AS IT HAPPENS

Former AG who wrote 'kiss my ass' to the KKK has some advice for Trump

Bill Baxley — who once told a Klu Klux Klax grand dragon to "kiss my ass" — is urging U.S. President Donald Trump to vigorously condemn white supremacists.
Defence attorney Bill Baxley (right) said of U.S. President Donald Trump (right): 'I don't think any public official ever ought to condone in any way what these neo-Nazis do.' (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters, Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News via AP)
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Sixty-seven former U.S. attorneys general have issued a joint statement urging Americans to follow the lead of Alabama's Bill Baxley, who once told a Klu Klux Klan grand dragon: "Kiss my ass."

"We commend his response to the attention of all who seek to equivocate in time of moral crisis," the statement, which is not addressed to anyone in particular, reads.

U.S. President Donald Trump has come under fire in recent weeks for blaming "many sides" for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., where a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed at a white nationalist rally. 

"I thought we were on the verge of getting past that, but unfortunately it hasn't happened," said Baxley, who dealt with plenty of neo-Nazis and white supremacists during his tenure as Alabama's attorney general in the '70s. 

One of them, KKK grand dragon Edward R. Fields, wrote Baxley a letter in 1976, criticizing him for re-opening the investigation into the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young black girls in 1963.

Baxley spoke with As It Happens guest host Jim Brown about how he responded to that letter and how he feels about Trump's handling of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. Here is part of that conversation.

Tell us what it was you wrote to that Klan grand dragon back in 1976.

I got a letter from him that just really hacked me off and he demanded a response, and so I just sat down and wrote him a letter and said: "Kiss my A-blank-blank."

Rhymes with glass.

Yeah (chuckles).

The irony is that I would never have released the letter. I didn't release it. I didn't tell anybody, never would have told anybody. I thought, "I don't want my mother finding out about it." She'd be mad at me for using a bad word. 

But the Klan put the letter out. They thought it would hurt me. 

That says something about the times if the Klan felt that you would be hurt politically by being seen to be against them.

That's right. That's exactly what they felt. 

Were you concerned for your safety?

Not really, I didn't have enough sense to be, I reckon. I was young [29] and single. I never really gave it much of a thought.

Can you remember what was going through your mind as you sat down and typed up that short and blunt response?

I didn't type it. I dictated to my secretary. I mainly didn't want them to think they were going to cow me or threaten me or intimidate me in any way.

You didn't just confront them with words. You also acted. As you say, you reopened the investigation into the Birmingham bombing ... What was the effect of it all?

We ended up convicting the ringleader of the bombing, a guy named Robert Chambliss. He was a bad character.

The biggest regret that I ever had for anything in my public life was that when I went out of office I wasn't able to finish bringing the other people involved to trial. There were four of them that planted the bomb.

The new people that came in as attorney general after me wouldn't touch it with a 40-foot pole because it was politically unpopular.

A 1977 photo shows a memorial plaque at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., for Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson, the four girls killed in a bombing at the church in 1963. (The Birmingham News/Associated Press)

What I didn't realize at the time was there was a kid who was in law school and he cut class and came to that trial every day.

And nearly 25 years later, that kid became the United States attorney for North Alabama and he picked that case back up and ended up indicting the other two who were still alive and tried and convicted them.

Forty years ago you were forceful and blunt to white supremacists. What do you think of the way your president responded to white supremacists in Charlottesville last week?

I don't think any public official ever ought to condone in any way what these neo-Nazis do.

Those people that equate this type of behaviour with dissent or a difference in opinion and a right to express themselves ought to be required to read about what happened with Nazi Germany and how Hitler came to power.

Men carry torches as they march through Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 11, 2017. Some sported Nazi symbols and shouted Nazi slogans. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star/Associated Press)

And then they ought to be required to sit down and talk with what remaining few heroes and veterans we've got in the United States and Canada about what they had to do in World War II and they ought to realize what these neo-Nazis and groups like them are actually advocating and supporting.

That's not protected speech. It's criminal behaviour, and no public official ought to condone that ever.

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