Beyond Macaca: The Photograph That Haunts George Allen
Barnstorming around Virginia in the re-election campaign that Republican Senator George Allen hopes will provide the impetus for his 2008 run for the presidency, he has suddenly been forced on the defensive. Time and again, he has felt compelled to explain that his mocking of S.R. Sidarth, a young Indian-American staff member for his Democratic opponent, as "macaca," or monkey, was an unintentional gaffe. "It was a mistake. I made a mistake," he told a reporter from a local NBC affiliate at a campaign stop on Thursday. Hours later, he told the ABC affiliate, "It was a mistake, I was wrong." On Fox News's Sean Hannity show, he echoed, "It was a mistake."
But was it an isolated "mistake"?
Only a decade ago, as governor of Virginia, Allen personally initiated an association with the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the successor organization to the segregationist White Citizens Council and among the largest white supremacist groups.
In 1996, when Governor Allen entered the Washington Hilton Hotel to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative movement organizations, he strode to a booth at the entrance of the exhibition hall festooned with two large Confederate flags--a booth operated by the CCC, at the time a co-sponsor of CPAC. After speaking with CCC founder and former White Citizens Council organizer Gordon Lee Baum and two of his cohorts, Allen suggested that they pose for a photograph with then-National Rifle Association spokesman and actor Charlton Heston. The photo appeared in the Summer 1996 issue of the CCC's newsletter, the Citizens Informer.
According to Baum, Allen had not naively stumbled into a chance meeting with unfamiliar people. He knew exactly who and what the CCC was about and, from Baum's point of view, was engaged in a straightforward political transaction. "It helped us as much as it helped him," Baum told me. "We got our bona fides." And so did Allen.
Descended from the White Citizens' Councils that battled integration in the Jim Crow South, the CCC is designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In its "Statement of Principles," the CCC 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 CCC 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 CCC "does not deserve to be in a leadership position in America."
Asked whether Allen supports or deplores the CCC, John Reid, his communications director, pleaded ignorance. "I am unaware of the group you mention or their agenda and because we have no record of the Senator having involvement with them I cannot offer you any opinion on them," Reid told me in an e-mail response.