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Buchanan Aide Was at Tribute to Doctor's Killer

February 27, 1996|JAMES RISEN and SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A national co-chairman of Patrick J. Buchanan's Republican presidential campaign attended a controversial banquet in January honoring an abortion doctor's killer and other antiabortion extremists jailed for acts of violence against women's clinics.

This was the second time in this GOP nominating campaign that an important Buchanan supporter has been linked to the extremes of American society. Earlier this month, Larry Pratt stepped down as one of the campaign's four co-chairmen after charges that he had spoken at meetings heavily attended by white supremacists.

The controversies so far have not stopped Buchanan's surge in the GOP campaign. Polls indicate he has a good chance of winning the primary today in Arizona, where he campaigned Monday, and is in serious contention in a potentially crucial race Saturday in South Carolina.

While Buchanan continued to face questions about the associations of his prominent supporters, his rival for the nomination, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, sought to breathe some fire into his own flagging fortunes with an old-fashioned campaign-team reshuffle.

"I don't like coming in second," said Dole. He demoted longtime advisor Bill Lacy and named a new chief strategist, Don Sipple, a former advisor to California Gov. Pete Wilson.

The event attended by Buchanan campaign co-chairman Michael Farris was the "White Rose Banquet," held in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 21 to honor antiabortion activists who have gone to jail for acts of violence in the antiabortion crusade. One of those given special tribute was Paul Hill, sentenced to death for the 1994 shotgun killing of a physician and his escort in Pensacola, Fla. The event was so controversial even within the movement that many antiabortion activists, including Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, refused to attend.

Farris, who lost a race in 1993 for lieutenant governor of Virginia, was the only mainstream politician among the crowd of about 100 people attending the banquet. Questioned by The Times about the event, Farris said he went to the dinner thinking it was another right-to-life function and left early after realizing that the message of the evening was to endorse the use of violence to end abortion.

"I was absolutely clueless," said Farris. "I thought it was just a pro-life banquet. I was there to see my fourth-grade Sunday-school teacher and a couple of other women in their 60s and 70s. These are people who I've known since I was 8 years old."

Despite Farris' protestations, one of the friends he joined at the dinner was a key participant, who during the affair read aloud a prison letter written by a person convicted of arson in the firebombing of an abortion clinic. Farris' presence at the dinner was acknowledged from the podium by the event's organizer, Michael Bray, a Bowie, Md., lay minister who spent nearly four years in prison on charges stemming from the bombing of 10 abortion clinics.

The program for the dinner declared that "the just sanction for the capital crime of abortion, as with any other murder, is death."

Monday night, a Buchanan spokesman said the candidate's campaign manager and sister, Angela "Bay" Buchanan, met with Farris in Washington earlier in the day and was assured by him that he had been unaware of the meeting's topic. Farris told her that "he himself would never advocate death for anyone, no matter what their sins may be," said Buchanan Press Secretary Greg Mueller. Mueller added that no action is planned against Farris.

In another development, officials of Ross Perot's Reform Party denied that they were engaged in any organized effort to support Buchanan's bid for the GOP nomination. The Times reported Monday that Buchanan volunteers had obtained copies of the Reform Party membership list and were soliciting Perot supporters to re-register as Republicans and vote in California's March 26 primary.

"Buchanan is running as a Republican and, as such, has no ties to the Reform Party," said Beverly Pape, the group's San Mateo County coordinator.

Dole, in announcing the rearrangement of his campaign team--which included both a new strategist and new pollsters--said the changes would bring "fresh ideas" and focus to a campaign increasingly at war with itself and under challenge from conservatives and moderates alike.

And the new message?

"Flavor of the month," the ever-droll candidate said while campaigning in Georgia, which votes a week from today. Dole no longer hides his worries about a nomination that once seemed in easy grasp.

Asked if the staff changes reflected displeasure with campaign advertising, Dole agreed. "Well, I guess so, because the people don't understand what I've taken for about three months," he said, referring to the negative ads directed at him. "When they see mine they go, 'Uh oh, here's Bob Dole,' after they've watched three months of Steve Forbes."

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