The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.
Nestled in the rolling hills of the Ozark Mountains, Harrison, Ark., has a refurbished old-time town square and a steadily growing community college. Yet, like scores of small cities and towns across the country, the town could always use more tourist dollars and new businesses.
What the largely white city of 13,000 residents does not need is another racially provocative billboard, churning up its ghosts and scaring away potential industry and employees. But that is exactly what Harrison got Tuesday when the neo-Confederate Alabama-based League of the South (LOS) unveiled its latest billboard, once again plastered with the group’s one-word silent scream, “#Secede.”
The League, which advocates for a second secession—like the first went so well—and a society dominated by “European Americans,” has previously placed billboards in Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. But this is apparently its first foray into Harrison, the site since 2013 of a war of words and billboards that has pitted white nationalists against the city and the Harrison Community Task Force on Race Relations.
My racially charged silly billboard file is getting thicker and thicker these days.
The radical right loves the relatively cheap to rent outdoor signs. For more than a year, billboards with racially provocatie, anti-diversity or white nationalist messages have been popping up along the highways of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida.
The billboards have been sponsored and supported by anonymous online segregationists, predicting “white genocide,” and old-fashioned racists such as members of the Ku Klux Klan, desperate to be relevant. But the neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS) has been especially billboard-happy. Since 2014, the League or its individual members can be tied to at least six billboards, usually plastered with one word, “Secede.”
Now comes word that a “mystery donor” has stepped forward to help keep the billboard campaign going well into the southern summer and maybe beyond. “An offer too good to refuse,” is the way the president of the League, Michael Hill, put it yesterday on the group’s Facebook page.
The donor has offered to match up to $10,000 in donations to the League’s “general billboard fund” between now and Feb. 20. “This is an offer too good to let pass without taking maximum benefit from it,” Hill wrote. “Think about what we could do with $20,000 seed money in a League billboard fund.”
The League advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans.” On its website, the group says that if “the South is going to survive, especially against a flood tide of massive Third World immigration and leftist attempts to destroy her very cultural and political foundations, she is going to have to seek her independence and govern herself.”
“We in the League,” the group adds, “believe that we must secede to survive.”
One of the places the League sponsored a “Secede” billboard last year was in Montgomery, Al. It was taken down within days after the billboard company received complaints and some businesses said they would discontinue renting the space in the future if the sign was not removed.
Before the sign came down, AL.com asked Hill if southern states did secede would black southerners be treated as citizens with equal rights. “That is the kind of thing in our ideal world that would be left up to individual states,” Hill replied.
A few weeks later, a League member independently purchased space on a billboard near Leeds, Al. That sign quoted the white nationalist mantra, “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White.” That sign came down after a few weeks, too. “I guess even racist idiots have freedom of speech,” David Miller, the mayor of Leeds, told Hatewatch. “As soon as it went up, we hopped on it and condemned it.”
This month, an anonymous group of segregationists, calling themselves the White Genocide Project, sponsored a racially charged billboard in Springville, Al. It read: “Diversity Means Chasing Down The Last White Person.” It came down five days later after the billboard owners were flooded with complaints, and, they said, some threats.
On the League website, Hill called the removal of the Springville sign “censorship,” which he said, “has a way of breeding more of what the censors attempt to sensor.”
“So don’t be surprised,” he continued, “if you see more billboards and other forms of ‘unapproved dissent’ springing up all across the South.”
Faced with an exploding crisis sparked by the revelation that the No. 3 Republican in the House gave a speech to a well-known group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis a dozen years ago, the GOP in Rep. Steve Scalise’s home state of Louisiana is doubling down, calling the entire episode a mere “manufactured blogger story.”
Really? A manufactured blogger story?
Scalise claimed yesterday that he had no idea of the views promoted by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), whose workshop he addressed in 2002 at a hotel in Metairie, La. And he was backed by an array of Louisiana Republicans including state GOP chair Roger Villere Jr., who described Scalise as “a man of great integrity who embodies his Christian faith in his life.” Villere dismissed the story broken by Louisiana blogger Lamar White Jr. as “an attempt to score political points by slandering the character of a good man.”
But Scalise’s claim of ignorance is almost impossible to believe. He was a state representative and an aspiring national politician at the time, and Louisiana-based EURO already was well known as a hate group led by America’s most famous white supremacist.
