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Beyond Macaca: The Photograph That Haunts George Allen | The Nation

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Beyond Macaca: The Photograph That Haunts George Allen

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Days after Allen's proclamation, the SCV celebrated at the US Capitol. The featured speaker was Richard T. Hines, an influential Republican lobbyist and neo-Confederate financier who, a year earlier, had protested the erection of a memorial to black tennis star Arthur Ashe in downtown Richmond, Virginia as "an attempt to debunk our heritage." The NAACP condemned Allen's SCV-inspired proclamation, while Confederate Memorial Association President John Edward Hurley called the SCV's celebration at the Capitol one of "the worst capitulations to white supremacy" since the Ku Klux Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1920.

This photo, published in the Summer 1996 edition of the Citizens Informer, the newsletter of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, shows George Allen, left, and actor Charlton Heston, right, posing with Gordon Lee Baum and two associates.

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Max Blumenthal
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles...

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At the same time Allen also cultivated support from the SCV's sister organization, the United Daughters of the Confederacy. He was a frequent guest at their conventions and in March, 1997, in his second letter of commendation to the group, praised its members for "promoting historical accuracy and a clear understanding of the War Between the States," employing a euphemism for the Civil War popularized by neo-Confederate groups. (An article in a 1989 issue of the UDC magazine asserted that "the worse suffering group among those engaged in the [slave] trade" was "the crews of slave ships.")

When asked whether Allen supports or deplores the SCV, his communications director Reid replied in an e-mail, "Governors routinely send greetings to individuals and organizations and that is what the constituent service office did in this case. I am certain you will note the inclusive language in the letter advocating 'a rebirth of freedom for all Americans.'" As with the CCC, Reid did not offer any condemnation of the SCV.

At the height of Allen's governorship, in Spring 1995, the CCC's Citizens Informer praised him: "Residents of the Old Dominion are rejoicing." But the CCC's invisible support became a potentially controversial matter after a 1998 Washington Post article by Thomas Edsall disclosed the CCC's links to Bob Barr. CPAC head David Keene ousted them from his conference, bluntly telling the Post of his sudden discovery: "They are racists."

Baum, for his part, maintains that Keene and CPAC's attendees were well aware of his group's racial views. "David Keene, he knew who we were," Baum told me. "I mean, you have Confederate flags on each sides of your booth--like, duh. But after the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan, he didn't want us there." (Baum said he "finagled" tickets for the 2006 CPAC convention and promoted the CCC from behind the National Rifle Association's booth.)

In 2001, Governor Allen became Senator Allen. Almost as soon as he was inaugurated, he was forced to choose between the Lost Cause and his own ambition. Trent Lott set in motion Allen's supposed reconstruction. At a 2002 birthday party for Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Lott praised Thurmond's segregationist 1948 presidential campaign. At first, Allen rushed to Lott's defense, calling him "a decent and honorable man." Lott, however, soon became radioactive. The Washington Post reported Lott's links to the CCC; his tenure as Senate Majority Leader became wobbly. Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist and a White House aide, pressured Republican senators to remove Lott from his leadership position. (Rove preferred the more compliant Bill Frist in the Senate's top post.) Allen saw his own opportunity in Lott's disgrace. Overnight, he went from being staunch Lott supporter to outspoken Lott critic. Calling for Lott's resignation, Allen dubbed his remarks "offensive...to those touched by the viciousness of segregation."

In the wake of Lott's fall, Allen dramatically pronounced the end of institutional racism. "This is a day that the United States Senate, with Trent Lott's resignation, has buried, graveyard-dead-and-gone, the days of discrimination and segregation," he proclaimed. With discrimination "graveyard-dead," Allen clearly hoped questions about his own past would be buried as well.

In 2000, he had hung a noose at his law office. When that fact was reported, he claimed it had "nothing to do with lynching." When it was reported that he also hung large Confederate flags in his house, he explained they were part of his flag collection. Allen had also opposed the 1991 Civil Rights Act and making Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a holiday.

Using the Lott incident, Allen stepped forward as a champion the legacy of the civil rights movement. He boasted to Ryan Lizza of The New Republic of his "civil rights" pilgrimage to Selma, Alabama in 2002 with Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a former Freedom Rider. In 2005, together with Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Allen co-sponsored a formal apology for slavery. He was carrying the banner of a new brand of Republicanism that compensated for its opposition to affirmative action and social spending with symbolic condemnations of what President George W. Bush deemed "the baggage of bigotry."

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