Followup on the Chassaniol/White/CCC Controversy

There isn’t much new to say about the controversy surrounding Sen. Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona)’s connections to a white separatist group, but I’ve received enough emails on the matter to warrant an update.

Here’s what has happened over the past several weeks:

  • On the morning of July 17th, I appeared on the Paul Gallo Show on SuperTalk Mississippi to discuss the controversy. Gallo indicated that he had asked Sen. Chassaniol to appear on the program, but that she had decided not to do so. He also admitted that the CCC was a racist group, and that her decision to speak before it was “stupid.” Although my appearance lasted 50 minutes, only the first 15 (in which Gallo had not yet condemned the CCC) were made available as a podcast. This may indicate that he received some backlash from Republican officials over his remarks; I have been unable to obtain a full copy of the recording from Gallo’s producer.
  • Brad White has been given several opportunities to read my open letter (I sent it to him on Facebook, it was published in the Jackson Free Press, et. al.), but he has been unwilling to speak negatively about the group. A source within the Mississippi Republican Party, who had spoken to White about the matter, told me that White has so far chosen to remain silent on the CCC in an effort to protect Sen. Chassaniol from political fallout.
  • Local activist Beth Kander delivered a handwritten letter and flowers to Sen. Chassaniol’s office protesting the senator’s association with the CCC.  I’m very proud of Beth’s creative activism here, and proud to have been one of the many signatories of her letter.
  • I offered to write about the Chassaniol controversy for the Clarion-Ledger, but Perspectives editor Sid Salter, who has always been friendly towards me in the past, has ostensibly ignored my emails about the matter. This may have something to do with the fact that Sen. Chassaniol blogs for the Clarion-Ledger herself.
  • The Greenwood Commonwealth remains the only traditional newspaper to report on the story.

So: What next? Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I’m not going to drop this, but my expectation was that as soon as the story went public, Brad White would condemn the CCC and my involvement in this matter would largely end. (Sen. Chassaniol apparently has no intention of distancing herself from the group, but this is an issue that her constituents can address in the 2011 election.) That didn’t happen, so my hope was that if I publicized the matter further, there would at least be figures within the Mississippi Republican Party who would do the remaining work of pressuring party leaders to distance themselves from the white separatist movement.  Or, at the very very least, that local media would catch on and take over this issue.

None of this has really happened. The Gallo Show is statewide, part of any politically engaged Republican’s breakfast routine, so the complete silence on the part of party leaders can’t really be attributed to the possibility that they haven’t heard about this issue. We have to assume that, for some reason, the party leadership does not want to go on the record against white separatist groups right now.

I’ve been talking to members of both parties about ways to draw more visibility to this matter. If you have any ideas, please post them in the comments field below.

Thank you for all that you’ve done. We will marginalize the white separatist movement in Mississippi, and we will do it soon. Of this I have no doubt.

An Open Letter to Brad White, Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party

Dear Chairman White:

Sen. Lydia Chassaniol’s enthusiastic participation in the recent annual conference of the Council of Conservative Citizens calls attention to a problem that is much bigger, and much more dangerous, than one state senator.

Earlier today, three experienced activists asked me why I was singling out Sen. Chassaniol when so many white legislators, of both parties, sympathize with the Council’s ideology. One of my mentors, to whom I dedicated my recent book, went so far as to say that nobody who had ever spent time working at the Capitol could be truly surprised by what this one senator did.

These activists have a point. Even if Sen. Chassaniol were to apologize and resign her committee chairmanship in shame right now, this morning, it would not solve the more fundamental problem of racism in Mississippi politics. It is real, it is thriving, and it is fundamental to voting patterns in our state.

But it’s also quiet. And I’ve noticed something about quiet movements, Chairman White: they wither on the vine.  I am not as experienced as some activists, but I have seen how weak a movement can be when it’s silent and marginalized from mainstream politics, and I have seen how powerful a movement can suddenly become when people raise their voices and get some support from mainstream politicians.