EURO was founded two years before Scalise agreed to speak to its conference by Louisiana resident David Duke, a media-friendly neo-Nazi and onetime grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who had made a national name for himself by running repeatedly for office. He won his first elected office in 1989, when he became a state representative, garnering local headlines across Louisiana. In 1990, he won more than 600,000 votes in an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, and in 1991, he took almost 700,000 votes in a run for governor. Newspapers around the world wrote about his ultimately losing fight against the scandal-dogged Edwin Edwards and the bumper sticker it engendered: “Vote for the crook, it’s important.”
Video of the 2005 EURO conference.
That’s not all.
Newspapers at the time of the EURO conference reported that a minor league baseball team from Iowa had changed hotels after learning that it would be held where they planned to stay. A hotel official also told a local paper that the company “did not share the views” of EURO, according to the Huffington Post.
And Scalise’s claims met with skepticism even from some well-known out-of-state conservatives. “How do you not know? How do you not investigate?” asked Erick Erickson, a former Louisiana resident, on his RedState blog yesterday. “By 2002, everybody knew Duke was still the man he had claimed not to be. EVERYBODY. How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”
In an interview with NOLA.com yesterday, Scalise reiterated the claim that he had no idea what EURO was and said that he “went and spoke to any group that called.” That prompted Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin to ask the obvious question: “Would he have spoken to a KKK rally? To the American Nazi Party?”
The fact is that Scalise may have had some real affinities with EURO. In 1999, Roll Call reported that Scalise “said he embraces many of the same ‘conservative’ views as Duke, but is more viable.” To the extent that he had a problem with Duke, it appears it was only that he was unelectable. “Duke has proven he can’t get elected,” Roll Call quoted Scalise as saying, “and that’s the first and most important thing.”
In 1999, Scalise voted against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday, one of just three state representatives to do so. And in 2004, two years after the EURO conference, he was one of six to vote against the holiday.
There appears to be no transcript of Scalise’s speech to EURO, but blogger Lamar White Jr., who first broke the story on Sunday, found postings on the neo-Nazi Stormfront Web forum that described it. In one, a user said Scalise “brought into sharp focus the dire circumstances pervasive in many important, under-funded needs of the community at the expense of graft with the Housing and Urban Development Fund, an apparent giveaway to a selective group based on race.”
A colleague at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich, actually attended EURO conferences in 2004 and 2005. The venues were adorned with Confederate flags and racist slogans and offered racist merchandise.
Scalise, a politician who already had national aspirations at the time of the 2002 EURO conference, certainly should have known what his dalliance with open white supremacists might cost him. In 1998, a scandal erupted when it was revealed that U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) had endorsed and spoken to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a major white supremacist hate group. In late 2002, after singing the praises of segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Lott was forced to resign his leadership post.
Now Steve Scalise should do the same.
As Fury Mounts Over Obama Actions on Immigration, SPLC Releases Major Report on Nativist Movement Rebirth
Just a day after President Obama announced a series of executive actions meant to allow millions of undocumented residents to remain in the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center is releasing a major report on the apparent rebirth of the nativist extremist movement that swept the country between 2005 and 2011.
Today’s release of “Back to the Border,” the cover story of the new issue of the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, comes amid a rising din of anti-immigrant fury from both the mainstream and the radical right about Obama’s moves, unilateral actions that an array of enraged nativists claim could set political violence. The new report traces the resurgence of the movement to early July, when a furious mob turned back buses carrying undocumented and unaccompanied minor immigrants to a Border Patrol facility in Murrieta, Calif. The new edition of the quarterly investigative journal carrying the story can be read at www.splcenter.org.
The confrontation in Murrieta led to a series of similar nativist outbursts around the country and the massing of antigovernment militias and other radical groups on the U.S.-Mexican border in the months that followed. The movement grew large enough that it sparked worries about the return the Minuteman and other nativist groups that harassed undocumented immigrants in recent years. Now, with Obama’s Thursday night speech on immigration already setting off a renewed round of enraged attacks on the president, the threat of a major nativist resurgence seems strong.
“The success of a howling mob in turning back buses filled with undocumented immigrant children bound for a shelter was the first spark to reignite the nativist extremist movement,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC and author of the new report. “Now, with the new executive action initiative announced last night by President Obama, that spark may turn into a conflagration.’
This issue of the Intelligence Report also examines another radical movement experiencing a revival — the racist music industry. Racist bands are using iTunes, the world’s largest music vendor, to distribute their music following the collapse of several racist music labels and distributors. Although its terms of service appear to make iTunes off limits to these groups, the Report found that the music of at least 54 well-known racist bands was being sold by the music service this fall.
