Along the way, the CCC has become the largest white-supremacist group in the nation, according to some observers. Members have donated thousands of dollars to politicians; some national politicians have joined, and dozens have spoken to CCC meetings, often regretting it later. On Monday, Republicans around the country hastened to give back cash they’d received from the CCC’s president, Earl Holt III. Yet despite its size, influence, and unabashed espousal of white separatism, the CCC seems to often go unnoticed, surfacing mostly at times of high racial tension.
The CCC’s roots lie in an older, now-defunct organization called the Citizens Councils of America (also known as White Citizens Council), which aimed to be a (somewhat) more respectable alternative to the Ku Klux Klan for white southerners who opposed integration; the group was sometimes called the “uptown Klan.” In 2010, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, still considered a potential presidential candidate, told Andrew Ferguson, implausibly, that the Councils helped bring about school integration without violence: “The business community wouldn’t stand for it. 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.”
Barbour’s name soon dropped from consideration. He was right that the Councils helped tamp down the Klan, which seemed uncouth to more buttoned-down segregationists, but once the fight against segregation had been lost, the Councils lost their raison d’etre and slowly faded away. In 1985, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, a former CCA Midwest field director named Gordon Baum founded the Council of Conservative Citizens as a successor group. Among his co-founders was Lester Maddox, the one-time Georgia governor who rose to prominence after chasing black patrons from his restaurant with an ax handle.
The CCC is now, according to the SPLC, the nation’s largest white nationalist group and at its peak boasted 15,000 members. Though the CCC is sometimes described as “thinly veiled” white supremacists or the like, that’s misleading—it makes little secret of its agenda. (Nonetheless, Ann Coulter has previously stepped forward to defend the group from the white-supremacy attack.) In a statement of principles, the group says:
We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people .... 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.
New members also receive a pamphlet about Martin Luther King Day co-written by the late racist Senator Jesse Helms. The Anti-Defamation League collects other examples of ties to hate groups and extremists.