Groucho Marx famously said, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that has someone like me as a member.” In a kind of reversal of that humorous sentiment, Andrea Carmen, the executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, says she’s glad her organization belongs to a club in the form of a list of allegedly “UnAmerican” people, places and things. The reason? The list was compiled by the late Billy James Hargis, a southern white racist preacher who was anti-communist, anti-union, pro-segregationist, anti-black and, apparently, also anti-Indian, and it includes some of the most revered civil rights leaders, artists, activists and other people and organizations that have worked for social justice.
In 1950, Hargis founded a ministry called Christian Crusade, a media empire that included a magazine, a daily radio program, Christian Crusade Publications, and a direct mail operation in those pre-e-mail times that distributed his propaganda throughout the world. His heyday as a televangelist peaked during the 1950s and 1960s when he made daily broadcasts on 500 radio stations and 250 TV channels. He died in 2004 at the age of 79.
The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) was founded in 1974 at a gathering by the American Indian Movement in Standing Rock, South Dakota that was attended by more than 5,000 representatives of 98 Indigenous Nations. The organization advocates for treaty lands and the basic human rights of freedom and sovereignty. Carmen (Yaqui Indian Nation) has been a staff member of the International Indian Treaty Council since 1983 and its executive director since 1992.
“IITC is the only Indigenous Peoples organization to be listed on this racist list, and yes I do consider it to be a badge of honor,” Carmen told Indian Country Today Media Network in an e-mail. “These types consider anyone making a serious stand for Treaty Rights, justice and human rights to be a threat to their vision of how society and its power relationship should be organized.”
On May 3, Carmen received an e-mail from a colleague who notified her that the International Indian Treaty Council was included on one of Hargis’s immense files of “UnAmerican” people and organizations in a collection of his papers housed by the University of Arkansas. “I found this today in a link sent to me from a woman in Tulsa who was researching her pro-choice organization,” Carmen’s colleague wrote. “The files were compiled by the Oklahoma equivalent of Joseph McCarthy, Tulsa racist minister Billy Hargis, who was alleged to have been having sex with male and female students at his Christian College in Tulsa.”
The particular file that includes the International Indian Treaty Council is listed under “Series II, Domestic Policies and Issues, Subseries #5: Social Issues.” The subsector is divided into categories on race, the civil rights movement, Hispanics, racist organizations, women’s issues and organizations, families and the changing sexual morality of the 1960s and 1970s, the 1960s counterculture, drug and alcohol abuse, crime and law enforcement, health care and poverty. Among the “UnAmerican” individuals Hargis listed are civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., comedian Bill Cosby, author James Baldwin, jazz great Louis Armstrong, Nobel prize-winning social worker Jane Addams, and singer Harry Belafonte. Among the “UnAmerican” organizations and initiatives are the Black Panthers, Fisk University, the Equal Rights Amendment, and Freedom Riders.
The International Indian Treaty Council is listed as number 31, squished between “Hispanics, 26-30” and “Racist Individuals and Organizations, 32-46,” oddly under the heading “African Americans and Civil Rights by State.”
News about the inclusion of IITC on Hargis’ target list was posted to the mailing list of the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The posting elicited a number of congratulatory responses. “IITC has to be doing something right to make them list you,” one writer told Carmen. “Congratulations!”