This may be an off year, but Tuesday's election still has big implications for many across the nation. This week I'll be looking at some of the local and state races of interest.
An affiliate of the same white supremacist group that inspired Dylann Roof is up for reelection on Tuesday.
Mississippi State Senator Lydia Chassaniol was a confirmed member of a racist hate organization called the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) as recently as 2009. While she has refused to confirm or deny her membership more recently, she has not ever publicly disavowed or apologized for her active role in the organization.
If the Council of Conservative Citizens sounds familiar, it's probably because of Dylann Roof, the man who killed nine black people in a South Carolina church earlier this summer. The manifesto he wrote attempting to justify his crimes credited CCC for his anti-black views.
There is nothing subtle or inferential about it: The Council of Conservative Citizen is an explicit white supremacist group. Their statement of principles says:
We believe the United States is a European country and that Americans are part of the European people. We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. […] We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called “affirmative action” and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.
CCC has called
blacks "a retrograde species of humanity." See more below.
In 2009, Chassaniol spoke at CCC's annual conference in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was introduced by the group's field director, a man who has been criticized for referring to Martin Luther King, Jr. as "Martin Luther coon." During her speech, Chassaniol stated that the government wants to "take from those who have and give to those who don't work for it. She praised members of CCC, calling them "lone voices crying in the wilderness" and ended by saying, "Seeing all of you here today gives me hope."
At least one of her opponents in the race has denounced her affiliation with CCC. Democrat Georgio Proctor stated that he was "deeply disturbed" to learn of Chassaniol's support of CCC and has called for the state senator to denounce her beliefs. "If she believes that many of her constituents are sub-human, then voters must question whether she is actually committed to representing all of her constituents." Chassaniol faces Proctor in Tuesday's election, as well as Independent Donny Ryals. She's received more than $40,000 in donations, five times more than both opponents. Her donations are coming mostly from businesses and PACs.
Chassaniol's district is 27 percent African-American, twice the national population average of 13.2 percent.
Both the Conservative Political Action Committee and the Republican National Committee have barred the group and called it racist.
Currently, CCC's website includes a link titled "New Prospects for Eugenics" leading to an article advocating for eugenics and asserting an inherent lack of intelligence in blacks. Many articles on the site focus on how white people are inherently superior to black people, using questionable references to prove racial difference, such as a study on fingerprints. And, as Dylann Roof apparently discovered, CCC's website focuses heavily on black-on-white violence, in their continued attempt to "prove" that blacks are inherently more dangerous than whites.
Unsurprisingly, the group also opposes immigration in virtually all forms, gay marriage, gun control, "multiculturalist or Afrocentric" curricula, and all non-Christian religions, including Judaism.
Chassaniol declined to respond to a request for comment regarding her membership in CCC.
Meanwhile, Chassaniol has been described as "one of the most visible Republicans in the state." She chairs the Mississippi Senate Tourism Committee, where she "arguably wields more power than any other legislator to shape how Mississippi is perceived by non-residents."
She is also vice-chair of the state's committee on corrections. In an era where mass incarceration has disproportionately affected black people, it is particularly concerning that an avowed member of a white supremacist group has so much power over Mississippi's correctional system.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mississippi has the third highest incarceration rate in the nation, incarcerating more people than China and Russia combined. According to the Clarion Ledger, "Over the past three decades, the number of Mississippians put behind bars exploded, growing 300 percent — more than 17 times the population growth."
Almost three-fourths of Mississippi inmates are incarcerated for non-violent crimes. And nearly three-fourths of inmates are suffering from addiction—to drugs, alcohol, or both.
And, according to the Sentencing Project there's an alarming racial disparity in the state's jails and prisons. Mississippi is 60 percent white and 37.5 percent black. Yet, there are almost four times as many blacks incarcerated in the state than whites.
The state is also crawling with private prisons— 40 percent of the incarcerated population is housed in a private facility. These facilities have to spend 10 percent less than state facilities on incarceration, and inmates often suffer from lack of basic provisions, including food, health care, and safety. In June a federal judge ruled that Mississippi had violated the inmates' constitutional rights by failing to provide them with "reasonably safe living conditions."
Because these prisons are focused on revenue, inmates' rights are often sacrificed for more cash. A recent study showed that Mississippi private prisons were keeping prisoners incarcerated past the end of their sentences in order to increase corporate profit.
Chassaniol is a friend to big corporations. She's received campaign donations from Monsanto, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, and many other businesses, business interest groups, and PACs. Both the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Business and the Business & Industry Political Education Committee have given Chassaniol a 100 percent rating.
The horror of Mississippi corrections is unsurprising, then, considering the committee's vice-chair is a member of a white supremacy group and a friend to corporations.
Six years ago State Senator Chassaniol confirmed her membership, stating that she "does not consider herself a racist" and that "a person's membership in any organization is a private matter." But since then she has stayed quiet on the subject.
Chassaniol's refusal to disavow her membership in CCC is disturbing. Proctor called the group "radical extremists, whose hateful beliefs do not represent the majority of Mississippians."
Chassaniol's district is highly conservative—in the 2008 presidential election, voters chose McCain 2 to 1. Still, hopefully her constituents find her membership in CCC more than simply a "private matter." While this is relatively small statewide race, the implications of her potential victory radiate much further.
This is about more than party affiliation. Such degrading and disturbing racism has no place in Mississippi leadership.