Posted on August 12, 2004

Protect Arizona Now Adviser Denies Racism Charge

Yvonne Wingett, Arizona Republic, Aug. 7

The anti-illegal-immigration group Protect Arizona Now has named a white supremacist to lead it’s national operations, an anti-bigotry group charged on its Web site Friday.

In naming Virginia Abernethy a national adviser of PAN, the group has handed her a “megaphone to promote racist views,” charged the Center for New Community in a nine-page report and in interviews with The Arizona Republic.

Abernethy denied the allegation from her Nashville, Tenn. home. She’s a separatist, not a racist, she said.

“There’s a huge difference,” said Abernethy, 69. “We’re not saying anything about supremacy, not at all. We’re saying that each ethnic group is often happier with its own kind.”

The Center for New Community based its label on Abernethy’s role in what it described as “several white supremacist organizations,” including the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that opposed the civil rights movement. Abernethy said she is on the advisory board for the CCC, which addresses constitutional issues, such as the Bill of Rights. The group’s Web site promotes segregation.

“With charges of racism already swirling around (PAN) . . . ,” the Chicago-based center’s report read, the conservative group “has taken the surprising step of choosing a leading figure in the white supremacist movement to chair its new national advisory board.”

Abernethy, emeritus professor at Vanderbilt University, has advocated for population control through decreased immigration, and that’s how the Center for New Community determined that she’s a white supremacist, she said.

The group has resorted to name calling and spouting inflammatory propaganda, she said, because it has no valid arguments against the measure.

“Whenever an advocacy group for immigration is losing an argument, they call (us) the label of the day,” Abernethy said.

PAN, also known as Proposition 200, would force Arizonans to prove their citizenship when registering to vote and to show identification when casting a ballot at the polls. It would also make it a crime for public employees to fail to report suspected undocumented immigrants seeking public benefits.

Organizers have filed 190,887 signatures with the Arizona Secretary of State on behalf of PAN; state elections officials are verifying if the group has the needed 122,612 valid signatures.

The initiative is not about racism or discrimination, supporters have said, but cutting taxpayers’ costs to accommodate undocumented residents.

Kathy McKee, PAN director, said her group would not involve a known racist. “I think we’ve all been called that and it’s really getting to be old.”

“(Abernethy has) been considered the grande dame of the anti-immigration movement,” McKee said.

The Center for New Community says Abernethy’s involvement in the measure will introduce racist ideas to the public.

“Playing such an important role in a ballot initiative like (PAN) helps legitimize white supremacists,” said Devin Burghard, director of the group’s building democracy initiative.