Kirk Lyons Steps Up As Leader of Neo-Confederate Movement

Bit Parts in Waco and Oklahoma
After the fire, CAUSE filed a lawsuit against the government on behalf of three Davidian survivors and the 76 Jamaican relatives of 23 dead Davidians. But this suit was ultimately consolidated into a larger case led by attorney Mike Caddell. On July 14 of this year, a jury rejected all of the Davidian claims.

Lyons also would become involved in the probe of the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead in 1995 — but only as the lawyer of a man who was apparently a bit player, Andi Strassmeir. A German national, Strassmeir had been befriended by Lyons and Holloway in 1988, when he first came to the United States.

When he failed to obtain legal residency, Lyons sent him to Elohim City, an Oklahoma Identity compound through which some of the most infamous figures on the radical right have passed. The idea, a CAUSE periodical called The Balance said, was that Strassmeir might "meet eligible young ladies," marry, and so avoid what was otherwise seen as the inevitable denial of his residency request.

It later became known that Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh had called Elohim City 12 days before his attack, reportedly asking for Strassmeir. Strassmeir would later say that he thought he had met McVeigh in 1993, trading a knife for some of McVeigh's old military fatigues and giving McVeigh a business card.

That, apparently, was the limit of Strassmeir's involvement in Oklahoma. A man who may have been McVeigh also called CAUSE's office before the bombing, telling Holloway that those responsible for Waco needed to be "sent a message."

Perhaps the only notable success Lyons had in this period came in June 1996, when he was allowed by the FBI to mediate in the standoff between federal agents and the white supremacist Montana Freemen. Lyons eventually helped convince the Freemen to end their 81-day standoff without bloodshed.

But there were no public accolades for Lyons, no photo opportunities, no press conferences to extol his role — a fact that angered the publicity-hungry principals of CAUSE.

By early 1997, CAUSE was attacking others on the radical right because of stories about the Oklahoma City bombing in the antigovernment "Patriot" press. Elohim City leader Robert Millar, who fueled the speculation that Strassmeir was involved in the attack, was "soft in the head."

Willis Carto, whose anti-Semitic newspaper The Spotlight played up Strassmeir's supposed role, was "mentally unhinged." The paper itself, CAUSE proclaimed, had "sunk beneath the bottomless standards of the worst tabloids." Right-wing journalist J.D. Cash, along with McVeigh attorney Stephen Jones, were "opportunists."

Overall, the "'patriot' pseudo press" came in for a severe verbal drubbing.

Coming to the Confederacy
CAUSE was in trouble. It was alienating old friends, donations to support the Davidian lawsuit were dropping off, and the Patriot press continued to pursue the Strassmeir story. Lyons was also bedeviled by mainstream press accounts that brought up his extremism. That's when he began whistling "Dixie" in earnest.

In 1996, Lyons, Payne and a third man incorporated SLRC. The address and phone number was the same as CAUSE's, and the staff was also basically the same — with the later addition of H.K. Edgerton (see Confederates in Black), a black man, as board chairman.

Its Web site describes SLRC as "a non-profit legal foundation waging a counter-offensive to preserve Southern Heritage." It calls for a halt to the "Ethnic Cleansing of Dixie." But the focus, above all, is on the Confederate flag.

"The Southern Legal Resource Center is a nonprofit foundation that specializes in First Amendment issues for Southern heritage," Lyons told a reporter at the time. "The flag is a civil rights issue."

CAUSE continued as an empty shell, finally shutting down in 1998. Lyons, now styled as SLRC's "chief trial counsel," focused his energies instead on the neo-Confederate cause. It was not a new one for Lyons. For more than 20 years, he had been a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans (see The Neo-Confederates).

He wears a button proclaiming his membership in the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, a group open only to the descendants of Confederate officers. He has long been an enthusiastic Confederate battle reenactor — in fact, CAUSE says it was through mutual reenacting acquaintances that Lyons first met Strassmeir.

Around March 1998, according to an e-mail from Payne, Lyons joined the League of the South.

In the last few years, Lyons has defended the rights of students to wear t-shirts emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag; of teachers to display the flag in classrooms; of military personnel to join neo-Confederate organizations.

He began to speak at pro-flag rallies around the country, including rallies in Columbia, S.C., this past January and in Montgomery, Ala., in March. In his many battles, he has described defending the Confederate flag as a "civil rights" issue.

And in the process, Lyons has become the darling of the neo-Confederate world. Neo-Confederate Web sites now commonly urge their followers to donate to the SLRC. In Columbia and Montgomery, Lyons shared the podium with members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Council of Conservative Citizens, the League of the South, the Heritage Preservation Association and others.

At the same time, apparently seeking to bolster the SLRC's image as a civil rights group, Lyons has taken on black clients in cases of alleged "malicious prosecution" and a housing dispute, and he has appeared on numerous occasions with Edgerton. Today, he protests angrily whenever he is portrayed as a racist.

Hate, and Heritage, Too
But the evidence is against him. Even as he sat with Edgerton eating lunch and discussing politics, Lyons said that the two men's children would never marry. Racial intermarriage, he told a reporter, is "like taking rainbow ice cream and putting it in a blender. What you get is this gray mush not fit to eat."

It is certainly convenient for today's neo-Confederate organizations to believe that Kirk Lyons is no racist, merely a stalwart fighter for Southerners who have suffered at the hands of the politically correct. And it is equally convenient for Lyons to describe himself as a champion of the little man who is mistreated and despised by those in power.

But the reality is substantially different.

And that speaks to the nature of the neo-Confederate movement. To date, Lyons has never been kicked out of a neo-Confederate group to which he belonged. Aside from minor spats in Georgia and Oklahoma, his role has prompted scarcely a whisper from those who say they fight for "heritage, not hate."

In fact, when all is said and done, it is not Lyons who is bringing neo-Confederates into his political camp. Rather, the increasingly radical neo-Confederates are coming to him.