Lobbyist for the Lost Cause
When John Wilkes Booth left Mary Surratt's boarding house on H Street in Washington, DC, his co-conspirators knew where he was headed. Seven hours later, while Booth fled south on horseback, President Abraham Lincoln lay dying. Today, a Chinese restaurant called Wok 'n Roll stands where the Surratt Boarding House once was. Until eight months ago, its owner, Victor Quinto, told me, the restaurant played host to secret monthly meetings of members of Jefferson Davis Camp 305, a Northern Virginia-based faction of the Southern heritage group the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The existence of the meetings was also confirmed by a Camp 305 member, Charles Goolsby, who refused to say whether he attended, commenting only that "I haven't been a part of the SCV in a long time." Goolsby is currently a producer for Voice of America, the Congressionally funded radio network that claims to promote America's values abroad.
The leader of Jefferson Davis Camp 305's lunchtime meetings was its former commander, Richard T. Hines, a high-rolling lobbyist who is one of the unheralded success stories of Bush's Washington. The youngest Republican ever elected to the state legislature in South Carolina, Hines first arrived in Washington to work in a variety of midlevel posts during the Reagan Administration. Now he operates through RTH Consulting Inc., a lobbying firm that boasts of having "an active voice in the current Bush Administration." In addition to securing a nice little appointment to the national libraries board for his wife, Hines has earned more than $150 million in Defense Department contracts for his weapons manufacturing clients and rakes in a large fee for his work on behalf of an African tyrant. It's a good life.
Hines's squalid lobbying is hardly reason for special notice. Washington's boulevard of lobbyists, K Street, does not suffer from a dearth of flamboyantly amoral players. Edward von Kloberg III made millions from tyrannical clients like Saddam Hussein and Mobutu Sese Seko, and blew his cash on elaborate galas where he would appear festooned in furs, medallions and his trademark cape. (In May von Kloberg leaped from atop a Roman castle to his death after a young man rejected his romantic entreaties.) Then there's Jack Abramoff, a close associate of House majority leader Tom DeLay, recently indicted for wire fraud and conspiracy, and under investigation by the Justice Department and Senate Indian Affairs Committee for defrauding Indian tribes--whom he casually referred to as "troglodytes"--out of millions of dollars. Hines, as it happens, has picked up one of von Kloberg's clients, the dictator of Gambia, and, like Abramoff, he is well connected to the political machine run out of the White House by Karl Rove. But it is Hines's devotion to the Lost Cause that makes him a rarity in a predatory world with little time for the mythology of magnolia and moonlight.
At the same time as he has extended his own wealth and influence, Hines has shrewdly used the political opportunities presented him by the Bush era to leverage the extremist goals of the neo-Confederate movement. He has become this movement's hidden hand, from his arrangement of the funding for a race-infused smear campaign against the presidential candidacy of Senator John McCain in the decisive 2000 South Carolina Republican primary that ultimately handed the nomination to George W. Bush, to his financing of a faction of white supremacists seeking to transform the country's oldest Southern heritage organization, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, into a far-right pressure group.
"Richard comes as close to within the Brooks Brothers definition of a Southern patriot as anybody I can think of," said Roger McCredie, the SCV's former chief of "Heritage Defense" and executive director of the Southern Legal Resource Center, a North Carolina law organization closely linked to the SCV's radical faction. "He's certainly well connected," McCredie added. "He's very valuable. I'd like to multiply him by forty. That's the logical projection of what we'd like to see happen."
As a history student at the University of South Carolina campus in the early 1970s, Hines met his future wife, Patricia Mayes, the daughter of local oligarch "Bubba Jim" Mayes, who presided over an 8,000-acre cotton plantation in Mayesville and kept politicians from both parties in his debt through campaign contributions made by the National Cotton Council, which he controlled. While still in college, Hines became South Carolina's youngest-ever Republican elected official, winning a seat in the state's House of Representatives. In North Carolina, just up the road from Hines's district, his friend and future business partner Carter Wrenn helped manage the 1972 US Senate campaign of Jesse Helms, a race-baiting conservative who represented the new face of the Republican Party in the Deep South, which was assimilating latter-day Dixiecrats. Helms vanquished a Greek-American Democrat with the campaign slogan "Elect One of Us." When Ronald Reagan was elected President on a states' rights platform eight years later, Southern conservative John Shelton Reed, writing in 1981 in the newly minted neo-Confederate publication Southern Partisan under the pseudonym J.R. Vanover, declared, "If my analysis is correct, the stage may now be set for really hard-core sectional politics, for the first time in over a century."
