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Felony Convictions, Extremist Past Haunt Macon State Professor

MACON, GA (AP) -- By many accounts, Roger Roots was a gifted scholar and well-qualified for his tenure-track teaching position at Macon State College.

MACON, GA (AP) -- By many accounts, Roger Roots was a gifted scholar and well-qualified for his tenure-track teaching position at Macon State College. Roots, who holds two graduate degrees and is working on a third, joined the middle Georgia school's social sciences department in August with an impressive resume. So when he was fired just two months later, he said officials unfairly held his controversial past against him. In a termination letter dated Oct. 15, Macon State officials cited two felony convictions in Roots' that they claimed made him ineligible for employment by the University System of Georgia. But Roots has said his firing was actually based on allegations of racist conduct. The 37-year-old scholar has written for several fringe publications, some dating back more than 10 years. A Web search by The Macon Telegraph found articles purportedly by Roots that support the right-wing militia movement, deny the Holocaust and claim blacks are less intelligent than whites. The Montana Human Rights Network, which opposes hate groups, has been following Roots since the early 1990s, said program director Ken Toole. "If we thought that Roger Roots moved away from Montana, had an epiphany, and changed his mind (about his beliefs), we wouldn't be talking to you," Toole said. The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., said Roots once claimed to be the leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Billings, Mont., and The Anti-Defamation League also has characterized Roots as an "extremist writer." Roots declined to be interviewed by The Telegraph, but in a letter to the newspaper, he said allegations of racist conduct had "caused irreparable harm to my career and will cost me many thousands of dollars in damages." Roots was convicted in 1987 in Florida for resisting arrest with violence and received three years probation, and he later served 20 months in federal prison for a 1991 conviction in Wyoming for possessing an unregistered firearm, according to prison records. However, Roots' personnel file shows that he disclosed both convictions to Macon State administrators prior to his hiring, and John Millsap, a spokesman for the state's Board of Regents, said the system does not have a clear-cut policy on hiring convicted felons. Barbara Frizzell, vice president for academic affairs at Macon State, declined to comment on personnel matters. Several of Roots' colleagues, past advisers and students say his past is disturbing but that he's shown no indication of being racist in recent years. Students in his freshman sociology class, including Alisha Roberts, who is black, said he seemed inexperienced at teaching but showed no hint of racism. James Coleman, who is white, said Roots had just finished teaching a chapter on race and ethnicity before he was fired. "He never really was rude or anything," Coleman said. "We definitely talked about issues in class but he definitely was not saying he was against Jewish people or anything like that." Fred Preston, a professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, called Roots one of the most brilliant students he's ever advised. Preston said Roots has acknowledged his past racist writings and told him he's tried -- unsuccessfully -- to get them off the Internet. "Look, this is way in this guy's past," Preston said. "There's no evidence that he still feels this way. Is it just going to make you a leper for the rest of your life?"

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