POLITICS

Former Attorneys General Urge Trump To Condemn Hate With 'Moral Clarity'

More than 60 signed a letter calling on Trump to follow the example a former attorney general set 41 years ago, when he told a KKK leader to “kiss my ass.”
Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were among the white supremacists chanting&nbsp;slogans like "<a href="https://www.huffpos
Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were among the white supremacists chanting slogans like "Jews will not replace us" at the deadly rally in Charlottesville. President Donald Trump said "both sides" were to blame for the violence.

In 1976, Alabama’s then-Attorney General Bill Baxley famously penned a letter to a Ku Klux Klan leader, telling him to “kiss my ass.”

This week, in light of the violent white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and President Donald Trump’s tepid response to it, a bipartisan group of 67 former state attorneys general have reminded the nation — and the commander in chief— of this simple but powerful message.

“There are times in the life of a nation, or a president, or a state attorney general, when one is called upon to respond directly to the voice of hate,” the attorneys general wrote in a statement released Monday.

Those “who seek to equivocate in times of moral crisis” should follow Baxley’s example, the group added.

Former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley responded succinctly to a Ku Klux Klan leader calling him a&nbsp;traitor to his r
Former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley responded succinctly to a Ku Klux Klan leader calling him a traitor to his race.

In 1976, Baxley received a threatening letter in the mail. He had just reopened an investigation into the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that had killed four young African-American girls. And white supremacist Edward R. Fields, a KKK Grand Dragon, was evidently not happy about the decision.

“He called me a traitor to my race and how dare I prosecute or investigate these white Christian patriots and blah, blah, blah, blah,” recalled Baxley in a 2014 interview with NPR. In his letter, Fields demanded that the attorney general respond to his note.

Baxley obliged with this no-nonsense reply:

In their statement this week, the group of state attorneys general, which represented 36 states, along with Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam, cited Baxley’s response as an example of how Americans should respond to bigotry and hate. 

“I want everybody to see you can make decisions of moral clarity,” James Tierney, a Democrat and former Maine attorney general who spearheaded the release of the statement, told The Associated Press.

The statement does not explicitly call out Trump by name, but the signatories have made it clear that the president’s comments blaming “both sides” for the violence during the Charlottesville rally had been a catalyst for the statement’s release.

“We wanted to respond to the events of Charlottesville and the president’s inability to respond in a way that was constructive, and felt that it was necessary to respond directly to the issue that was presented, which was a demonstration of hate,” said former Vermont Attorney General Jeff Amestoy (R).

On his part, Baxley, who served as Lt. Gov. of Alabama in the 1980s, said he was moved by the statement, telling The New York Times that it was “one of the most touching gestures that anybody’s ever made on my behalf.”

“When you look down that list, there’s many fine Republicans as well as Democrats,” Baxley, who is now 76 and was not involved in the statement’s release, told the paper. “And that’s the way it ought to be on issues like this, condemning sheer hatred.”

Find the full statement, obtained by The New York Times, and complete list of signatories below. The signatories include former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Bruce Babbitt, who served as secretary of the interior during Bill Clinton’s presidency. 

STATEMENT OF FORMER ATTORNEYS GENERAL

There are times in the life of a nation, or a president, or a state attorney general when one is called upon to respond directly to the voice of hate.

As former state attorneys general, we take the liberty of reminding Americans ― as we remind ourselves ― that events can call out the worst in us ― and the best.

In 1971, the twenty-nine year old attorney general of Alabama began his quest to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Birmingham church bombing which killed four little girls. It was a crime rooted in hate and his determination to prosecute the case gave rise to voices of leaders of hate. He faced political furor, lack of cooperation from federal and state government agencies and constant threats of physical violence and death. But he persisted. It took years but he obtained a conviction.

In 1976 when the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan wrote a threatening letter and demanded that Alabama attorney general Bill Baxley respond directly to his letter, he did.

We commend his response to the attention of all who seek to equivocate in times of moral crisis.

Signatories: 

  • Robert Abrams, New York
  • Ronald Amemiya, Hawaii
  • Jeff Amestoy, Vermont
  • Bruce Babbitt, Arizona
  • Thurbert Baker, Georgia
  • Paul Bardacke, New Mexico
  • Steve Beshear, Kentucky
  • Bruce Botelho, Alaska
  • Margery Bronster, Hawaii
  • Charlie Brown, West Virginia
  • Richard Bryan, Nevada
  • Charles Burson, Tennessee
  • Bonnie Campbell, Iowa
  • Steve Clark, Arkansas
  • Walter Cohen, Pennsylvania
  • Robert Cooper, Tennessee
  • J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Maryland
  • Fred Cowan, Kentucky
  • Frankie Sue Del Papa, Nevada
  • Jerry Diamond, Vermont
  • Richard Doran, Florida
  • John Easton, Vermont
  • Rufus Edmisten, North Carolina
  • Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma
  • Tyrone Fahner, Illinois
  • Lee Fisher, Ohio
  • Karen Freeman-Wilson, Indiana
  • Terry Goddard, Arizona
  • Chris Gorman, Kentucky
  • Slade Gorton, Washington
  • Jennifer Granholm, Michigan
  • Scott Harshbarger, Massachusetts
  • Peter Harvey, New Jersey
  • Hubert H . Humphrey III, Minnesota
  • Drew Ketterer, Maine
  • Oliver Koppell, New York
  • Peg Lautenschlager, Wisconsin
  • Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut
  • Michael Lilly, Hawaii
  • Alicia Limtiaco, Guam
  • Bill Lockyer, California
  • David Louie, Hawaii
  • Robert Marks, Hawaii
  • Brian McKay, Nevada
  • Jeff Modisett, Indiana
  • Betty Montgomery, Ohio
  • Mike Moore, Mississippi
  • Jim Petro, Ohio
  • Jeffrey Pine, Rhode Island
  • Warren Price III, Hawaii
  • Hector Richard, Puerto Rico
  • Clarine Nardi Riddle, Connecticut
  • Dennis Roberts, Rhode Island
  • Stephen Rosenthal, Virginia
  • Stephen Sachs, Maryland
  • James Shannon, Massachusetts
  • Mark Shurtleff, Utah
  • William Sorrell, Vermont
  • Rbert Spagnoletti, District of Columbia
  • Robert Stephan, Kansas
  • Mary Sue Terry, Virginia
  • James Tierney, Maine
  • Anthony F. Troy, Virginia
  • Jim Guy Tucker, Arkansas
  • Paul Van Dam, Utah
  • Bob Wefald, North Dakota
  • Grant Woods, Arizona
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