Sun, Jan 14, 2001 - Page 1 News List

John Ashcroft linked to `guns for pupils' group

REVELATIONS The man who would be the US' top legal official has been exposed to have had connections with a pro-gun group that supports arming school children

THE GUARDIAN , NEW YORK

George W. Bush's nominee to be the next US attorney general has been linked to an extremist pro-gun lobbying group which believes that the answer to America's school shootings is to allow pupils to be armed in the classroom.

The revelation that former senator John Ashcroft has recent links with the militant Gun Owners of America (GOA) group is the latest twist in an increasingly impassioned partisan battle over a nomination which has become a major trial of political strength for Bush.

Even many conservatives consider the GOA to be extremist. After a shooting at an Oregon school in May 1998 in which two pupils were killed by a fellow student, it issued a press release headed: "Lesson of school shootings: More guns needed at schools."

Its director, Larry Pratt, was forced to resign as co-chairman of Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential bid after news leaked of his links with the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations and right-wing militia groups. Pratt is also head of an anti-immigrant organization called English First.

It emerged on Friday that Ashcroft wrote a friendly handwritten letter to Pratt in March 1998, thanking him for drawing his attention to provisions in a juvenile justice bill which imposed increased penalties for gun law offences. As a result of the GOA's lobbying, Ashcroft, who had originally been a sponsor of the bill, withdrew his support for the legislation.

The letter was sent on Senate notepaper and was addressed "Dear Larry" and signed "Thanks! John."

This is not the only known link between Ashcroft and Pratt. The two men know each another from a secretive but highly influential right-wing religious group called the Council for National Policy, of which Pratt is a member and whose meetings Ashcroft has attended.

The CNP's membership is almost a who's who of US conservatism and includes the Republican congressional leaders Senator Trent Lott and Congressman Tom DeLay.

The revelation of the link with Pratt came as two other allegations about Ashcroft's extreme right-wing links also surfaced.

In the first, it was confirmed that Ashcroft took time off from his bitter senatorial contest last September to meet Thomas Bugel, the president of the St Louis chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, to discuss the case of a CCC member, Charles Sell, jailed by federal authorities on charges of conspiring to murder an FBI agent.

The CCC is the successor organization of the Citizens Council, which led the fight against integration in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. The CCC, whose supporters also include Senator Lott and Senator Jesse Helms, opposes interracial marriage and non-white immigration, and believes black people are genetically less intelligent than whites. It is currently mobilizing to try to defeat a statewide referendum in Mississippi in April to remove the Confederate flag from the state flag.

Meanwhile, the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University in South Carolina confirmed that it possessed a transcript of reportedly inflammatory remarks made by Ashcroft in a May 1999 speech there.

The Senate judiciary committee, where Ashcroft faces questioning next week, had asked the university to supply a transcript, after rumors surfaced about the speech.

Bob Jones University, whose graduates include the Reverend Ian Paisley, was at the center of a political storm last year when Bush made a speech there to rally conservative support for his presidential bid after he lost the New Hampshire primary to John McCain.

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