Sons of Confederate Veterans Succumbs to Extremists After Long Battle
Despite beating back the candidacy of a key white supremacist, America’s leading heritage group succumbs to extremists
By Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok
After his August election, Lyons leaped into action. Over the next two years, he politicked within the SCV incessantly, building up a strong reputation as an effective activist. Lyons also may have cemented his bond with Wilson when the hired Wilson's daughter, Allison Schaum, as a legal assistant in November 2001.
During the same period, more and more officials were referring cases of "heritage violations" — attacks on the flag and so on — to Lyons' SLRC, which sees its mission as a battle to stop the "ethnic cleansing" of Confederate culture.
Toward the end of 2001, Lyons announced his candidacy for the even higher SCV post of commander of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), the largest of the SCV's three geographic divisions. (Lyons' earlier post had been as a "councilman" representing the ANV on the executive council). That job is a traditional stepping-stone to the highest position in the organization, SCV commander in chief.
In the months leading up to the Memphis convention last August, Lyons and his extremist allies were busy. Stories on the Lyons candidacy by The New York Times and The Associated Press had appeared early in the year, quoting Gilbert Jones and others critical of Lyons, and Lyons was not happy.
Revealing widespread support for Lyons at the state level, gag orders that prohibited talking about internal matters to the press were rammed through in eight states: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
In addition, men in the extremist wing of the SCV won important victories in state conventions leading up to Memphis. In Alabama, David Allen, a member of the white supremacist League of the South, was elected commander; Charles Yow, who works with Lyons' SLRC, became state judge advocate.
In Louisiana, Chuck Rand, a prominent League member, became the new commander. In Virginia, Michael Masters, a leader of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, won two state SCV posts. In South Carolina, Christopher Sullivan, editor of far-right Southern Partisan magazine, got a lesser leadership post. Similar results were seen elsewhere.
Men like Allen and Rand were not the only League members who were also members of the SCV. Although their number is not known, Roger McCredie, SCV's chief of heritage defense until this fall, said in an E-mail that "I am a member of the League of the South, as are several thousand members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, including other members of the General Executive Council."
"We are not some minority anomaly," Lyons told The (North Carolina) Independent in January 2002. "The reform faction has been moving to essentially managerial control of the organization for several years now."
The Stealth Candidate
In the days before Memphis, several more stories about the civil war within the SCV appeared in Southern newspapers and elsewhere. Each of them set off a minor uproar within the SCV, but none more so than a CBS Evening News piece that featured Gilbert Jones and a videotape clip of Lyons speaking at the same event as former Klan boss David Duke.
Supporters of Lyons vilified Jones and Charles Hawks, the main candidate running against Lyons, alleging they had participated in a smear of the SCV.
At around the same time, Jim Pierce, a local camp leader from Morgantown, N.C., admitted that he'd circulated by E-mail a particularly vile cartoon depicting a grinning black woman with huge lips. "Ise wants Charles Hawks foa de massa ob de ANV," the caption read. "He sho am good foa me."
As the media and others zeroed in on the Lyons-Hawks contest and Lyons' lengthy extremist history, very little attention was paid to Ron Wilson — even though Wilson had written op-ed pieces warning of communist plots and praising Joseph McCarthy for the Council of Conservative Citizens' tabloid newspaper in the early 1990s.
"He was a bit of a stealth candidate," says ex- member Chip Pate.
Still, on his campaign Web site, Wilson did give a sense of where he was coming from. He told potential supporters that he opposed "the homosexual agenda, abortion and other Godless causes." Under him, he vowed, the SCV would "teach the truth and culture of Confederate heritage," attack the "anti-Confederate climate," and redirect a "drifting, wobbly American society."
He asked supporters to help him "put some muscle" into the SCV's political efforts. "May the spirit of resistance that lived in [our ancestors'] long-still hearts always live in ours!" he concluded.
As the campaign heated up, Wilson went further, promising to punish those who had had the temerity to criticize haters in the SCV. Referencing the CBS report, Wilson said "those who aided in this smear of the SCV should be repudiated."
After Lyons lost his campaign, Chuck Walker, who runs the SCV's official Dispatch E-list, sent out a message to the list.
Hawks, the man who had beaten Lyons for the ANV post, was a "traitor," Walker declared. From his perspective, Walker added, "for the next two years there is no commander of the ANV."
In the end, the day after Gilbert Jones was shouted off the stage in Memphis, Wilson won the election for SCV commander in chief. With the attention paid the Lyons campaign overshadowing his contest, Wilson managed to beat Arkansas SCV official Troy Massey in a narrow 843-796 victory for the organization's top spot — a 47-vote margin.
Although most voters knew Lyons and Wilson were friends, they did not yet appreciate the extent to which they were active collaborators.
Once in power, Ron Wilson did not take long to act. The Lyons battle had been lost, but the war for the SCV was won — and to the victor went the spoils. In a matter of months, Wilson had appointed members of white supremacist hate groups to a series of key national staff positions in the SCV. They included:
- David Allen, head of the Alabama League of the South, who was named aide-de-camp to the general staff.
- Charles Kelly Barrow, a League member, who became the organization's historian-in-chief.
- Ronald Casteel, head of the Missouri League, who was named chief of staff.
- Charles "Chuck" McMichael, a member of the FreeMississippi hate group (a League spinoff), who was appointed as genealogist-in-chief.
- Leonard "Flagpole" Wilson, a national director of the Council of Conservative Citizens, who became staff parliamentarian. Wilson earned his nickname by shouting from atop a flagpole during the violent 1956 demonstrations he helped lead against the admission of the first black student at the University of Alabama.
Even more noteworthy was Wilson's choice of Boyd Cathey as a second general staff aide-de-camp. Since 1989, Cathey has been a member of the editorial advisory committee of the Journal of Historical Review — a gussied-up hate sheet published by the world's leading Holocaust denial outfit.
At the group's latest conference, The Independent reported, notorious French writer Robert Faurisson — a colleague of Cathey's on the journal's editorial advisory board — began a speech by referencing "the lie of the alleged Holocaust and the alleged gas chambers."
Wilson also packed the SCV's Media/Public Relations Committee with some of the same extremists, along with a man named Bragdon Bowling. Bowling is connected directly to Lyons through an apparently clandestine circle within the SCV — what members call the "John Wilkes Booth Camp" (SCV "camps" are its local chapters).
Although there is no such official camp, the circle named after President Lincoln's assassin includes Kirk Lyons and a number of his friends. The group came to light after photographs of its meetings appeared on a Web site after last year's SCV Virginia state convention in Roanoke.
Asked about the Booth group, Bowling initially told the Intelligence Report, "There is no Booth Camp in the SCV."
Confronted with the photographs, Bowling amended his earlier statement. "This is a group of people who are friends and had a party at our Roanoke convention," he said. "Nothing official."