Hines, following the political tide, moved to Washington. Throughout the 1980s he and his wife worked in the Reagan Administration, with Hines quietly toiling away at various midlevel White House administrative posts in the Transportation Department and General Services Administration. (His wife worked as the Army's deputy assistant for manpower.) Afterward, he became a vice president at Electronic Data Systems, Ross Perot's company, using his contacts to get government contracts. But Hines also served as a bridge between the Republican Party and certain fringes of the conservative movement.
Meanwhile, Hines directed the takeover of Washington's Confederate Memorial Hall, an apolitical historical museum founded by Confederate Civil War veterans in 1907. Its former director John Edward Hurley said in 1986 that he tried to prevent Hines from hosting a fundraiser at the museum for denizens of the Reagan Doctrine, a peculiar gathering of Nicaraguan contras, Afghan-based mujahedeen and members of the Angolan guerrilla group UNITA, which was funded by the South African apartheid regime. Hurley claims that Hines, whom he described as possessed with the "malevolent aroma of the oligarch," retaliated by organizing a series of lawsuits against him that forced the museum to close in 1997. "I was right about these guys in the beginning. They all turned out to be a bunch of white supremacists," Hurley told me, referring to Hines and his allies, who included Goolsby, whom he called "Hines's gofer."
Hurley encountered Hines regularly during the halcyon days of the Reagan era at the anodyne-sounding National Journalism Center's (NJC) Monday Club, a weekly lunchtime event dedicated to introducing fledgling right-wing journalists to conservative movement leaders. The Monday Club's greeter was a veteran but obscure conservative operative named Fred Mann, who recently gained notoriety for assembling an incoherent, distortion-laden secret memo on alleged liberal media bias at PBS. Corporation for Public Broadcasting president Ken Tomlinson, who ordered the Mann report, was a key funder and organizer of the NJC during the 1980s, according to Hurley. Its intern program, which functioned as Hines's personal romper room, received major funding from Philip Morris. In 1993, for example, Philip Morris paid Hines to encourage NJC journalists to write articles refuting EPA reports on the health risks of secondhand smoke.
"We could promote the 'care and feeding' of journalists to develop a network sympathetic to Philip Morris," Hines wrote in a 1994 response to a request from Philip Morris for help in influencing the European media. "Using this approach in the U.S. we have been able to get favorable articles/commentaries in major publications such as the Wall Street Journal, National Review and reach millions of the public through the numerous syndicated columnists that are in our network."
In 1997 Hines and his pal Carter Wrenn formed RTH Consulting Inc., swiftly procuring a gaggle of clients few others would touch. Hines's first major contract was a $550,000 deal with the group ruling Cambodia, the Cambodian People's Party, which included former Khmer Rouge extremists. The Washington Times published a pro-government editorial in 2000 by Hines, in which he denounced "foreign critics" pushing for an international trial of ex-Khmer Rouge leaders for the genocide of as many as 2 million of their countrymen. Hines now represents the regime of Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh to the tune of $300,000, having replaced the late von Kloberg as his American spokesman. Hines's contract "guaranteed" he could "gain the support of the conservative Republican leadership in the United States Congress for the government of Gambia and President Jammeh, and thereby weaken opposition in Washington, DC." Hines has also reeled in lucrative government contracts for another client, the weapons manufacturing firm Ashbury International. In 2003 the Defense Department purchased $27.5 million in equipment from Ashbury, which was the sole bidder. The following year Hines used his contacts in the Bush Administration to help procure a five-year, $155.8 million contract for his client with the Army.
Even with such rewarding work on his platter, Hines still finds time to defend Southern heritage, or at least his version of it. In 1996, standing beside members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Jefferson Davis Camp 305, Hines unfurled a Confederate battle flag in downtown Richmond, Virginia, to protest the dedication of a monument to black tennis great Arthur Ashe. He called the Ashe statue "a sharp stick in the eye of those who honor the Confederate heritage."
