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"Black Conservative to Rebut NAACP Leader's Remarks in C-SPAN Interview," read the press release from Project 21, an organization of conservative African-Americans.
I had read in Reuters that Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, had called groups like Project 21 "make-believe black organizations," and a "collection of black hustlers" who have adopted a conservative agenda in return for "a few bucks a head."
So I tuned into C-SPAN with interest to hear what a leading voice in the black conservative movement had to say. But then a funny thing happened: The African-American spokesperson for Project 21 caught a flat on the way to the studio, and the group's director had to fill in. And he was white.
As the segment began there was an awkward Wizard of Oz moment as C-SPAN's Robb Harlston – himself black – turned to Project 21's Caucasian director, David Almasi, and said, "Um...Project 21... a program for conservative African Americans... you're not African American."
It was a remarkable moment. A flat tire had led to a nationally televised peek into what lies behind a murky network of interconnected black conservative organizations that seek ostensibly to bring more African-Americans into the conservative movement. But they're not just reaching out to the community. They also speak out publicly for conservative positions that might evoke charges of racism if advocated by whites. And while that's not to say that there aren't some blacks who embrace conservative values, the groups that claim to represent them are heavily financed by business interests and often run by white Republicans.
Almasi replied defensively, "I wanted to make clear right at the beginning that I'm an employee, I'm an employee of Project 21, my bosses are the members of Project 21, the volunteers...I take my marching orders from them, not from anybody else."
Almasi told me by phone that he is Project 21's only paid staffer, and that he works part-time. He said that the approximately 400 volunteers – among whom there was a core of "a few dozen" – were simply conservative blacks "willing to do interviews, be quoted for press releases and be available to write for Project 21 publications," and that his role was simply to serve as "a syndicator, an editor and a scheduler."
But Project 21 is a subsidiary of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which, according to the liberal watchdog Mediatransparency.org, was formed in the 1980s to support Reagan's military interventions in Central America. NCPPR's leadership – president, vice president, executive director – are all white. Amy Ridenour, former Deputy Director of the College Republican National Committee and the organization's president, also sits on the board of Black America's PAC, an organization that claims to be nonpartisan but whose IRS filings state that its mission is to elect Republicans.
NCPPR's directors are also all white. In fact, one of them – Jack Abramoff – is so white that he's actually a high-powered GOP lobbyist and Bush 'Pioneer' who, according to the Washington Post, is the target of multiple investigations into alleged funny-money payments from Indian gambling concerns (along with the $45 million in fees they collected from them, Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon convinced the tribes to donate large sums to conservative organizations run by Scanlon, which then funneled the money back to Abramoff, according to the Post).
In the 1990s, NCPPR got into the business of denying that climate change warnings were based on sound science. If the connection between black conservative outreach work and environmental skepticism doesn't seem clear, that's because it's not. But it's logical considering that ExxonMobil donated $30,000 to NCPPR for "educational activities" and $15,000 for general support in 2002, and last year they hiked their operating support to $25,000 and kicked in another $30,000 for NCPPR's 'EnviroTruth' website, according to company financial records.
Project 21 also received funding from R.J. Reynolds and "has lobbied in support of tobacco industry interests, opposing FDA regulation of the industry, excise taxes and other government policies to reduce tobacco use," according to the Center for Media and Democracy. Almasi denied that Project 21 received tobacco industry money, but said he was not sufficiently aware of the details of NCPPR's fundraising to say whether the parent organization had.
A Mile Wide, an Inch Deep
Project 21 is one small part of a broad coalition of black conservative groups that fight for issues of concern to the business community. These organizations draw their intellectual inspiration from Thomas Sowell's landmark 1975 book Race and Economics, one of the founding documents of the new black conservative movement. Just as born-again conservatives like David Horowitz and Zell Miller are showered with praise and money, black conservatives are embraced and elevated by the conservative movement as living repudiations of liberalism.
So Sowell and others – like Robert L. Woodson of the American Enterprise Institute, J.A. Parker of the Lincoln Institute, sometime presidential candidate Alan Keyes of Black America's PAC (BAMPAC), and Jackie Cissel of the Black Alliance for Educational Options – have little trouble finding cushy think-tank sinecures and generous support for their organizations. Many among this small group of prominent black conservatives are on several groups' advisory boards, adding to the appearance of a broad ideological movement. Cissel, for one, also serves as regional director for the African American Republican Leadership Council, a group whose mission "is to break the liberal democrat stranglehold over Black America," according to their web site. As Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten reported last year, 13 out of the 15 members of the AALRC's Advisory Panel are white. They include such well known minority champions as the Free Congress Foundation's Paul Weyrich, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, the Reverend Lou Sheldon, Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, and Fox News host Sean Hannity.
What do people like Weyrich, Norquist, Bauer and Hannity have in common with the black conservatives? It's more than a common affection for low taxes and non-existent government regulation of business. Conservative activists understand that the GOP's history of tolerating bigots in their ranks and seeking out their votes, from Nixon's "Southern Strategy" to George H.W. Bush's use of Willie Horton to George W. Bush's courting of the confederate vote in the 2000 South Carolina primary, presents a problem for moderate voters of all races. Finding African-Americans to make the conservative case goes a long way toward wiping those memories from the public mind.
