b) Allegations of racism in the leadership ranks
Some of the Roundup critics, most notably Larry Stewart and Curtis Cooper, inferred that the Roundup must be a racist event because they believed Rightmyer himself was a racist. [/ Stewart and Cooper are both plaintiffs in the discrimination lawsuit against ATF. ] These contentions compel an examination of Rightmyer's behavior toward minorities.
As evidence of Rightmyer's alleged racist tendencies, Stewart cited an incident in 1985 when Rightmyer was leading a FLETC course for new ATF agents attended by Dondi Albritton, a black agent. In front of Stewart and two other black agents, Rightmyer said to Albritton, "You were born trash, you will live trash, and you'll die trash." [ / Rightmyer says the actual saying was, "you were born trash, you are raised trash, you live and die trash." ] Because Rightmyer said this to an African American, Stewart and Albritton assumed a racist intent. As Stewart conceded in an interview, however, the phrase itself, though demeaning and offensive, has no racist content.
Rightmyer contended that he did not intend it to be racist, that it is one of his "pet terms," and that he says it to his friends. Several witnesses confirmed they had heard Rightmyer use this phrase before, in each instance to a white person. Rightmyer claimed that he learned that he had offended Albritton and apologized that same day, which Albritton denied.
Stewart also claimed that during this same FLETC course, Rightmyer accused a black student of cheating. He provided no reason for his belief why this accusation was racist other than the fact that it was made against a black student. [/ Subsequent to Righmyer's interview we received a copy of the student's account of this allegation. He claimed that Rightmyer invited him into the hallway for a cigarette break during an exam and said, "I know black people cannot take exams like white people." As we received this information too late to interview this individual or Rightmyer about this alleged incident, we are unable to make any conclusion as to whether it occurred and, if so, what was meant by the comment. ] Rightmyer's co-leader for this particular course was a black agent with whom Rightmyer shared a townhouse for the duration of the ten-week course. That agent was interviewed by Treasury OIG but did not report any racist conduct by Rightmyer and confirmed that Rightmyer had on several occasions personally invited him to attend the Roundup.
Curtis Cooper related an alleged incident when he was selected as the Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge (ASAC) for ATF's Nashville office and became Rightmyer's boss. He claimed he was told by one of two men that Rightmyer had said before the announcement of Cooper's appointment that it would "be a cold day in hell before I work for a nigger." Cooper conceded that he had never personally heard Rightmyer use the term "nigger." Both men Cooper identified as possibly telling him that Rightmyer had made this statement denied hearing that Rightmyer had said it or telling Cooper that he had. Rightmyer denied having said it.
We did learn, however, of an incident in 1987 in which Rightmyer bluntly told Cooper that he did not have the experience to be a supervisor. Cooper told Rightmyer to be careful what he said because Cooper might put in for the Nashville position and become Rightmyer's boss. Rightmyer said he replied, "It'll be a cold day in hell before I work for you." Other witnesses corroborated Rightmyer's claim that the conversation centered on Cooper's qualifications and that Rightmyer did not use any racial slur. Cooper made no mention of this encounter.
Cooper also testified that when he assumed the Nashville position, Rightmyer handed him a drawing of a devil shaking with cold and said, "I guess it's a cold day in hell." Cooper contended this conversation confirmed that Rightmyer had in fact made the alleged derogatory statement. Rightmyer contended this comment related to his statement made directly to Cooper, which did not use a racial slur. Although Cooper told us he did not know what he did with this drawing, Rightmyer produced a copy of it, which was a cartoon from Playboy on which Rightmyer had written the date July 7, 1985. [ / A copy of this cartoon appears in the appendix to this report, Section C, at 51. ] All of the witnesses to the face-to-face confrontation between Rightmyer and Cooper agreed that Rightmyer did not use the word "nigger." Cooper does not claim to have ever heard Rightmyer use the term, and the persons Cooper claims told him that Rightmyer used this word deny it. Thus, we find this claim unsubstantiated.
While Cooper testified that Rightmyer had "been accused" of having "racist tendencies," these incidents were the only specific evidence raised by either Cooper or Stewart to support this claim. Cooper also claimed generally that Rightmyer made belittling remarks to African Americans or told ethnic jokes in their presence. We found no specific instances of this alleged conduct. On the other hand, numerous individuals, both black and white, who had worked closely with Rightmyer stated emphatically that they had never observed any racist behavior by him. Significantly, many of these individuals were neither friends of Rightmyer's nor had they ever attended a Roundup. Thus these witnesses had no apparent motivation for protecting Rightmyer's reputation. While not everything we heard about Gene Rightmyer was flattering, other than the allegations by Stewart and Cooper, we did not find evidence suggesting he was a racist.
