Republican presidential candidates are returning donations tied to a white supremacist group purportedly cited by Dylann Storm Roof, the man authorities have charged with killing nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The donations are one of several issues that have rose unexpectedly to the forefront of the presidential campaign since the attack. South Carolina Gov. NIkki Haley, a Republican, on Monday afternoon called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds. While no Republican presidential contender has defended the flag, the field has been reluctant to take a clear position on its display, presumably wary of antagonizing Southern conservatives sympathetic to the symbol in an early primary state.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told The New York Times through a spokesman that he would “immediately refund” $8,500 in donations from Council of Conservative Citizens president Earl Holt III after the contribution came to light in a report by The Guardian published on Monday. In addition, a spokesman for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said the campaign would donate $1,750 in contributions it had received from Holt to the Mother Emanuel AME Church, the site of last Wednesday’s massacre.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also received a $1,500 donation from Holt, which Santorum said he will donate to the church.
“It was brought to my attention late Sunday evening that an individual who led a group cited by the murderer who terrorized the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston had given to one of my past political campaigns,” Santorum said in a statement Monday. “Rather than put more money back in the pockets of such an individual, my 2012 campaign committee will be donating the amount of his past donations to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund to support the victims of this tragedy.”
Holt has given $65,000 to Republicans over the years, according to The Guardian.
Police are investigating a document posted online that may have been written by Roof, attributing the writer’s initial descent into violent white supremacist ideology to discovering lists of “brutal black on white murders” on the CCC’s website. The Missouri-based group, according to its statement of principles, “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.”
In a statement on the CCC’s website, the group said it was “deeply saddened” by the shooting massacre.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremism, describes the CCC as a “white nationalist” group descended from organizations created in the 1950s to defend segregation from the ascendant civil rights movement.
This isn’t the first time the group has popped up as a story in mainstream politics, however. Then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) resigned his position as majority leader in 2002 after his praise of Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) segregationist presidential run prompted new scrutiny of his relationship with the CCC, which included speaking at one of their events.