Neo-Confederates Insist Flag Fly Over South Carolina Statehouse
Southern partisans have been playing off much larger forces than simple resentment of black advances or attacks on the Confederate flag. Around the world, exclusionary ethnic nationalisms have been on the upsurge since the collapse of the Soviet Union in places like Austria, Britain, Germany, Italy, the former Yugoslavia and much of Eastern Europe. America is no exception.
These nationalist movements have grown, in large part, as a reaction to economic and political globalism — the "New World Order" that opponents fear is turning the world into a monolithic, multicultural and multiracial culture. More and more, nationalists are emphasizing their own particular racial history.
"There is a tremendous amount of consciousness in society about memory and heritage," says Amherst College history professor David Blight, who's written extensively about the Civil War and the American civil rights movement.
"It has to do with localism, a push to maintain a distinct identity. For the South, it has to do with wanting to stay unique in a society that's being homogenized."
Neo-Confederates themselves speak of the inspiration they draw from such "devolutionist" movements. The break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s first got LOS thinking seriously about secession.
The separatist movements of the Quebecois in Canada and the northern Italians provided further proof that this was now a viable political stance. In fact, the League of the South's original name, the Southern League, was a takeoff on Italy's secessionist Northern League. (The name was changed because it already belonged to a baseball minor league.)
Like their international counterparts, those in the American neo-Confederate movement have political aims and have often used the political process.
The CCC was always a political group, including scores of Southern lawmakers as members and working to influence domestic policy. In Mississippi, for instance, the CCC wields considerable political power, often vetting candidates and making endorsements.
The LOS, for its part, was initially more cultural in nature, emphasizing what were seen as assaults on Southern values.
But with time, it, too, has become more political. In the summer of 1999, LOS members were the core of an exploratory committee that eventually turned into the Southern Party, which is now running a slate of candidates across the South.
Although LOS has had some disagreements with the party over its degree of centralization, it remains close to it in terms of ideology. LOS also has been highly active in South Carolina, attacking politicians who don't support the Confederate flag via a political action committee whose motto is "No Votes for Turncoats" (see The Neo-Confederates).
'A Multicultural Mud Bath'
The racism in this movement is undeniable. Leading white supremacist activists like Kirk Lyons and David Duke have been warmly received. Politicized groups like the Council and the League have spouted racist rhetoric with increasing confidence.
These two groups, in turn, have exerted a radical rightward tug on less political groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy — groups that over their histories have professed an exclusive devotion to heritage and the remembrance of their defeated forbears.
Indeed, the influence of the 24,000 members of the CCC and the LOS — the two clearly racist groups in the movement — is being felt among neo-Confederate groups, most notably the 27,000 members of the SCV.
Several years ago, the SCV reportedly kicked out Ken Burns, who produced a highly regarded public television series on the Civil War, after he suggested Robert E. Lee was held responsible for more American deaths than the Japanese in World War II.
Tellingly, the same group has failed to eject seasoned racists like Kirk Lyons and magazine editor Jared Taylor.
Shortly after the Burns decision, the LOS and SCV approved an "affiliation policy" linking the two groups in "non-political" matters. "Gauging from the actions of the latest SCV convention in early August ," Hill wrote at the time, "the old guard there is on its way out, and the organisation appears ready to work with us as a fellow pro-South group. This is good news long overdue."
The spread of racist ideology in the neo-Confederate movement is also apparent in the many cross-memberships that activists hold in different groups (see A League of Their Own and The Neo-Confederates).
Members including many leaders of the racist LOS and CCC, in particular, also belong to other organizations such as the SCV.
With these cross-memberships, explicit racism has risen to the movement's surface in speeches, on postings on the Internet and in neo-Confederate publications.
Even the original radicals in this coalition have grown more hard-line. In July, for instance, the Council of Conservative Citizens posted a remarkable editorial on its main Web page that attacked the Spoletto music festival held annually in Charleston, S.C.
"Spoletto is a multicultural mud bath," the unsigned editorial reads, using language similar to that of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, "which attracts mostly queers and weidos [sic]. The streets teem with fag couples groping each other while greasy white yankee girls make sure everyone notices their lust for black men."
"The Confederate flag represents what South Carolina used to be," the editorial concludes. "Spoletto is what South Carolina is about to become."
The aspersions heaped on the NAACP by so many neo-Confederates also are telling. Long simmering racism has boiled over. The CCC regularly refers to the NAACP as "gangsters."
And the NAACP's members are described as "SABLES, self-appointed black liberal eccentrics," by John Cripps, a gubernatorial candidate and LOS president in Mississippi.
"In Webster's," Cripps says as he explains that the word "sable" is a pun, "it simply means the color black. But in the first Webster's, Noah Webster defined a sable as an 'animal of the weasel kind.'"
According to Blight, the Amherst professor, the increasing stridency of the neo-Confederate movement "has to do, in part, with the increasing power of blacks — black congressmen, black businessmen, the increasing visibility of blacks in general." Episodes like the NAACP's anti-flag campaign send many neo-Confederates into reactionary spasms, and old resentments are laid bare.