Like most latter-day Confederate groups, the Atlanta-based Heritage Preservation Association (HPA) says it cares about preserving history, not promulgating racism. "We do not foster hatred, nor do we tolerate those who do," the HPA's Web site declares. "Our organization is built on the love of our heritage and not [on] hatred or bigotry towards our fellow Americans."
But the president of HPA's Alabama branch, Linda Sewell, has been keeping company that calls the group's tolerant nature into question. On Jan. 25, a clumsily disguised Sewell joined a coalition of hard-line neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and Christian Identity hate groups in a protest outside the Southern Poverty Law Center.
She then gathered with about 60 of the white supremacists at a post-rally meeting in the Clanton, Ala., Shoney's Inn, where Sewell accepted a "certificate of appreciation" from Bradley Jenkins, imperial wizard of the Aryan Nights of the Ku Klux Klan.
"This is somebody who needs to be recognized," Jenkins said, introducing Sewell. Then, before she came forward, he lapsed into a racist reverie: "The only people I hold grudges against is the Jews, the niggers, the Mexicans, the mud race," Jenkins ranted, before coming back to the matter at hand. "This certificate of appreciation is presented to Linda Sewell in appreciation of all her hard work and dedication to our cause."
That cause is far more extreme than the one publicly espoused by the HPA and its Alabama president. Sewell has been involved in Confederate battle flag controversies in her home town of Mobile and in Biloxi, Miss., and her musings on "heritage" issues have popped up on neo-Confederate Web sites including The First Freedom, where last September she weighed in on South Carolina's flag debate.
"Personally, I have ancestors who fought, died and were imprisoned, defending the CSA Constitution and the Southland against tyranny and an illegal invasion," Sewell wrote. "I love the Confederate Battle Flag and will continue to fly it in honor of my revered ancestors and heroes until it is pried from my cold, dead hands. If that makes me a racist, then so be it."
The national president of the Heritage Preservation Association, Charles Lunsford, also has flirted with hate groups in the past. In 1994, Lunsford — who popularized the catchy-but-deceptive slogan "heritage, not hate" — was ousted from his leadership post in the Sons of Confederate Veterans after giving a speech to a hate group, the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). Sewell's husband, Jim, who accompanied her to the Jan. 25 events, belongs to the CCC.
Linda Sewell's participation in the white supremacist gatherings warmed the heart of Aryan Nations leader Ray Redfeairn. "Today we scared them," boasted the neo-Nazi leader who once shot a police officer five times. "They didn't just see Aryan men; they saw Aryan women out there. They're not used to that!"
A beaming Sewell seemed to take it all in stride. After receiving her certificate of appreciation, decorated with a Confederate flag and an ss-like Aryan Nations symbol, Sewell invited the gathered neo-Nazis and Klan members to sign up for her E-mail list.
"I daily send things that are going on around the country that are immoral," she said, citing "homosexuals" as one example. "There's just horrible things going on every day, not just with our Southern heritage and our civil rights. I feel like it's my duty to find 'em."