“The racist music industry, long a major source of money and new recruits for the white power movement, had been in decline in recent years,” Potok said. “But the discovery of iTunes by racist bands, and the fact that iTunes seems unwilling to move against them, has helped this industry find new hope and profits.”
Also in this issue of the Intelligence Report:
- “Warrior for God” profiles retired three-star general William “Jerry” Boykin, a longtime anti-Muslim activist now serving as executive vice president of the Family Research Council.
- “War Dreams” investigates how the neo-Confederate League of the South is forming a secret paramilitary unit called “The Indomitables,” another step in its continuing radicalization. The group now appears to include white supremacists, former Klan members and neo-Nazis.
- “East of Eden” examines how a small group of racists are promoting the Orthodox Church as a home for fascism. Although the church has its share of extreme-right officials, it vigorously rejects any association with such groups.
- “Redeemed” is an interview with Yvette Cantu Schneider, a woman who worked in religious-right “ex-gay” ministries for years, but recently joined other former activists in renouncing the movement.
Despite claiming its success this election cycle came from expunging extremists from its ranks, the GOP managed to let a fair number of candidates with extremist views rooted in conspiracy theories and far-right fears slip through the cracks.
“Little was left to chance,” The New York Times reported earlier this week. “Republican operatives sent fake campaign trackers — interns and staff members brandishing video cameras to record every utterance and move — to trail their own candidates. In media training sessions, candidates were forced to sit through a reel of the most self-destructive moments.”
But when all the ballots were counted, not even that was enough to stop the GOP from embracing candidates with fringe views, extremist connections and embarrassing backgrounds.
Consider Michael Peroutka, the onetime Constitutional Party presidential candidate and a former board member of the neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS). Peroutka, running as a Republican, was elected to the Ann Arundel County Council in Maryland, garnering 15,531 votes against Democratic candidate Patrick Armstrong’s 13,638.
Peroutka is an avid Southern secessionist and radical Christian Reconstructionist, as he made clear during his presidential campaign for the Constitution Party in 2004. He has long been an active figure in the LOS, serving on its board until recently. However, as the Capital Gazette in Annapolis noted, Peroutka campaigned almost entirely on local issues, emphasizing his desire to repeal the county’s storm water fees, dubbed by local critics as “the rain tax.”
Peroutka eventually renounced his LOS membership, telling reporters he had discovered that the organization held racist views “contrary to my beliefs.” In spite of that mea culpa, Peroutka has continued to share his extremist views in far-right media outlets. In one media appearance, Peroutka warned that the “gay deathstyle” was intent on recruiting the nation’s children. In another interview, he made clear that his extremist politics will color how he conducts county policy, proclaiming nondiscrimination laws a plot to replace God with government “idolatry.”
While it might be easy to say that Peroutka is alone on the Republic roster with his extremist ideology, there were many other candidates elected Tuesday with similar baggage.
- Joni Ernst, U.S. Senate, Iowa: Ernst has supported state nullification of federal laws, claimed the president is a “dictator” who should be impeached, and given credence to Agenda 21, a right-wing conspiracy theory that claims the United Nations is building a blueprint for the “New World Order” intent on taking away U.S. citizen’s land and possessions.
- Jody Hice, U.S. House of Representatives, Georgia, 10th District: The anti-Islam Hice (who is also a radio talk show host) has said that Muslims shouldn’t get First Amendment protections, has claimed that a satirical piece written in the 1980s is “proof” of a “gay agenda” and said in 2004 that it was okay for a woman to run for office as long as she’s “within the authority of her husband.” He also said on his radio show that “blood moons” are a sign of world-changing. Strangely, Hice’s radio shows have been scrubbed from the Internet.
- Gordon Klingenschmitt, Colorado state legislature, District 15: Best-known for his claims of casting demons out of LGBT people, Klingenschmitt heads up the anti-LGBT hate group The Pray in Jesus [sic] Name Project. He was court martialed by the Air Force in 2006 for disobeying an order. He has claimed that gay people sexually abuse their own children and they should be discriminated against because they’re not going to heaven and only people who go to heaven are entitled to equal treatment.
- Gary Glenn, Michigan state legislature, District 98: Glenn, the author of Michigan’s amendment banning marriage equality, is a former director of AFA-Michigan, an affiliate of the American Family Association, an anti-LGBT hate group. Glenn has expressed desire to recriminalize homosexuality, which he claims is a “proven threat to health and human safety.” He has expressed reservations about businesses hiring LGBT people because of the “severe medical consequences” of homosexuality, which indicates they’re “not the best and the brightest.”
