Sons of Confederate Veterans in its own Civil War
Heritage is battling hate as civil war engulfs the 'non-political' Sons of Confederate Veterans
By 1998, the neo-Confederate movement was gaining momentum. In four years, the League of the South had mushroomed to 4,000 members, and it was claiming credit for ousting South Carolina Gov. David Beasley that November. Beasley, a Republican, had supported removing the Confederate battle flag from atop the State House.
Battles over the flag were heating up in a number of other states, and SCV members were chomping at the bit to join the fray.
Reversing previous rules, the SCV that year revised its affiliation policy in such a way that more cooperation with other groups was allowable. The new policy said members should not "endorse the activities or goals of organizations with explicit or implicit racial motives during meetings or events of the Sons of Confederate Veterans" (emphasis added).
In other words, if they weren't at SCV events — if they were, for example, working in "independent" heritage coalitions — then SCV members could endorse whatever views they cared to.
This subtlety was not lost on "pro-South" hate groups.
"The prospects of protecting and advancing Southern culture have just gotten a much needed boost," League President Michael Hill wrote in late 1998. The SCV's new policy, he enthused, allowed it "to cooperate with the League in non-political matters. Gauging from the actions of the latest SCV national convention in early August, the old guard there is on the way out."
The change was almost immediately apparent.
The very next issue of the SCV's Confederate Veteran magazine included a web address for the League. Later issues carried ads for a sympathetic book on the Klan entitled Authentic History of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1999, the publication featured a photo of Gordon Baum, the leader of the racist CCC, helping found an SCV camp in Missouri.
More and more SCV members and officers joined in the heritage coalitions, sharing the stage with leaders of the CCC and League.
Among many others, SCV officials participated in a huge pro-Confederate flag rally in Columbia, S.C., in 2000. Afterward, the SCV produced a video of the event that featured members of the CCC, the League — and even ex-SCV official Lunsford.
In August 2000, four months after addressing a room full of neofascists in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Kirk Lyons won election to the SCV's national executive council as an official of the "Army of Northern Virginia Department," one of SCV's three geographic divisions.
At the same time, John Weaver, a pastor whose defense of slavery as biblical had made headlines around the South, was appointed SCV "chaplain-in chief." Slaves, Weaver had written, "blessed the Lord for allowing them to be enslaved and sent to America."
Den of Lyons
Since that time, the radicalization of the SCV has continued. Last April, the organization held a joint rally with the CCC in Mississippi, where an eventually successful battle to retain a Confederate emblem as part of the state flag was being waged.
Late last year, Ron Casteel, the SCV's national chairman of public affairs, addressed the League of the South's annual convention.
"I think it would be accurate to say that the organization has been cross-pollinated by people who have membership in other groups," Outlaw, the moderate former commander of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, told the Intelligence Report.
"And they don't seem to be able to draw the line between what these other groups want and what the SCV should be doing."
Finally, late last year, Kirk Lyons announced his candidacy for an even more important post in the SCV's national leadership — commander-in-chief of the Army of Northern Virginia Department.
Lyons' opponent in the race, Charles Hawks, says he had no plans to run for the position until he realized that Lyons might run unopposed. "I'm afraid that if he's elected," Hawks told The New York Times, "we will be considered racist because we elected him."
The result matters. The SCV doesn't just have a huge membership, an annual budget of $1 million and an endowment of $5 million. It also has at least a measure of respectability that is sorely lacking in other neo-Confederate groups.
Republican Senators Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Trent Lott of Mississippi are both long-time members. Lott was even featured in a 1991 SCV recruiting video — along with segregationist William McCain. The SCV has influence, and its future course could have a real impact on American politics.
Ed Sebesta, a long-time researcher of the neo-Confederate movement, sees the contest in the starkest terms. "There is a civil war going on within the SCV. And the Kirk Lyons candidacy is the latest manifestation of this civil war."
Edwin Deason, the SCV's current commander-in-chief, does not seem worried. He says that he intends to keep an eye on Lyons, but adds that Lyons has been "a perfect gentleman" in his two years on the executive council.
Asked about the SCV members who have joined the CCC, Deason told the Report that there is "not a lot of difference between the Council of Conservative Citizens and the Republican Party."
On the day he spoke, the national CCC's main website was decrying "negroes, queers and other retrograde species of humanity."
Former Commander-in-Chief Dasinger laments the changes in the SCV, saying that if Lyons wins in the election next August in Memphis, his own sons may have to abandon the group for which he has labored so long.
"I love the organization," Dasinger told the Report. "But when you cozy up to folks and they cozy up to you, you've got to fish or cut bait."