Big Men on Campus
But ideology starts outside of Washington, and one of the most important ideological battle grounds for the black conservative movement is on campus, where many of the faculty in the social sciences and humanities believe the silly notion that structural racism still exists in America, and aren't afraid to say so.
So in 1998, the Young America's Foundation formed the Alternative Black Speakers Program "in response to the overwhelmingly leftist bent of Black History Month on campuses," according to a press release. The program sends conservative black speakers to college campuses across the country, "giving students an alternative to the often radical and irresponsible message of black lecturers appearing on campuses as part of official university programs." One of YAF's top executives is Floyd Brown, the infamous dirty trickster responsible for creating the 1988 anti-Dukakis ads featuring Willie Horton's menacing mug shot.
Perhaps the most visible black conservative in the campus wars is Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI). Connerly was a protÃ©gÃ© of former California Governor Pete Wilson, who appointed him to the University of California's Board of Regents. Connerly drafted Wilson's anti-affirmative action initiative Prop 209, and is now attempting to bring a similar ballot measure to Michigan.
When asked what he thought about Trent Lott's comments about segregation in 2002, Connerly told CNN: "Supporting segregation need not be racist. One can believe in segregation and believe in equality of the races."
According to the civil rights group By Any Means Necessary (disclosure: I am a member of BAMN), Connerly reportedly makes $400,000 dollars per year as the president of ACRI.
Follow the Money
And that's what seems to unite these seemingly disparate groups – money. Every black conservative group I've mentioned – without exception – receives a significant portion of their funding (in some cases all of their funding) from at least three of four ultra-conservative foundations (the Lincoln Institute gets its share funneled indirectly through the conservative Hoover Institution).
The four are the usual suspects of the Right's political ATM: Richard Scaife's family foundations, Adolph Coors' Castle Rock Foundation, The John M. Olin Foundation, and the Linde and Harry Bradley Foundation. What's striking about these groups' underwriting of "minority organizations" is that some of them have at times displayed what many would consider a frankly racist agenda.
Scaife has gained notoriety as one of the great funders of the "New Conservative" movement. While he is best known for his anti-Clinton activities, including paying for the American Spectator's "Arkansas Project," he has plenty of unsavory grantees; the Charlotte Observer reported that he provided funding for Children Requiring A Caring Community, a scary fringe group that pays poor women to be surgically sterilized or to undergo long-term birth control.
According to People For The American Way (PFAW), William Coors gave a speech in 1984 in which he reportedly told a largely African American audience that "one of the best things they [slave traders] did for you is to drag your ancestors over here in chains." Later in the speech, he asserted that weakness in the Zimbabwe economy was due to black Africans' "lack of intellectual capacity."
The speech drew controversy and a boycott by African American and Hispanic groups. In response, Coors pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to African American and Hispanic organizations. Apparently, black conservative groups run by white Republicans count.
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is a particularly interesting case. According to PFAW, Bradley, whose recipients list "reads like a Who's Who of the U.S. Right," is a major funding source for the Center for Individual Rights, which brought the Hopwood v. Texas case that ended affirmative action at the University of Texas law school. Bradley played a major role in financing Pete Wilson and Ward Connerly's Prop 209, and, through the Pacific Legal Foundation, Bradley "provided pro bono representation to ...Wilson in his challenge to five state statutes dealing with affirmative action ..." Clint Bolick, vice president of the Institute for Justice, another recipient of Bradley money, "played a pivotal role in attacks on Lani Guinier, President Clinton's nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Bolick's Wall Street Journal opinion piece headlined 'Clinton's Quota Queen' dredged up the worst racist and sexist stereotypes and helped throw the Guinier nomination on the defensive."
Even more striking is that Bradley grants supported Charles Murray and the late Harvard psychologist Richard Hernstein while they wrote The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life . According to PFAW, "the book was widely seen as a piece of profoundly racist and classist pseudo-science, and was denounced by the American Psychological Association. It had relied heavily on studies financed by the Pioneer Fund, a neo-Nazi organization that promoted eugenicist research. Immediately after its publication, Bradley raised Murray's annual grant to $163,000."
The boards of these foundations aren't exactly "multicultural," if you know what I mean. But they have a message to get out: They're coming after affirmative action, the minimum wage, social welfare programs, pre- and after-school programs and, indeed, multiculturalism itself. And when that's the message, it's good to have it delivered by an African-American.
So there you have it, the leading lights of the black conservative movement. If you believe that the most pressing problems facing the African-American community today are the minimum wage, too many regulations on energy companies and too many people trying to get kids to quit smoking, then maybe you should join the black conservative movement yourself. You don't have to be black, or even know anyone who is. And heck, if you are black and you leave the house early enough, they may even put you on TV to "rebut" the NAACP.
Joshua Holland is a student at the University of Southern California and Editor-in-Chief of the Trojan Horse, USC's "fiercely Progressive voice of reason."