As South Carolina's Republican primary election draws nearer, Mike Huckabee has ratcheted up his appeals to the racial nationalism of white evangelicals. "You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," the former Arkansas governor told a Myrtle Beach crowd on January 17, referring to the Confederate flag. "If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole. That's what we'd do."
Making coded appeals to white racism is nothing new for Huckabee. Indeed, well before he was a nationally known political star, Huckabee nurtured a relationship with America's largest white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. The extent of Huckabee's interaction with the racist group is unclear, but this much is known: he accepted an invitation to speak at the group's annual conference in 1993 and ultimately delivered a videotaped address that was "extremely well received by the audience."
Descended from the White Citizens Councils that battled integration in the Jim Crow South, including at Arkansas' Little Rock High School, the Council (or CofCC) has been designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In its "Statement of Principles," the CofCC declares, "We also oppose 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."
The CofCC has hosted several conservative Republican legislators at its conferences, including former Representative Bob Barr of Georgia and Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. But mostly it has been a source of embarrassment to Republicans hoping to move their party beyond its race-baiting image. Former Reagan speechwriter and conservative pundit Peggy Noonan pithily declared that anyone involved with the CofCC "does not deserve to be in a leadership position in America."
During a lengthy phone conversation in 2006, CofCC founder and former White Citizens Council organizer Gordon Lee Baum detailed for me Huckabee's dalliances with his group. Baum told me that Huckabee eagerly accepted his invitation to speak at the CofCC's 1993 national convention in Memphis, Tennessee.
Huckabee's plan was complicated, however, when Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker journeyed out of state and appointed a state senator to preside over the governorship. The Arkansas state legislature passed a resolution forbidding the lieutenant governor from leaving Arkansas until Tucker returned, thus preventing Huckabee from attending the CofCC's conference.
In lieu of his appearance, according to Baum, Huckabee "sent an audio/video presentation saying 'I can't be with you but I'd like to be speaker next time.'" (The CofCC promptly replaced Huckabee with Michael Ramirez, a right-wing cartoonist whose work is currently syndicated to 400 newspapers by the Copley News Service.)
Baum's account of Huckabee's videotaped message was confirmed by a CofCC newsletter obtained by Edward Sebesta, a veteran observer of the neo-Confederate movement. "Ark. Lt. Governor Mike Huckabee, unable to leave Arkansas by law because the Governor was absent from the state, sent a terrific videotape speech, which was viewed and extremely well received by the audience," the 1993 newsletter (Vol. 24, No. 3) reported.
The following year, in 1994, the CofCC held its national conference in Little Rock, Arkansas to accommodate Huckabee. According to Baum, Huckabee initially agreed to speak before his group, but became apprehensive when the Arkansas media reported that he would be joined on the CofCC's podium by Kirk Lyons, a white nationalist legal activist who has hailed Hitler as "probably the most misunderstood man in German history."
"He didn't know anything about Kirk Lyons or anyone else," Baum said of Huckabee. "He said he would show up if we took Lyons off."
But Baum refused to remove his friend Lyons from the bill. Huckabee, who was more concerned about receiving bad publicity than by the racist underpinnings of the CofCC, withdrew his promise to speak. The CofCC replaced him this time with former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson, a White Citizens Council founder who organized the mob that rioted against the integration of Little Rock High School and later served as the star narrator of Rev. Jerry Falwell's discredited film, "The Clinton Chronicles."
In the end, Huckabee's aborted relationship with the CofCC benefited the group. "We had the biggest crowd in our history because of the publicity" surrounding Huckabee's planned appearance, Baum said of his 1994 conference.
The CofCC has since rebuked Huckabee for his insufficiently intolerant political behavior. Unfortunately, Huckabee has never rebuked the CofCC. Instead he embraced the group, ignoring its well known legacy of promoting racism and only severing ties when his political ambitions were threatened by bad publicity.
Cross posted at The Nation and The Huffington Post.