Rightmyer's testimony obviously was an important factor in trying to resolve the issue of whether he is a racist and a number of factual issues regarding the Roundup. We interviewed Rightmyer on two occasions, once for several hours at the beginning of the investigation and a second time for approximately eight hours near the end of the investigation. Although he had a clear motive to try and make the Roundup appear better and less offensive than it was, he frequently volunteered information contrary to any interest in sanitizing the Roundup. Based largely on his testimony, in fact, we conclude that on a number of occasions he showed poor judgment or was wholly insensitive to the feelings of others.
On a number of issues his testimony was corroborated by either physical evidence or a broad range of witnesses. Where his testimony differed from other attendees' recollections, it tended to show him in a less flattering light than the other witnesses' testimony. For example, although a number of witnesses told us that after various racist conduct occurred Rightmyer ejected the perpetrators, Rightmyer testified he in fact did not do so. In another example, his testimony regarding the 1992 watermelon skit makes that skit appear even more racially offensive than it was when described by other witnesses. He was extremely frank on a number of sensitive issues and did not give the appearance of trying to present his testimony in the most favorable light.
Although he told us he did not recall knowing about a number of incidents, we did not find this professed ignorance implausible in light of his extended absences from the campground either out playing golf, running errands, or staying at his motel room at night. Furthermore, we did not find evidence to the contrary.
In light of all these factors, we found Rightmyer on the whole to be a credible witness.
(ii) Other leaders
Because no official structure was in place during the initial Roundups, unlike other aspects of the Roundup, there is no initial intent to be examined regarding the organizational structure or the persons selected to fill such positions. During the years in which racially insensitive conduct appeared, persons in addition to Rightmyer had begun to assume leadership roles in the Roundup. Examination of their views is therefore relevant to examination of the Roundup's racial environment in those years. With respect to evidence of racism among other Roundup leaders, the investigation found the following. Several of the 1980 attendees invited blacks and other minorities to attend. As noted earlier, one of the early leaders complained to Rightmyer about the appearance of racism at the Roundup and threatened to withdraw unless Rightmyer made changes. The person in charge of registration not only pressed Rightmyer to act against racist incidents but also posted the notice in 1993 telling all attendees that racism was not tolerated at the Roundup. He also brought a minority guest to the 1994 Roundup. Leaders other than Rightmyer were also responsible for tearing down signs, discarding the David Duke materials, preventing Hayward from entering the campground swathed in white power garments, and demanding that changes be implemented to gain control over the Roundup. This was evidence that at least some of the leaders did not intend the Roundup to foster racist expression.
Some evidence exists, however, that other Roundup leaders were responsible for racially insensitive or even blatantly racist activity at the Roundup. [/ It is perhaps significant that none of these individuals attended any Roundups until the mid- or late 1980s, around the time that there was a notable shift in the character of the Roundup. ] A retired suburban police officer, who had served as Roundup president, used racial slurs, according to several people, including Rightmyer. Indeed, Rightmyer recalled once pulling this individual off the stage because of his inappropriate language. And in 1995, this person reportedly openly complained about the presence of blacks in the campground. Rightmyer claimed not to have been aware of this incident. The continued presence of this individual on the REX is particularly troubling in light of Rightmyer's knowledge of his inappropriate, racist conduct. [/ This same individual was notorious for urinating around the beer truck, appearing naked on the stage, defecating on the stage, soiling his trousers, and using other inappropriate language. ] Indeed, Rightmyer conceded that because this person was acting as master of ceremonies at the time Rightmyer pulled him off the stage, this person represented the Roundup itself. Having recognized that, Rightmyer should have removed this person from any official position in the Roundup organization, if not banned him from the Roundup completely. In addition, a member of the MOB and subsequent Roundup president appeared in the 1992 photograph of persons gathered around the Confederate flag making obscene and inappropriate gestures. In 1995, two of the persons responsible for the confrontation with Jack Scott were MOB members. Another MOB member was identified as selling NAAWP T-shirts at the 1995 Roundup.
Although these were the only examples we found of Roundup leadership involvement in the racist activities, this evidence is extremely troubling. At the very least, it sent an ambiguous message that Rightmyer implicitly tolerated racism among the leaders of the Roundup even as he was publicly criticizing racist actions. It also demonstrated that Rightmyer and the others who sought to eliminate racist activity were not vigilant enough in monitoring racism in their own ranks.