The leader of a white supremacist group cited in the racist, hate-filled manifesto that Dylann Roof is believed to have written before last week’s tragic shooting in Charleston has given tens of thousands of dollars in donations to Republican politicians, including presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum, according to federal election records.
After the donations were first discovered by the Guardian on Sunday, Cruz’s campaigns told the paper that it would “be immediately refunding the donation.” Paul’s camp weighed in on Monday morning, saying that it would donate the money in question to a fund set up for the families of the nine people that Roof allegedly shot and killed at the Emanuel AME Church. Meanwhile, the response from Santorum, who attended services at the South Carolina church on Sunday, made no mention of what his campaign would do with the cash. “Senator Santorum does not condone or respect racist or hateful comments of any kind,” said spokesman Matthew Beynon. “The views the Senator campaigns on are his own and he is focused on uniting America, not dividing her.”
Left unaddressed by all three candidates was why a man who leads a hate group would choose to help fund their campaigns. While there may not be a clear answer to that question, the question itself will now hang over their campaigns as the men struggle to join the current national conversation on race and racism—two topics that most of the GOP field has made it clear they’d prefer to avoid altogether.
The donations were made by Earl Holt III, who is listed as the president of the Council of Conservative Citizens.* According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, that group is the “modern reincarnation” of the network of supremacist groups known as White Citizens’ Councils that cropped up in the 1950s to battle desegregation in the South. The St. Louis-based council makes no secret of its reprehensible views. Its website has referred to blacks as a “retrograde species of humanity,” and claimed “God is the author of racism” because he “divided mankind into different types.” The group’s newspaper, meanwhile, “regularly publishes articles condemning ‘race mixing,’ decrying the evils of illegal immigration, and lamenting the decline of white, European civilization,” according to the SPLC, which tracks hate groups.
Cruz, Paul, and Santorum all appear to have been previously unaware of Holt’s contributions. The CCC, however, is not unknown to the Republican Party. In 1998, it was discovered that Trent Lott, then a Mississippi senator, and Bob Barr, then a Georgia congressman, had spoken to the group. That same year, according to the Washington Post, the CCC played a “key role” in the defeat of South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, a Republican who had tried to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol. Flash-forward to today and the state-sanctioned flying of that flag remains a political flashpoint—one Cruz, Santorum, and most of their fellow Republicans have all attempted to avoid by calling it a states’ right issue. Paul has not yet weighed in on the flag specifically but he’s long struggled to distance himself from his father’s past associations with racist newsletters.
Roof’s purported manifesto cites the council’s website as the place where he first learned about “brutal black-on-white murders.” The group responded to the discovery of the document with a statement that condemned “Roof’s murderous actions” but nonetheless said that the massacre does “not detract in the slightest from the legitimacy of some of the positions he has expressed." The statement also quoted Holt as saying that he wasn’t surprised to learn that Roof would have credited his group. “The [CCC] is one of perhaps three websites in the world that accurately and honestly report black-on-white violent crime, and in particular, the seemingly endless incidents involving black-on-white murder,” Holt said.
As my colleague Daniel Politi has explained, Roof’s manifesto suggests the gunman was radicalized through his online reading and not via any direct contact with any hate group leaders. Mark Pitcavage, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told Slate over the weekend that the online screed paints a picture of Roof as something of a self-taught loner. “He was very much on the periphery of the white supremacist movement, he wasn’t going to rallies or events,” Pitcavage theorized. “He wasn’t interacting with people.”
According to FEC records, Holt has given a total of $8,500 to Cruz and his political action committee since 2012, $1,750 to Paul’s PAC, and $1,500 to Santorum. Holt also contributed to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, along with a host of other Republicans including: Rep. Steve King of Iowa, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, former Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and former Sen. Todd Akin of Missouri.
It’s unclear whether other politicians will follow Cruz and Paul’s lead and return or redirect Holt’s cash. [Update 1:11 p.m.: Flake's office emails to say that the Arizona Republican is donating Holt's $1,000 contribution to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund.] The fact that Cruz and Paul have already done so, though, could set a precedent if media outlets—or opposition research groups—discover similar contributions from other individuals with ties to hate groups.
Correction Monday, June 22: An earlier version of this post misstated Earl Holt's first name.