Ryan Lenz, David Neiwert and Evelyn Schlatter contributed to this article.
The League of the South seems to know no limits in how far to the right it will go. After years of increasingly violent rhetoric and warnings of unrest, (LOS) President Michael Hill has now announced that the LOS will “make contact” with the neo-Nazi and neo-fascist Greek organization Golden Dawn, a group that associations with a year ago would have been certain to prohibit LOS membership.
In a cryptic message posted to Facebook last week, Hill promised: “We will establish contact with GD (Golden Dawn) very soon.” To what extent and to what end remain unclear.
Contacting Golden Dawn in a show of solidarity represents one more development in the League’s changing attitudes toward the more radical elements of the extremist right. From warning of impending insurrection, to forming secret paramilitary organizations, the League has gotten increasingly extreme in recent years. But aligning with the Golden Dawn does come as an unexpected surprise.
Since 2012, when the Golden Dawn claimed 18 of the Greek Parliament’s 300 seats, the party has embraced its fascist and neo-Nazi ideological underpinnings. They have made use of Nazi symbolism and have praised figures from Nazi Germany. Its members have taken xenophobic stances on immigration, and engaged in acts of violence.
That alone would have been enough for LOS leadership to distance itself from getting close to Golden Dawn not that long ago. In fact, Matthew Heimbach, co-founder of the white nationalist Traditionalist Youth Network, was ousted from the LOS after being caught cavorting with members of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi organization.
“Matthew Heimbach, a former member of The League of the South, has apparently decided to cast his lot with Nazis and others who do not represent the traditional South, the Southern Nationalist movement, and the League of the South,” Hill wrote at the time.
A short year later, Heimbach is back in the LOS and sharing the same views as Hill.
For his part, Heimbach last week traveled to New York City to show his support for the Golden Dawn as they held a meeting in Astoria, a historically Greek-American neighborhood. The conference featured Georgios Epitideios, a former general and Golden Dawn member of the European Parliament, who warned of the struggles the Greek people face “as the forces of globalism continue to wage an economic, social, and spiritual war against the Greek nation and the Greek Church.”
Just like Hill has professed, Heimbach left the event with new views.
“I have long been a Golden Dawn supporter, and this weekend of fellowship only reinforced what I already knew in my heart,” Heimbach wrote. “All traditionalists should support Golden Dawn.”
After years of rhetoric threatening violence, the neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS) is training a uniformed, paramilitary unit tasked with advancing a second southern secession by any means necessary, Hatewatch has learned.
According to anonymous sources from within the LOS, as well as leaked internal communications, the LOS secret unit has been dubbed “The Indomitables”and appears to be stacked with white supremacists, former Klan members and neo-Nazis.
Michael Hill, in a note offered to encourage his Indomitables, said, “We desire that our women and children be warm and snug while the world outside rages. And as our due for that we must face the world.”
The Indomitables were conceptualized at the LOS national meeting earlier this year and appear to be coming online quickly, with Floyd Eric Meadows, 43, of Rome, Ga., who also goes by Eric Thorvaldsson online, in charge of “training,” according to sources within the group and internal documents.
A veteran of both the U.S. Army and Navy with 12 years of service, Meadows has been an active LOS member for several years, and his personal Facebook account is filled with pagan iconography and photos of his weapons. He posts often about “earning” his red bootlaces––awarded in skinhead culture for drawing blood for ‘the movement’—and his desire to throw boot parties for enemies of the LOS. Meadows also has posted pictures of himself standing with assault rifles in front of a confederate flag and has frequently quoted Robert Barnwell Rhett, a South Carolina statesman who was dubbed the “Father of Secession”for his efforts leading up to the Civil War.
Telephone messages regarding the Indomitables were left with Hill and the LOS this week, specifically to ask how and where the League hopes to use the unit, and to what end. They were not returned. But within a day of those message being left, Hill addressed the question on the LOS blog.
“Even if we are –– and you really have no idea on earth if we are or not ––setting up a Southern militia or some other form of paramilitary organization, we are doing nothing that free men have not done for centuries. Deal with it and stop your whining,”Hill wrote.
Unfortunately for Hill, we do have an idea. Internal Facebook posts leaked to Hatewatch show that Hill is well aware of progress in forming his militia, which he refers to by name.