Hines's protest reflected the brand of resentment found on the pages of America's major neo-secessionist publication, Southern Partisan, of which Hines was managing editor for nearly two decades. Southern Partisan served partly as a forum for historical revisionism that cast Lincoln as a villain; in 1984 Hines himself penned a paean to Preston Brooks, the secessionist South Carolina congressman who caned Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor in 1854 for his speeches against slavery. The magazine also acted as Hines's instrument for connecting sympathetic political movers and shakers to the neo-Confederate base. Hines arranged a 1993 Partisan interview with Washington Times senior editor Wes Pruden, whose father, Wes Pruden Sr., as the chaplain of the Little Rock White Citizens Council, led resistance to the integration of Central High School in 1957 with the cry: "That's what we've gotta fight, niggers, Communists and cops." In 1997 Hines interviewed Senator Trent Lott, who as a young congressman convinced Reagan to initiate his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Klansmen had murdered three young civil rights workers in 1964. In 1998 Hines chatted with Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri, who praised Hines and the Partisan for "setting the record straight," a comment that nearly doomed his nomination as Attorney General when it was dredged up during his confirmation hearings in 2001. In the year before Bush's election, Southern Partisan advertised the sale of T-shirts emblazoned with a Confederate flag shaped like a Republican Party elephant beside the phrase "Lincoln's Worst Nightmare!"
By 2000 Hines was positioned to help rescue George W. Bush's flagging presidential candidacy from the jaws of defeat with an inspired dirty-tricks campaign. When Bush arrived in South Carolina in May, he was licking his wounds from a stunning defeat in New Hampshire to John McCain. For Bush, who needed to win the South to gain the nomination, the South Carolina primary was do or die.
Hines's link to the Bush campaign was Bush's South Carolina spokesman Tucker Eskew, a local protégé of the legendary dirty-tricks master from the Palmetto State, Lee Atwater. Eskew was in constant contact with another former Atwater protégé, Karl Rove. Hines turned an unregistered political action committee called "Keep It Flying," which he created to fight the NAACP's attempts to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, into a vehicle for the Bush cause. He sent out 250,000 fliers that he signed with his own name accusing McCain of "changing his tune" on the Confederate flag and describing Bush as "the [only] major candidate who refused to call the Confederate flag a racist symbol." In fact, in a January appearance on Meet the Press, McCain had called the flag "a symbol of heritage" and an issue "to be settled without interference from presidential candidates." Regardless, the tactic succeeded brilliantly. In the wake of the mailing Bush surged ahead of McCain and defeated him in the primary. Bush finally returned his debt of gratitude late last year, when he appointed Hines's wife, Patricia, to the National Committee on Libraries and Information Science.
Hines's direct-mail campaign might not have been so timely were it not for the political atmospherics that his close allies in South Carolina had generated. In January 2000, immediately after the NAACP announced a tourist boycott of South Carolina, Hines's college buddy Roger McCredie marshaled groups including the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens at the state Capitol in Columbia to rally around the flag. Six thousand people showed up, many waving Confederate battle flags and dressed in Civil War-era battle uniforms. Compared with the 50,000 who marched through Columbia earlier that month for the flag's removal, it was a paltry turnout. Yet the rally demonstrated a residual level of vitriol toward Confederate flag opponents. State Senator Arthur Ravenel drew gales of applause when he blasted the NAACP as "the National Association of Retarded People."
Lurking in the shadow of the grandstand throughout the rally was a scraggly man oddly wearing a top hat--one of Hines's most important political allies. Kirk Lyons earned far-right celebrity status in 1988 for successfully defending white supremacist Louis Beam against a sedition charge of plotting to overthrow the government by force in order to set up an all-white nation in the Pacific Northwest. Lyons's ubiquity as a legal counsel to white supremacists and a speaker at neo-Nazi events prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to identify him in 1991 as one of the top ten "Leaders in Today's White Supremacy Movement." Lyons dreamed of resurrecting the white supremacist movement as a more sophisticated incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan. "I have great respect for the Klan historically, but, sadly the Klan today is ineffective and sometimes even destructive," Lyons told a German neo-Nazi magazine in 1992. "It would be good if the Klan followed the advice of former Klansman Robert Miles: 'Become invisible. Hang the robes and hoods in the cupboard and become an underground organization.'" When Lyons discovered the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he realized he didn't have to go underground after all.
