More than 60 former attorneys general from U.S states and territories released a letter Monday seeking to provide clarity on how to respond to acts of hate.

The bipartisan group signed the open letter praising former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley for how he took on racism decades ago. It was written after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ended with a car plowing into a group of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and seriously wounding others.

In 1976, Baxley, a Democrat who would later become the state’s lieutenant governor, was pursuing the case against perpetrators of a 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls. A Ku Klux Klan grand dragon wrote Baxley a letter demanding a response. The attorney general replied in a one-sentence note punctuated with an expletive, “kiss my …”

The former attorneys general say that is a lesson for “all who seek to equivocate in times of moral crisis.”

Those signing on to the letter include several former officials who went on to even more political prominence. Among them: Former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman; former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt; and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Besides the former state attorneys general, the group also included former top government lawyers in Guam, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

Former Vermont Attorney General Jeff Amestoy, a Republican who later served as the state’s chief justice, said in an interview that he heard Baxley’s statement only recently but said it seemed like a fitting way to deal with hate. He wrote the letter after consulting with other former attorneys general.

“We wanted to respond to the events of Charlottesville and the president’s inability to respond in a way that was constructive, and felt that it was necessary to respond directly to the issue that was presented, which was a demonstration of hate,” Amestoy said.

President Donald Trump has been criticized for saying that people on “many sides” were responsible for the violence in Virginia. The White House walked back that comment, but then Trump reiterated the position.

James Tierney, a Democrat who was an attorney general in Maine and now teaches a Harvard course about the office, said the attorneys general wanted to speak up to let it be known that dealing with hate is not that difficult.

“I want everybody to see you can make decisions of moral clarity,” he said.

Baxley was not among the signers of the letter and did not respond to a message left with him on Monday.


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