Four years ago, Pat Bauchanan’s campaign co-chairman stood next to a white supremacist, a Ku Klux Klan leader and a head of a militia group while a speaker branded opponents of gun control as “your enemies” who are “pumping all the Talmudic filth that they can vomit and defecate into your living room.”
Larry Pratt, who last week took a leave of absence from the Buchanan presidential campaign, watched as the crowd burst into applause.
In more recent years, he returned to similar sessions, standing beside some of the most bigoted supporters of the right to bear arms. Only in recent days has Pratt distanced himself from such offensive views.
As Pratt’s history comes to light, Buchanan has become the latest aspirant for the nation’s highest office to have a top-level supporter involved with his campaign who has ties to extremist causes.
Buchanan, whose boost in the early race for the Republican bid for president has alarmed many Jews, is not alone in attracting extremists to his campaign.
But his adamant defense of his longtime friend and adviser is raising troubling questions for many.
Republican hopeful Steve Forbes has been faced with his own questions about his informal adviser, Thomas Ellis, a former director of the Pioneer Fund, which is known for its anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
The revelations about extremists in the midst of political campaigns are neither new nor surprising, according to students of politics.
As long as there have been political campaigns, people with extremist views tend to flock to those campaigns during the election season, they say.
It was true in 1988, with revelations that President Bush had Nazi SS sympathizers in his inner circle, and it is true today, with the latest reports from this year’s contest.
“Politics attracts passionate people and some of the passionate people are extremists,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“They feel they can get legitimacy by attaching themselves to mainstream candidates,” he said.
Campaigns are “where the action is in American politics,” said Jason Isaacson, director of the Washington office of the American Jewish Committee. “There is no very effective filter against extremist involvement in campaign personnel.”
The true test of candidates to weed out in advance people who have extremist attitudes or have graced the platforms of extremists,” Foxman said, adding that the only way to judge candidates is what they do “once the person’s history is brought to their attention.”
When asked whether Pat Buchanan has met that test, Foxman replied, “No, no, no.”
Buchanan, who has been bolstered in his quest for the presidential bid by strong showings in last week’s lowa caucus and this week’s New Hampshire primary, has adamantly defended Pratt.
As the head of the Gun Owners of America, Pratt has attended numerous rallies with the most virulent anti-Semites and racists of today.
Kenneth Stern, the AJCommittee’s specialist on anti-Semitism and hate groups, said Pratt’s presence in an important Republican campaign poses a graver threat than many realize, especially because of his access to members of Congress.
Pratt’s involvement in the politics of gun control “bridges the gap between the far right, anti-Semites, racists and members of Congress,” said Stern, whose book, “A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate,” was recently published.
“It’s astonishing to me that a guy who has gone to meetings with really stone- cold Nazis and white supremacists is a welcome lobbyist on Capitol Hill.”
Pratt started Gun Owners in 1975, convinced that the National Rifle Association was not active enough in opposing gun control in Washington.
Allegations about Pratt began to resurface last week after the Center for Public Integrity released a report on presidential campaigns and their advisers.
The center reported that pratt is widely credited with “introducing the concept of militias to the right-wing underground.”
In an effort to stem the tide of criticism, Pratt called a news conference, telling reporters, “I loathe the Aryan Nation and other racist groups with every fiber of my being.”
As part of his defense, Pratt released a statement touting support from the Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, described by the ADL as a “right-wing, fringe group” based in Wisconsin.
Pratt told Ted Koppel on the television show “Nightline” that the head of the group, Aaron Zelman, considers him a “righteous gentile.”
Despite media scrutiny and calls from other campaigns to dump Pratt outright, Buchanan has refused to oust Pratt from the campaign.
“I think it was a mistake to go to those meetings,” Buchanan said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with David Brinkley,” referring to Pratt’s participation in the right-wing rallies.
“But, look, I’m not going to cut this man loose when he’s asked me to stand by him while he explains what he did right and what he did wrong.”
Buchanan said, “The dogs are on him” because he is “a devout Christian who happens to be very strong in favor of gun ownership, and he’s standing with Pat Buchanan.”
Buchanan has also compared Pratt’s plight to that of Christina Jeffrey, the House historian dismissed by Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) after revelations that she criticized a Holocaust education curriculum for not giving adequate time to the Nazi point of view.
She has since been exonerated by, among others, Foxman, who was one of her staunchest critics.
“She was smeared, she was destroyed and Newt cut her loose and dropped her over the side,” Buchanan said on the ABC program.
Buchanan has also evoked the Million Man March to defend Pratt, saying that not everyone who attended the Louis Farrakhan-led rally shares Farrakhan’s views.
As Buchanan continues to head off criticism about Pratt, revelations about other questionable advisers in his candidacy continue to surface.
The latest embarrassment for the Buchanan campaign came last week, when the Jewish Communications Network, an on-line news service, reported that the Buchanan World Wide Web Internet site included an article blaming the death of former White House deputy consul Vincent Foster on the Mossad.
The story alleged that Foster, whose death the police have ruled a suicide, sold to Israel’s spy agency U.S. nuclear codes, for which the Mossad paid $2.73 million, deposited in a secret Swiss bank account.
The article also accuses first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton of spying for the Mossad.
The campaign removed the article from the site after the disclosure.
In the Forbes campaign, meanwhile, Ellis, an informal adviser and good friend to the presidential aspirant has raised his own set of questions.
The group which he headed, the Pioneer Fund, was initially headed by a Nazi sympathizer who once told Congress that four-fifths of Jewish immigrants were feebleminded.
More recently, the fund gave a grant to a white supremacist professor who wrote that Jews have an evolutionary boost from “intermittent persecution, which the more intelligent may have been able to foresee and escape,” as reported by Bob Herbert in a column in The New York Times.
Forbes has apparently not made any public statements about his connection with Ellis, and has yet to reply to a letter on the matter from the ADL’s Foxman.