For more than a hundred years, the SCV thrived as an apolitical organization of direct descendants of Confederate soldiers. Its members maintained Confederate cemeteries and monuments, studied Civil War history and organized battle re-enactments. And they assiduously tried to avoid any hint of extremism, passing a resolution in 1990 condemning hate groups. Then came the takeover. During the group's 2002 elections, a Kirk Lyons-backed radical named Ron Wilson was installed as SCV commander in chief. Wilson began a purge of moderate elements in the group and appointed Lyons, McCredie and other racists to leadership positions. Today the takeover appears to be nearly complete, and many SCV moderates have broken off in disgust to form an ad hoc group called Save the SCV. As the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, the takeover may have dangerous political implications: "The SCV has some 30,000 members, about $5 million in reserves and a number of very prominent members. It has real political pull in some places, a fact that makes it a tempting prize for racists."
One of the leading figures in the SCV takeover, Larry Salley, has laid out grandiose plans for the movement. In a September 7, 2003, e-mail to Save the SCV, provided to me by a source close to Save the SCV, Salley articulated the goals of the neo-Confederate extremists: "We have legislators in the Senate and the House. We have members who have been elected to Constitutional offices within South Carolina. We are the mainstream." Salley continued: "I have a dream, and that dream is to decentralise political power to the extent that no central politician has the power to tell me, or my son, when or where he can pray, or what firearm he can own, or whether we can ban abortion. Your government's ban on the Ten Commandments will eventually bring the wrath of God on your nation."
"To them [the neo-Confederates], the flag really symbolizes the South as a white, patriarchal, Christian society," Ed Sebesta, an independent researcher of the neo-Confederate movement, based in Dallas, Texas, told me. "They want the federal government out of their way because locally, they wouldn't mind having a little regime of their own based on race and a state religion." Sebesta added, "They believe in what they call 'ordered liberty.' As far I can tell, ordered liberty means they're going to order you around, and they'll be at liberty to do so because there'll be no central authority."
The Southern Legal Resource Center in Black Mountain, North Carolina, has emerged as the spearhead of the SCV radicals' political agenda. Founded by Lyons to combat "the ethnic cleansing of Dixie," the firm employs Salley, McCredie and Ron Wilson's daughter. Richard Hines is among its key fundraisers and donors. The SLRC has filed nearly 400 lawsuits alleging discrimination against "traditional Southerners" by corporations, local and state governments, and menacing minorities. Its most prominent client is Jacqueline Duty, a high school student barred from her senior prom in 2003 for wearing a Confederate flag-inspired sequin dress. Profiled in countless newspapers and publicized through an appearance on the Fox News Network's Hannity and Colmes in December 2004, Duty's lawsuit against her school district has become the cause célèbre of the neo-Confederates. According to McCredie, Duty's case was underwritten with a donation of about $1,000 from Hines, whom he calls "a substantial contributor" to the SLRC. Hines donated another $1,000 to the SLRC's general fund in early August, according to McCredie, supplementing a $10,000 contribution from the SCV earlier this year.
"It's not about a flag," McCredie explained, "it's about everything that coalesces within this piece of cloth. Otherwise, we wouldn't have any moral ground to stand on.... It's the basis of what we do every time we take up the cudgel and go to court, or we write another book, or we write another newsletter, or make another speech. It's a David and Goliath thing. But at this point in time, the great revolutionary spark, the thing that sends people to the barricades, is largely lacking."
On Memorial Day, 2001, George W. Bush resurrected a tradition his father discontinued during his presidency: laying a wreath at the base of the Confederate monument at the Arlington National Cemetery. The White House has claimed that the practice continued from the Bush Sr. Administration through the Clinton years, yet according to Hurley, "not a single person in the Confederate community ever saw the wreath back at the Confederate memorial until Geoge W. Bush came into office." Hurley says Bush merely changed the day of the wreath's delivery, from Confederate Memorial Day--Jefferson Davis's birthday--to the US Memorial Day. Last Confederate Memorial Day, Hurley witnessed Hines at the memorial leading a gathering of Washington-based conservatives, including members of the Jefferson Davis Camp 305 that met at the Mary Surratt site. Now Bush Administration officials joined the commemoration, most prominently Robert Wilkie, the former foreign policy adviser to Senator Lott who was appointed last October by Condoleezza Rice as the National Security Council's senior legislative director. Attired in all-white plantation garb and white top hat, Hines fired an artillery cannon he had carted along for the occasion. Then he and the ceremony's attendees solemnly saluted the Confederate flag.
In Richard Hines's Washington, the sparks may be symbolic, but the revolution is well under way.