Neo-Confederates Growing Political Presence
As the Republican convention opened in Philadelphia this summer, a small plane trailing a large banner circled the hall three times, drawing stares from many of those on the ground. As they looked up, bystanders could make out the colors of a 10-by-15-foot pennant — the stars and bars of the Confederate battle flag.
It was a symbolic moment, dramatizing the growing political presence of the burgeoning neo-Confederate movement.
This is a movement that has grown every year since the mid-1990s, and one that more and more has taken on plainly white supremacist trappings and ideology. With a series of rallies to defend the Confederate flag, efforts to run a slate of candidates across the South and busy Internet sites, the movement is going strong.
The flying of the Confederate flag at the Republican convention was also a moment that underlined a political truism: White supremacists do not always come wearing Klan hoods, shaved heads or storm trooper outfits.
Sometimes, they boast business suits and Ph.D.s.
Indeed, as this "Rebels With a Cause" special issue of the Intelligence Report spells out, the neo-Confederate movement, largely dominated by academics, is rife with white supremacists and racist ideology.
In the years since the formation of the League of the South in 1994, the movement has grown increasingly more radical. Where the League's leaders once emphasized the culture and history of the South, today they are publicly hostile to blacks and other minorities.
'What's Your Point?'
Certainly, not all of those who say they fight for "heritage, not hate" are closet racists. But a scene once dominated by Civil War battle reenactors and those who maintain Confederate monuments is turning increasingly ugly.
And that is not merely because they support the flag.
Michael Hill, president of the League of the South and probably the key ideologue of the movement, calls slavery "God-ordained," while other leaders in his group defend segregation as a policy that merely preserved the "integrity" of white Southerners as a group.
In North Carolina, the League recently added a new "advisor" to its list of local officials — Steven Barry, a hard-line racist and official of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the other key group in the neo-Confederate movement, recently editorialized on its main web page about "greasy white yankee girls [who] make sure everyone notices their lust for black men."
White supremacist lawyer Kirk Lyons — a man who was married at the Idaho compound of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations — has become a key player for the League and most of the other neo-Confederate groups. And these are only a few telling signs of a movement that almost admits its own racism.
"Let us not flinch when our enemies call us 'racists,'" Hill wrote on a private Internet posting recently. "Rather, just reply with, 'So, what's your point?'"
The evidence, described in detail in this issue, is clear. Both the League (named as a hate group for the first time in this issue) and the CCC (whose white supremacy was detailed in the Winter 1999 edition of the Intelligence Report) are plainly hate groups dominated by racism. And, sadly, these groups seem to be influencing more traditionally moderate groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Democracy and the Past
Supporting the neo-Confederate enterprise are historical revisionists, men such as Michael Hill who, like deniers of the Holocaust, are rewriting the history of the Civil War and the South.
In their view — a view shared by virtually no serious historian — the Civil War had almost nothing to do with slavery.
The facts, of course, clearly belie that.
"American slavery was a human horror of staggering dimensions," is the way NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond put it this July to his organization's convention — an event picketed by neo-Confederate groups.
"It lasted 20 times longer than the Nazi Holocaust, killed 10 times as many people, and destroyed cultures on three continents. ... Two hundred and forty-six years of slavery were followed by 100 years of state-sanctioned discrimination, reinforced by public and private terror, ending only after a protracted struggle in 1965."
The danger is that the toxic views of Michael Hill and his co-religionists, increasingly public as the neo-Confederate movement grows, will come to be seen as just another interpretation of history. In reality, they are plainly false, and their propagation is merely the latest attack on American democracy.
"We hold it self evident that no class or color should be the exclusive rulers of this country," Frederick Douglass, 19th-century America's leading black intellectual, once said.
"If there is such a ruling class, there must of course be a subject class, and when that condition is established, the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, will perish from the earth."