The Council of Conservative Citizens, created from the pathetic ashes of the old White Citizen’s Council, used to be a force in Mississippi politics. The periodic Blackhawk event, held in Sen. Chassaniol’s own Carroll County, was emceed by the CCC’s infamous Bill Lord and raised money for seg academies in the area. For a long time, gubernatorial candidates of both parties spoke there and had to speak there.

But something happened to the Council: ten years ago, Senator Trent Lott called it “racist and white supremacist” and RNC Chair Jim Nicholson asked all Republican politicians to disassociate themselves from it. Since then, it has dwindled and lost influence, slowly drifting toward political oblivion.

It doesn’t deserve a second act.

Regardless of what you say or don’t say to Sen. Chassaniol, the Council deserves the condemnation of the Mississippi Republican Party. More importantly, the Mississippi Republican Party deserves to stand for something better than secondhand Dixiecrat frustration. If you allow the Mississippi Republican Party to come across as the organization that segregationists flee to when the Democrats don’t want them anymore, you are only undoing the hard work that so many Republicans, white and black, have put into making the Republican Party an institution that bona fide conservative Mississippians of all races can support.

The danger posed by Sen. Chassaniol’s participation in the Council’s national conference is that it might inspire other public officials to openly support the CCC. This is not in the best interests of either party, and it is not in the best interests of our state.

Please make a public statement against the Council and its execrable agenda, and ask that Republican candidates and elected officials avoid the white separatist movement like the plague that all Mississippians of good will know it to be.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully,

Tom Head
Jackson, MS

White Separatism in the Mississippi State Senate?

Last weekend, Sen. Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona) was the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization that has been classified as a white separatist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and described as having “a thinly-veiled white supremacist agenda” by The New York Times.  On the CCC web site, you can buy a “white pride” T-shirt; their platform praises America’s “European” heritage and condemns “mixture of the races”; a previous incarnation of their web site described African Americans as “a retrograde species of humanity”; and so forth.  The organization’s agenda is fairly transparent.

Sen. Chassaniol has refused to disavow the organization, praising it as a group of “lone voices crying in the wilderness” during her keynote and stating that its presence “gives [her] hope.”  When she was later asked about her membership in the group, she replied that “a person’s membership in any organization is a private matter.”

Why should we care?  Several reasons:

  1. Sen. Chassaniol chairs the Mississippi Senate Tourism Committee, and arguably wields more power than any other legislator to shape how Mississippi is perceived by non-residents.
  2. Sen. Chassaniol is one of the most visible Republicans in the state, even independently of her role on the tourism committee.  She is a popular speaker at conservative events, and has her own blog on the Clarion-Ledger web site.  Watching her sacrifice her credibility to support this unworthy organization is tragic.
  3. The last mainstream Republican politician to openly support the Council of Conservative Citizens was Governor Kirk Fordice in the 1990s.  Former RNC Chair Jim Nicholson, Governor Haley Barbour, Senator Trent Lott (who condemned the group as “white supremacist and racist”), and former Jackson City Council President Ben Allen have all spoken out against the organization–Republican politicians, in other words, at every level of government.  Sen. Chassaniol’s participation in the annual CofCC convention gives them the undeserved opportunity to reenter the mainstream of Republican politics in Mississippi.

Mississippians need Sen. Chassaniol to admit that she seriously misjudged the organization.

Action Items

  • Leave a message for Sen. Lydia Chassaniol at (601) 359 3226 politely but firmly asking her to cancel her membership with the Council of Conservative Citizens and publicly apologize for speaking at their convention.
  • Leave a message for Mississippi RNC Chair Brad White at (601) 948 5191 requesting that he reaffirm former RNC Chair Jim Nicholson’s rejection of the Council of Conservative Citizens, so that no statewide politicians get the wrong idea from Sen. Chassaniol’s participation in the event (given her high level of visibility in the Mississippi Republican Party).  The party of James Meredith and Charles Evers does not need to be associated with segregationist ideology.

For Further Reading