The formation of the Indomitables comes after years of escalating and violent rhetoric from the League, as well as a search for more ideologically extreme white nationalists to enliven their membership –– a pattern that has been ongoing since 2007, when the LOS national conference was titled “Southern Secession: Antidote to Empire and Tyranny.” Just this week, for example, blogger Spelunker published a detailed profile of LOS member Abe Monroe, who attended a rally with LOSers last November and who just posted to Facebook pictures of the words “White Power”in block letters tattooed with a swastika across his back. While Monroe is a minor player, he is representative of that new type of southern nationalist the League now seeks.
That is especially true if one takes to heart Hill’s own words, which show an increasing extremism. In an essay published last month on the LOS website, Hill argued that the Second Amendment extends to “weapons systems,” touted guerrilla warfare applications and listed “primary targets”as the fight for a second secession continues.
“The primary targets will not be enemy soldiers; instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don’t run,”Hill wrote. He concluded the essay by quoting Psalms: “Blessed be the Lord my strength who teaches my hands to war and my fingers to fight.”
This isn’t the first time the League has flirted with southern nationalists with a calloused trigger finger, however. Michael Tubbs, a former Green Beret and demolitions expert, and another soldier robbed two fellow soldiers of their M-16 rifles at Fort Bragg, N.C. “This is for the KKK,”the holdup men shouted as they fled. Tubbs pleaded guilty to theft of government property and conspiracy to transport guns and explosives across state lines after prosecutors later discovered a weapons cache.
Editors’ Note –– Keegan Hankes contributed to the reporting of this article.
The neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS) gathered outside the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery today to protest same-sex marriage today, a departure from the group’s racist activism surrounding Southern heritage.
At the heart of the protest was an SPLC lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, which seeks to overturn the state’s 1998 Marriage Protection Act, which bans the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. The suit also seeks to overturn the 2005 Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, which enshrined the ban.
The League, a neo-Confederate hate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans,” seemed to use the protest to branch out into more mainstream conservative issues.
“We’re protesting the Southern Poverty Law Center’s stand against the state of Alabama and its position on homosexual marriage,” Dr. Michael Hill, president of the League, told Hatewatch. “We’re here as much to support the concept of Christian marriage and the family as we are to protest anything.”
And so they protested, not with screams and chants, but with a dull murmur.
League members held signs that said “God Sanctions Marriage. SPLC Should Not,” and “Support Christian Marriage,” along with Alabama state flags and Christian Confederate flags. They milled about, quietly, caught up with friends and talked about ideas such as what the South would use as its currency when it does secede. This protest was lackluster compared to previous gatherings, and not as comical.
In 2004, about 50 demonstrators in town for a national League meeting brandished Confederate and southern state flags outside the SPLC. On a street corner, League supporters placed a pink toilet with an adjacent sign read, “Flush the SPLC.” There were none of those antics today, not even from the younger leaders who have argued that street protests like the one today are the future of the movement.
Brad Griffin, a League member and editor of the Occidental Dissent blog, who writes under the nom de plume “Hunter Wallace,” has been instrumental in shifting the LOS toward more frequent protests. In a piece titled “The Logic of Street Demonstrations” published last month to Occidental Dissent blog, Griffin expounded on the need to use public protests to address the “taboo” of being pro-white, pro-South and pro Christian.
“By taking to the streets on a regular basis, we are demonstrating that we are no longer going to observe these taboos or acknowledge their legitimacy in the South. We believe our cause is moral and just, that our demographic displacement is an immoral assault on the birthright of future generations, and we invite our fellow Southerners to publicly violate the reigning taboos and join our movement,” Griffin wrote.
But even in the former cradle of the Confederacy, the public involvement with the League was lacking. The only engagement came from a group of young girls, standing in front of the Civil Rights Memorial, singing negro spirituals. And just as they had been all morning, the proud and graying League protestors were silent in response.
You will know the League of the South’s street demonstrators by their flags – a variety of Confederate flags, yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flags and stark, black-and-white so-called Southern Nationalist flags. If the league’s organizers see their hopes realized, such demonstrators will be a common sight on city streets and plazas in the South.
The league’s leaders have developed a street demonstration strategy they hope will increase their public profile in the coming months. At a state conference in Alabama last month, they unveiled some of the details of that program, including a protest of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery in May.
