Organizer Defends Racist-Branded Annual Picnic
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The retired federal agent who organized an all-white ``Good Ol’ Boys Roundup″ said Thursday he’s no bigot and neither were most of the law officers who attended.
The annual picnic drew about 300 officers to the woods of East Tennessee in May.
On Wednesday, it got a strong rebuke from President Clinton. And on Friday, it will be the subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee investigation.
The picnic reportedly included such activities as the sale of racist T-shirts, including one with Martin Luther King Jr.’s face behind a target and another with O.J. Simpson’s head in a hangman’s noose.
A videotape released by a militia group in Alabama purports to show a sign that said, ``Nigger Checkpoint.″ But Klanwatch, a watchdog group, said the sign was actually at the 1990 picnic and edited onto the 1995 video. Klanwatch said the sign wasn’t up for long five years ago.
Various federal law enforcement agencies are investigating who among their ranks might have attended. Seven FBI agents who are to be grilled by investigators said they have attended over the years, but all deny seeing or taking part in racist practices.
The picnics are legitimate parties where federal and local law enforcement officers can meet one another and are open to any law officers, said Gene Rightmyer, the organizer and a retired agent of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
He denied that racist T-shirts were sold or other racist activities took place at this year’s event but said in written statement that three or four ``isolated instances of racist conduct by a very small number of attendees″ may have occurred in past years.
Racist behavior wasn’t authorized or condoned and he took ``steps to ensure that the conduct was not repeated,″ Rightmyer said.
Rightmyer wouldn’t comment Thursday beyond the statement issued through his attorney, Tom Dillard. Rightmyer said he believed the allegations were part of a politically motivated ``setup″ by a right-wing militia group.
Clinton called the reported racism ``sickening″ and suggested that if anyone in federal law enforcement ``thinks that kind of behavior is acceptable, they ought to think about working someplace else.″
Rightmyer, a policeman in Tampa, Fla., before serving 26 years at ATF, declared: ``I can say with no hesitation that I am not a racist.″
``To assume that those in attendance were part of some racist gathering is not only unfair, it is untrue,″ Rightmyer said. ``No restriction was ever placed on the race or sex of the invitees or their guests.″
Rightmyer agreed with Clinton on one point. ``I firmly believe that anyone in law enforcement who is a racist is also a fool.″