DALLAS (AP) — A Missouri group cited in an online manifesto purportedly written by the Charleston church shooting suspect was founded 30 years ago, and a civil rights organization calls it a "crudely white supremacist group" that is the "modern reincarnation" of efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to resist school desegregation in the South.
The Council of Conservative Citizens named Earl Holt III, of Longview, Texas, as its president earlier this year following the death of predecessor Gordon Baum, who was a personal injury lawyer in suburban St. Louis, where the group is based. Holt has contributed more than $60,000 to Republicans since 2010, including several White House hopefuls, Federal Election Commission records show.
Dylann Roof, the suspect in last week's slayings of a pastor and eight congregants, said in the purported manifesto that he learned about "brutal black on white murders" from the Council of Conservative Citizens' website.
In 1999, then-Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson issued a statement urging his fellow party members to quit the Council of Conservative Citizens because "it appears that this group does hold racist views." Nicholson made the statement following widespread criticism after then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, and then-U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Georgia, addressed the group. Both said they weren't aware of the group's positions on race.
Jared Taylor, the group's spokesman, said Monday that "no one in the organization that I know of ... has ever heard of (Roof). He certainly was never a member, and I don't suspect that he ever attended a meeting." Taylor placed the group's membership in the "thousands" but declined to be more specific.
"Our site educated him. Our site told him the truth about interracial crime. What he then decided to do with that truth is absolutely not our responsibility," said Taylor, who added he "categorically condemns" the killings.
Taylor said that Holt did not want to speak to the press and also did not want to provide biographical details.
In a statement posted online Sunday, Holt said that it "was not surprising" that Roof credited his group but added it is "hardly responsible for the actions of this deranged individual merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website." He said the group doesn't condone illegal activities.
But Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which tracks hate groups, said the information the group was doling out was harmful "propaganda."
"Sometimes the fragile-minded read this stuff, believe this stuff and act on it and that's what the tragedy is here," she said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's website describes the Council of Conservative Citizens as a "crudely white supremacist group."
Holt was elected to the St. Louis city school board in 1989 as part of an anti-busing faction and had hosted a talk radio show with Baum called "Right at Night" on a low-wattage AM station. Beirich said Holt has been involved in the group for decades and was Baum's "right hand man."
Several Republicans, including candidates for president, have said they'll return or donate the money they received from Holt.
Reporter Alan Scher Zagier reported from St. Louis.