The Alabama gathering, held at the league’s meeting hall in Wetumpka, near Montgomery, featured speeches by president Michael Hill, Georgia chapter chairman Ed Wolfe, South Carolina chapter chairman Michael Cushman and Brad Griffin, editor of the Occidental Dissent blog, who writes under the nom de plume “Hunter Wallace”. Griffin recently wrote about the league’s strategic shift in a post titled, “The Logic of Street Demonstrations.”
The shift appears to be primarily Hill’s idea, as he made clear in his opening remarks, and seems to be connected to the increasingly belligerent and radical positions he has staked out in recent years –symbolized by his exchange with a black reporter in Tallahassee earlier this year. Upon being asked if he minded if the league was depicted as a “bunch of racists”, Hill responded: “So what? I’m standing up for my people – white Southern people – no one else.”
Several of the conference speakers celebrated Hill’s response, including Griffin, who added: “We’re standing up for our people. It is the right thing to do, it is what we ought to do. We should have started doing it a long time ago. The fear of sticking our necks out has long been one of our worst enemies, and that more than anything has to be overcome before we can gather the numbers to move forth.”
Griffin and the other speakers argued that street demonstrations will provide people with a clearer view of their choices. They presented a disparaging view of counter-protesters, typically describing them, as Griffin did in a recent post, as “a bunch of queers and lesbians gyrating on a sidewalk with tambourine.”
Cushman celebrated the shift toward unapologetic racism by observing that the league was “smashing that taboo”: “We’re supposed to be embarrassed to talk about race. We’re supposed to turn red in the face and kind of turn away and whisper if we say anything at all about race. We’re smashing that taboo as well.” ( continue to full post… )
After a segregationist businessman’s products were dropped from major grocery chains over his promotion of slavery, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell – who was recently selected to head the College of Charleston – went out of his way to sell the man’s products.
Maurice Bessinger, an unrepentant segregationist who ran the Piggie Park chain of barbecue restaurants in South Carolina, sparked a controversy in 2000 when he began flying the Confederate flag over his restaurants – a reaction to the state government removing the flag from the capitol dome. Soon it was discovered that Bessinger was selling pro-slavery materials at his restaurants, including a pamphlet entitled “The Biblical Justification for Slavery.”
Bessinger, who wore a white suit and appeared atop a white horse in promotional materials, had made a name for himself during the Civil Rights era for refusing to integrate his restaurants and leading the National Association for the Preservation of White People. He posted signs at his stores telling African Americans they were not welcome. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually forced him to integrate and his restaurants went back to, more or less, business as usual.
By 2000, South Carolina had changed, but Bessinger hadn’t. According to The State, Bessinger was “distributing pro-slavery audiotapes and gave customers a discount if they bought his literature.” He claimed that slavery in South Carolina was “biblical slavery,” which he argued was more ethical than other forms.
Customers began boycotting his restaurants, and the NAACP and other organizations called on major grocery chains to drop his products – one after another, they did. Bessinger wrote in his 2001 memoir, “Defending My Heritage,” that six major grocery chains, including Walmart, had dropped his products by the end of 2000, and wholesale sales were down 98%.
When you read his memoir, it’s not hard to understand why. Here are a few choice quotes:
“I have concluded that the civil rights movement is a Satanic attempt to make it easier for a global elite…to seize power in the country.”
“The Civil Rights Act of 1964…destroyed property rights and le[d] to blacks being given special favors by government at the expense of whites.”
“It is politically correct to assume that segregation is evil” but the “facts about the Old South don’t bear out this assumption.”
Bessinger also wrote that “Lest you think all has been bad, I have loyal supporters who have stuck with me through this battle.” “There are people,” Bessinger wrote, “who are driving miles, seeking out independent grocery stores…where they can find my products.” One of those places was Glenn McConnell’s Confederate memorabilia shop, which he ran with his brother for 20 years until 2009.
I wrote last week that McConnell came to the defense of Bessinger in 2002 when South Carolina electric and gas giant SCANA banned its employees from parking company trucks at Piggie Park restaurants. Then-State Sen. McConnell “threatened a legislative vendetta” against the company – i.e. revoking its “noncompetitive, monopoly status” – if it didn’t reverse course. He denounced SCANA’s policy as a “basic slap at free speech and freedom of expression” and accused the company of “discriminating against a man’s business because of his political beliefs.” He said that “people around the state are just outraged at the audacity” of SCANA, but he apparently wasn’t outraged by Bessinger and didn’t seem to understand why others were.
As it turns out, McConnell did even more for Bessinger. He not only defended the segregationist against a boycott on First Amendment grounds – he became a distributor of his products. ( continue to full post… )