Neo-Confederates Insist Flag Fly Over South Carolina Statehouse
A case that brought these tensions to the surface was the infamous murder of Michael Westerman, a 19-year-old whom many neo-Confederates now call the "first [modern] Confederate martyr." In 1995, while Westerman was driving his Confederate flag-adorned truck through his hometown of Guthrie, Ky., several carloads of black teenagers started following him.
He was shot by one pursuer in a convenience store parking lot, apparently because of the flag he flew.
As described by Tony Horwitz in Confederates in the Attic, Westerman's funeral truly took on the air of a Confederate hero's memorial.
A convoy of SCV, LOS, Heritage Preservation Association (HPA) and unrobed Ku Klux Klan members made its way to Westerman's gravesite, where an SCV "commander" said Westerman had joined "the Confederate dead under the same honorable circumstances" as those who fell in battle. The playing of "Dixie" brought the service to a close.
All concerned then retired to Guthrie's Jefferson Davis memorial, where the event took a political — and openly racist — turn. An HPA official blamed the murder on the "NAACP, Queer Nation and others [who] have been fomenting hatred against the honorable culture of the South."
Others who spoke included Jared Taylor, the white separatist editor of American Renaissance magazine who in 1999 was also a national board member of the white supremacist CCC.
And for his part, Hill declared melodramatically: "It is open season on anyone who has the audacity to question the dictates of an all-powerful federal government or 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 in the 1930s."
Increasingly, such extremist views have become characteristic of the contemporary neo-Confederate movement.
Many groups have taken the lead of LOS in seeing the South as being fundamentally "Anglo-Celtic" — disregarding contributions made by blacks, Native Americans, Jews and others to Southern culture.
They largely follow Hill's view that "white Southerners should [not] give control over their civilisation and its institutions to another race, whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants."
These ideas are closely connected to others put forward by the likes of Jared Taylor, who posits "a relationship between IQ scores and racial differences in poverty rates, welfare rates, illegitimacy rates, and crime rates."
Many groups defend slavery, as well. "No apologies for slavery should be made," is the way that Hill puts it. "Christians who owned slaves in the South were on firm scriptural ground," League members Steve Wilkins and Douglas Wilson add in their pamphlet, Southern Slavery: As it Was.
Or, as LOS member and Washington Times national reporter Robert Stacy McCain says in an essay posted on the League's main site, slavery was "generally" characterized by "cordial and affectionate relations" between white and black Southerners.
Pride in the South
Pushing these and similar themes, the neo-Confederate movement has grown substantially, providing a home for thousands of people with racist feelings who nonetheless seek the cover of groups that present themselves as mainstream.
But it would be wrong to say that they speak for all Southern whites who show pride in their Southern heritage or interest in the history of the Confederacy.
Shelby Foote, famed historian of the Civil War, decries what he sees as a perversion of Southern heritage by some. "I treasure Confederate heritage greatly, but I don't like the yahoos who give it a bad name," Foote told the Intelligence Report.
"I think they've succeeded in identifying Confederate heritage as dedicated to slavery. The re-enactors and real Confederate people," Foote insists, "don't want the return of slavery or anything resembling it."
Joe Riley, the white mayor of Charleston, agrees that most Southern whites are not racist. Riley led a march from Charleston to Columbia earlier this year to put pressure on lawmakers to take the flag down from the Statehouse and, he says, to demonstrate that most South Carolinians agreed with his stance.
"The opposition was predictable," Riley told the Intelligence Report. "I got letters and hate mail and things like that — which I expected. I got one death threat. But I got a lot more words of encouragement.
Most people wanted that flag to come down. And the interesting thing is that on the march, two-thirds of those who participated were white and about a third were black — about the racial makeup of our state."
Riley is not alone in his sentiments.
"As a white Southerner for eight generations, my heritage is the Confederate past," says Yale history professor Glenda Gilmore. "My ancestors fought for the Confederacy and owned slaves. But I know that my heritage is based on hate, on the hatred that grew from owning other human beings and fighting one's countrymen for the right to own those human beings."
"There is an enormous amount to be proud of as a white Southerner. But slavery, fighting for the Confederacy, and maintaining white supremacy for 100 years after 1865 are not sources of pride for me. Instead, I'm proud of how much white Southerners have changed."