The Free Magnolia
The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans.” The league believes the “godly” nation it wants to form should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities. Originally founded by a group that included many Southern university professors, the group lost its Ph.D.s as it became more explicitly racist. The league denounces the federal government and northern and coastal states as part of “the Empire,” a materialist and anti-religious society.
In Its Own Words
“Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery. Where in the world are the Negroes better off today than in America?”
— Jack Kershaw, League of the South board member, 1998
“[T]he Southern League supports a return to a political and social system based on kith and kin rather than an impersonal state wedded to the idea of the universal rights of man. At its core is a European population.”
— Michael Hill, essay on League of the South website, 2000
“If the scenario of the South (and the rest of America) being overrun by hordes of non-white immigrants does not appeal to you, then how is this disaster to be averted? By the people who oppose it rising up against their traitorous elite masters and their misanthropic rule. But to do this we must first rid ourselves of the fear of being called ‘racists’ and the other meaningless epithets they use against us. What is really meant by the [anti-racist] advocates when they peg us as ‘racists’ is that we adhere to ethnocentrism, which is a natural affection for one’s own kind. This is both healthy and Biblical. I am not ashamed to say that I prefer my own kind and my own culture. Others can have theirs; I have mine. No group can survive for long if its members do not prefer their own over others.”
— Mike Hill, Web essay
“We also encourage individuals and families to personally secede from the corrupt and corrupting influence of post-Christian culture in America. We call this ‘abjuring the realm,’ and it’s a real and dramatic first step all of us can take by simply withdrawing our support of and allegiance to a regime that has imperiled our future. … Once our Southern culture is re-established, then the political issues will begin to take care of themselves. Good leaders flow naturally out of a healthy culture; however, power-hungry, self-seeking politicians are all we can expect from the debased cultural climate we have today.”
— League website
Founded in 1994 as the Southern League (it was forced to change its name after a minor baseball league threatened to sue), the overarching mission of the League of the South is to accomplish what the Civil War did not — Southern secession. The league’s first meeting featured a group of some 40 men, most of them Southern professors. It was and still is led by Michael Hill, who was then a British history professor and specialist in Celtic history at Stillman College, a historically black school in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Hill has since left his teaching position.)
From the start, the league’s board was dominated by academics. Its unofficial foundational text was Cracker Culture, a book by conservative history professor Grady McWhiney, one of Hill’s mentors, which asserts that the South was populated by immigrants from Celtic areas of England and constitutes a culture and population distinct from that of the North. At the beginning, it only suggested that Southern secession might become necessary if the rest of America did not straighten out.
The league grew quickly — “like kudzu,” according to Hill — as white Southerners attracted by the group’s academic veneer and its initial insistence that it was not racist joined up. Within four years of its creation in 1994, the league had recruited 4,000 members. Initially, the league seemed to concentrate on a cultural defense of the South, complaining bitterly of the treatment Southerners received in the mainstream media. But it wasn’t long before it began seriously advocating a second secession, calling for a theocratic form of government, and openly advocating a return to “general European cultural hegemony” in the South.
In the 1990s, the league was active in traditional politics. In 1996, it helped orchestrate a successful “Dump Beasley” campaign in South Carolina, where then-Gov. David Beasley, a moderate Republican, supported removing the Confederate flag from atop the state Capitol dome. But hints of the group’s future radicalism — the raw anger the league now openly directs at blacks and other minorities — were evident early in its evolution. A year before the campaign against Beasley, Hill had joined a crowd of angry whites, including some professional white supremacists, at the funeral of Michael Westerman, a white man murdered by a black youth, ostensibly for flying the Confederate flag on his pickup truck. At that event, according to Tony Horwitz’s book Confederates in the Attic, Hill declared it was “open season” on anyone who dared to question “the illicit rights bestowed on a compliant and deadly underclass that now fulfills a role similar to that of Hitler’s brown-shirted street thugs of the 1930s.” He was referring to black people.
Along with its academics, the league included racist hard-liners from the start. One founding member who still sat on the board of directors in 2007 is Jack Kershaw, a lifelong segregationist who once was an official in the anti-integration White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s. Kershaw has never hidden his racist views. “Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery,” Kershaw told a reporter in 1998. “Where in the world are the Negroes better off today than in America?”
The league, which originally had bragged about the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) did not then list it as a hate group, quickly became more radical. It came out against interracial marriage. Hill publicly defended antebellum slavery as “God-ordained” and another league leader described segregation as necessary to racial “integrity” of both races, black and white alike. Hill called for a hierarchal society composed of “superiors, equals and inferiors, each protected in their legal privileges” and attacked egalitarianism as a “fatal heresy.” He said people other than white Christians would be allowed to live in his South, but only if they bowed to “the cultural dominance of the Anglo-Celtic people and their institutions.” Where the goal of secession was once largely rhetorical, it became a seriously stated aim.
In 2000, with the group now claiming some 9,000 members (that number would soon grow to 15,000), the SPLC began listing the league as a hate group.
In the first years of the new century, the league steadily grew more powerful, to the point where for a time it stood at the nexus of the larger neo-Confederate movement. Its ideas about the “Anglo-Celtic” nature of the South were widely accepted by other “pro-South” groups, and it worked with other racist groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens to promote rallies supporting the Confederate battle flag. The league took a leadership role in a huge 2000 pro-flag rally in Columbia, S.C., and later the same year also organized a large pro-flag rally in Montgomery, Ala., calling for “Southern Cultural Independence” from the rest of the nation.
Remarkably, the league has found a few staunch defenders in the major media, particularly former member Robert Stacy McCain. For years, McCain was a key writer at the ultraconservative — but influential — Washington Times. Even after the Intelligence Report in 2000 exposed McCain’s relationship to the league — and the fact that he had published sympathetic essays on the league’s website — Times editors kept him on and in fact assigned him to cover neo-Confederate events. He resigned years later during a purge of extremist personnel at the newspaper.
Things started falling apart for the league in 2001. Within days of the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes in New York and Washington, D.C., Hill suggested that the attacks were deserved, “the natural fruits of a regime committed to multiculturalism and diversity.” This did not go over well, provoking an exodus of members. Perhaps the most significant blow of all came with the resignation by Donald Livingston as head of the league’s Institute for the Study of Southern Culture and History, the “educational arm” of the League, which runs workshops and disseminates books and pamphlets. A professor of philosophy at Emory University, Livingston told the Report that he was put off by the group’s racism and other “political baggage.”
The league’s veneer of professorial respectability has been pierced numerous times, but perhaps never so dramatically as in the case of Michael Tubbs, who in the early 2000s was a leading league activist in Florida. In 2004, the Report revealed that Tubbs was actually a convicted “Aryan” terrorist, a man who while in the military had robbed fellow soldiers at gunpoint of their weapons. (During one such theft, he and an accomplice had reportedly shouted, “This is for the KKK!”) When he was arrested, officials found several arms and explosives caches along with lists of targets that included newspapers, television stations and businesses owned by Jews and blacks. When these embarrassing facts were revealed, Hill and other league leaders allowed Tubbs to stay on, saying he’d paid his debt to society.
The group’s increasingly hard-line positions and recruits have driven many members away. By 2004, many of the group’s original founders — including Hill’s mentors who shepherded him through his history Ph.D. at the University of Alabama, Grady McWhiney and Forrest McDonald — had denounced him. At a 2005 strategy meeting, the league struggled to find a handful of interested persons to attend. By 2009, Hill was claiming 25,000 members, but that seemed extremely implausible.