuts became code word for the N-word, because it was understood that blacks would get hurt worse than whites, as Southern Strategy architect Lee Atwater bluntly noted.
On one level, the Republican Party would whitewash the image of their base, not to mention America's racially-charged past and their role in it. And yet, on another level, they are so extreme that they embrace their intolerance with no shame. The GOP embraces the white-Christian-nationalist spirit of the White Citizens' Councils. They present themselves as the protectors of society from the enemy, the "other" who threatens to destroy white Christian values--whether Latino immigrants, Muslims, or gay marriage. We saw this in George H.W. Bush's Willie Horton ad, and we saw this in Sharron Angle's anti-immigration ads.
For now, in this bad economy, the GOP is living on borrowed time and scapegoats. But the clock is ticking and the nation is browning, and hate will not grow their base.