Buchanan Campaign Co-Chairman Takes Leave
Feb. 16, 1996
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A co-chairman of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign stepped aside today amid controversy over his appearances as a speaker at meetings organized by white supremacists and right-wing militia leaders.
At a news conference, Larry Pratt denied he holds any racist or anti-Semite views and called the effort to link him to hate groups a move to smear Buchanan, a conservative who appeals to right-leaning groups.
``I see this as a political effort, a tool to try to discredit the Pat Buchanan campaign,'' Pratt said.
Pratt said he took part in at least one anti-government meeting in 1992 while looking into the Ruby Ridge incident, but he didn't know racist groups were going to be there.
``I loathe the Aryan Nation and other racist groups with every fiber of my being,'' Pratt said.
Pratt said he stepped aside in order to ``address these charges and put them to rest'' and hopes to rejoin the Buchanan campaign later.
Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America, asked for and was granted a leave of absence after a report that he was an early advocate of the militia movement and has shared podiums with Aryan Nation leaders and prominent militia chiefs.
Buchanan told reporters today that he instructed his sister and campaign manager, Bay Buchanan, to talk with Pratt about the allegations.
Buchanan said Pratt called them ``vicious and false charges.'' And, Buchanan added, ``I believe him.''
However, Buchanan said Pratt ``stood aside so as not to be a distraction to the campaign.''
Sen. Bob Dole, the nominal GOP presidential front-runner, said Pratt ``ought to be fired'' for associating with racists and anti-Semites.
Earlier, Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, said he found it ``worrisome'' that someone with Pratt's credentials would have a prominent role in a presidential campaign. The report on Pratt's alleged associations was released by the Center for Public Integrity this morning.
The center, an independent research organization that focuses on ethics in government, released the study, ``Under the Influence: The 1996 Presidential Candidates and Their Campaign Advisers.'' It found that among the candidates' advisers were 40 registered lobbyists and 15 people listed with the Justice Department as foreign agents.
The report's most striking revelations were about Pratt.
Pratt has long been a vocal advocate of a citizen's right to own firearms. The gun group, based in Falls Church, Va., reportedly has between 150,000 and 200,000 members.
He is also an author whose writings advocate citizens' militias, and he argues that the Bible demands that Christians bear arms.
``This is not a political issue. This is something that comes first and foremost from the Scripture,'' Pratt was quoted as saying in a ``Playboy'' article last year. ``What I see in Scripture is not that we have a right to keep and bear arms, but that we have a responsibility to do so.''
Pratt was one of four co-chairmen listed on Buchanan's letterhead.
After federal agents killed the wife and son of white separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, Pratt was invited to speak at ``a seminal meeting'' of militant white supremacists in Estes Park, Colo., according to Mike Reynolds, an analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racism and militias. However, no one has accused Pratt of espousing racist views.
The meeting was called by Pete Peters, leader of Christian Identity, which critics say supports violence to promote white supremacy. Other featured speakers included former Ku Klux Klan leader and Aryan Nation official Louis Bream and Aryan Nations Founder Richard Butler.
``What this meeting did was essentially lay down the foundation for this Christian patriot movement that includes the militias,'' Reynolds said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Pratt told Center for Public Integrity researchers that he went to the meeting to gather information from attendees who had been at Ruby Ridge.
Pratt confirmed that his advocacy group contributed to CAUSE, a law firm headed by Kirk Lyons, an attorney who has defended high-profile Aryan Nations members. But he said its donations were specifically for Lyons' class action suit on behalf of the Branch Davidians who battled federal agents in Waco, Texas.
In 1990, Pratt published ``Armed People Victorious,'' an examination of armed vigilante groups that fought guerrillas in Guatemala and the Philippines and a call to arms against crime and drugs in the United States.
``It is time that the United States return to reliance on an armed people. There is no acceptable alternative,'' Pratt wrote.
Pratt also spoke alongside militia leader Mark Koernke at a 1995 event led by another prominent militia leader, Bo Gritz. According to the report, anti-Semitic and racist literature was available at the meeting.
Pratt told the report's authors he didn't share the views of everyone at the meetings. ``We don't prioritize allies, we prioritize positions, and we're willing to go anywhere and work with anyone for our issue,'' he said.