Four years ago, a 27-year-old Valley Springs, Calif., resident named Cory Burnell announced a project to eventually move tens of thousands of families to South Carolina in a bid to transform the super-conservative state into a kind of theocracy. It wasn’t long before questions came up about Burnell’s Christian Exodus group — Burnell had been a leader in the white supremacist League of the South, and was in fact pushing for the possible secession of South Carolina; he claimed that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the post-Civil War guarantee of the right to vote and equal protection for all Americans, had never been legally ratified and was not the law of the land; and he wanted to end public education, forbid the teaching of evolution, and enforce “Christian” morality through the power of government — but Burnell gamely continued to insist that he was carrying through on his admittedly ambitious project.
In ensuing years, Burnell told reporters that he and some 2,500 “Christians” would move to the state by 2006, and claimed that a half a dozen families had already done so. Later, he said that 15 families had moved, and that he would soon be joining them. After that, he said that the movement would concentrate on Anderson County, probably the most conservative county in the state, and that a dozen more families were heading that way. By early last year, he was saying he was planning an FM radio station that would start up any day. In June, he claimed another 15 Exodus families would arrive in the state by 2008 and repeated that he and his family were coming to South Carolina, only to concede days later that the job he’d found there had fallen through. Then, in July, he said that while he still wanted to move to the state, it was now up to God.
Apparently, the deity has spoken. According to the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail News, which has done most of the serious reporting on Christian Exodus, the group is now focusing on a totally different state — Idaho — because, it said, several of its families now “realize … they will not be moving to South Carolina.” Heading the effort in that northwestern state will be Paul Smith, who ran for Congress in 2006 on the ticket of the far-right Constitution Party of Idaho. Smith, the Independent-Mail reported, said during his campaign that the 9/11 attacks were the result of God’s judgment against America.
As to Cory Burnell, he and his family remain in California, where they’ve been throughout. No word yet from those Burnell followers who took their leader’s advice and moved to South Carolina. If the past is any guide, they may be waiting on their young leader for a good long time.