Kirk Lyons Steps Up As Leader of Neo-Confederate Movement

Across the South, a 43-year-old lawyer with a fondness for dressing up in black top hats and Scottish kilts is popping up as a key player in the burgeoning neo-Confederate movement. From Texas to Alabama to South Carolina, Kirk D. Lyons, "chief trial counsel" of the Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC), has presented himself as the legal savior of the beleaguered South.

No matter that he has attended and spoken at a slew of white supremacist events around the nation. No matter that he has walked at the head of a Klan parade, lionized Adolf Hitler as "probably the most misunderstood man in German history," and reportedly proposed carving America up into racial mini-states.

Even the fact that Lyons was married on the compound of Aryan Nations by the leader of that notorious neo-Nazi group hasn't had much of an effect.

The neo-Confederate movement has embraced him.

To Patrick J. Griffin, commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), Lyons' white supremacist activities are "just ... part of his personal life." To Michael Andrew Grissom, a key charter member of the League of the South (LOS), national adviser to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and deputy chairman of the Oklahoma Heritage Commission, Lyons' politics also are no cause for concern: "What would worry me more is if he defended some communist, socialist terrorist."

And to Mrs. William Wells, president of the relatively apolitical United Daughters of the Confederacy, sharing the podium with Lyons and other racists at neo-Confederate rallies is "a situation you cannot control."

As SLRC Associate Director Neill Payne reports, "[W]e have received support from every major pro-Southern group."

Even as he insists that he and the SLRC have no racial agenda, Lyons' public statements and political activities betray his true sympathies. Since helping start up the SLRC, Lyons has been a featured speaker at meetings of the white supremacist CCC and the American Nationalist Union.

Last April, he spoke at a meeting of the American Friends of the British National Party (AFBNP), a racist group that supports the neofascist British National Party and whose previous meetings have featured former Klansmen Don Black and David Duke, among others. Lyons gave a "fine speech," the AFBNP's Web site boasts, that focused on "how we as racial Nationalists should be making alliances when and wherever we can."

A Night Ride Sets the Course
The son of an Air Force officer who he says befriended people of all races, Lyons spent much of his youth in Texas. From early in his life, he had a conservative bent. Lyons remembers wearing short hair and a "Nixon for President" button while classmates were clad in hip-hugging bell bottoms and listening to rock 'n' roll music. Forced busing angered him.

Lyons seemed headed for a fairly ordinary career. He says he put himself through the University of Texas and then went on to law school at the University of Houston. By his own account, he took five years to graduate and made mediocre grades. After passing the bar exam on his second try, Lyons took a job as a personal injury lawyer at a small Houston firm.

But one night in 1985, two men dressed in trench coats and fedoras showed up at his apartment and asked Lyons to take a ride. One of the men was Louis Beam, a former Klan leader who was "ambassador-at-large" for the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, and a man Lyons had run into earlier, while in law school.

At the time they first met, in the early 1980s, Beam had been leading violent protests against Vietnamese shrimpers on the Gulf Coast and running secret Klan paramilitary camps elsewhere in Texas.

As they drove, Beam told Lyons that he feared he was about to be indicted in an impending federal case against white supremacist leaders. Beam asked Lyons, the lawyer would say later, for help in getting bail should he be arrested.

Beam was finally arrested in 1987, along with 13 other notorious white supremacist leaders, on federal charges of sedition brought under a rarely used law dating to the 19th century. The government accused Beam and his co-defendants of conspiring to overthrow the federal government by force in order to set up an all-white nation in the Pacific Northwest. Beam was also accused of planning to bomb federal buildings, sabotage railroads and poison water supplies.

Defending 'Prisoners of Conscience'
It was then that Kirk Lyons made a life-changing decision. Quitting his personal injury practice, he went to Fort Smith, Ark., to defend Beam in what would become widely known as the "Fort Smith Sedition Trial." Ultimately, the government's case proved to be a weak one, and in 1988 Beam and all his co-defendants were acquitted.

Suddenly, Lyons was a celebrity on the radical right.

Lyons spoke that fall to the Aryan Nations World Congress, hosted by Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler, one of the men acquitted in Arkansas. There, he touted his vision of a non-profit foundation that would defend the kind of men that Lyons saw as "patriots" and "dissidents." The Patriot's Defense Foundation (PDF) would not take shape until late 1989, but Lyons started work immediately.

In October 1988, he took up the defense of James Wickstrom, the former "director of counterinsurgency" for the rabidly anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus and a man who spoke of hanging his enemies from "ALL the telephone poles." In the end, Wickstrom would be convicted of federal counterfeiting and weapons charges in connection with a plot to distribute counterfeit bills at Aryan Nations.

It was a busy period. In 1989, Lyons was the featured speaker at a "Rocky Mountain Family Bible Retreat" hosted in Colorado by Pete Peters, a leading ideologue of the racist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity religion.

He marched at the head of a Tennessee parade of 400 Klansmen, neo-Nazi Skinheads and other hard-liners. On the legal front, Lyons assisted in the successful 1989 defense of Douglas Sheets, a former White Patriot Party member accused of murdering three men in a North Carolina gay bookstore.

He helped defend Stephen Nelson, one of three Aryan Nations members convicted in 1990 of plotting to bomb a gay discotheque in Seattle. He "advised" Tom Metzger, the head of White Aryan Resistance, who was facing a civil lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in connection with the murder of an Ethiopian man by three Skinheads in Portland, Ore. (Metzger was later hit with a multimillion-dollar judgment.)

And he researched a case on behalf of imprisoned members of The Order, a group that in the 1980s robbed more than $4 million from armored cars and murdered a Jewish talk show host in Denver.

"I consider them prisoners of conscience," Lyons said of the imprisoned Order members in a 1990 interview with The Dallas Morning News. "I consider them the same kind of heroes that blacks consider Nelson Mandela."