Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Strife Continues

The civil war continues. The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) heritage group's annual convention failed to settle the power struggle between extremists and "moderates" over the future direction of the organization.

The 1,000-plus delegates who gathered in Dalton, Ga., in late July to vote for the group's top leadership posts and on a series of other matters left neither faction the total victor, punting the battle over the future of the SCV to the group's summer 2005 Nashville convention.

The Dalton convention capped two years of contentious political struggle within the SCV. In 2002, radicals who in some cases were explicitly racist took over the top leadership posts in the group — among them, the then-new commander in chief, Ron Wilson, a man who once sold anti-Semitic books from his home in South Carolina. Wilson did not run in the latest SCV elections, but many of his allies did.

There was little to celebrate for those hoping the SCV would forcefully denounce racism and political extremism in Dalton. Walt Hilderman, leader of the dissident Save the SCV faction, which advocates stripping white supremacists and neo-secessionists of their SCV membership, was removed from the convention hall by SCV security — even though he was running for commander in chief. Delegates then passed a resolution calling for Hilderman's expulsion from the group.

Still, moderates, led by former commander in chief Pete Orlebeke and losing Arkansas candidate for commander J. Troy Massey, managed to win in tight votes all six leadership positions in the SCV's three geographic divisions, plus the national lieutenant commander post.

That means the moderates now have secured seven positions on the SCV's General Executive Council (GEC) — a body made up of 13 elected or appointed officials, but swelled occasionally by up to 12 past commanders with ex officio voting powers. The past commanders are mostly moderates.

Moderates also successfully defeated amendments to the SCV constitution that were designed by white supremacist lawyer and SCV activist Kirk Lyons. The measures were aimed at strengthening Lyons' "reform," or extremist, faction.

But the extremists did not leave Dalton empty-handed.

Most importantly, they won the commander in chief post, electing former Texas division commander and national lieutenant commander Denne Sweeney by just 129 votes. Radicals also passed several key resolutions, including one awarding Lyons' Southern Legal Resources Center (SLRC) $20,000 for legal battles.

Another measure proclaimed all SCV members to be "Confederate Southern Americans," an "ethnic" category dreamed up by Lyons in an attempt to protect white southerners with laws designed to prevent racial discrimination.

Lyons' attempts to get courts to accept the category as legally valid have been rebuffed repeatedly, and the lawyer was actually fined by one Virginia court after refusing to drop the argument.

Whither the SCV?
Sweeney's leadership is expected to resemble that of his predecessor, R.G. "Ronnie" Wilson. On his campaign Web site, Sweeney vows to continue the purge of Save the SCV members begun by Wilson, who suspended Hilderman and 300 other North Carolina SCV members for publicly calling for an end to racism within the SCV.

Every person who was suspended received a letter in June that demanded that they formally renounce their criticisms and "see the error of their ways."

Sweeney has known Lyons — a man who was married by a leading neo-Nazi on the grounds of the Aryan Nations hate group — for at least five years. As head of the Texas SCV, Sweeney initiated a lawsuit against the state and then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2000 that challenged the removal of two small bronze plaques honoring Confederate soldiers from the Texas Supreme Court building.

Sweeney and the SCV were initially represented by Lyons' SLRC, but Texas SCV officials later decided to dump Lyons in favor of another lawyer. Though the plaques have not been returned to the building, Sweeney did manage to get the Texas GOP to include a demand for their reinstatement as part of the party's platform.

Shortly after his election as SCV commander, Sweeney pledged the SCV's "total resources" to the fight.

During his tenure over the last two years as SCV lieutenant commander, Sweeney worked to pass amendments to the constitution that would have helped the radicals in their battle with moderates.

One amendment would have stripped past commanders — the same leaders who passed antiracist resolutions in the early 1990s — of their GEC voting rights. Another would have added officials appointed by the commander in chief, such as the chief of heritage defense, to the GEC. Still another would have allowed Wilson to run for a second term. All failed in Dalton.

These same amendments first came up during the SCV's 2003 convention, but were rejected. At that point, Sweeney and Wilson proposed that an extraordinary convention be held in February 2004 — a hastily prepared gathering that would have drawn mostly Wilson allies. But that plan was voted down by local SCV units.

In his recent campaign literature, Sweeney also proposed the creation of a Web site meant to attack what are described as "Enemies of the South," including both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

At Dalton, delegates passed a resolution condemning "racial and political extremists" — including the NAACP, Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. They then passed another that "demanded" that the attorneys general of the United States and Alabama investigate the Southern Poverty Law Center, and warned "decent people" not to communicate or associate with the SPLC or its co-founder, Morris Dees.

The New Regime
After the July Dalton election, Sweeney moved swiftly, appointing several hard-liners to key leadership positions. H. Rondel Rumberg, a member of two hate groups — the Council of Conservative Citizens (see Communing with the Council) and the League of the South — is the SCV's new national chaplain.

Paul Gramling Jr., a past Louisiana commander who has praised a novel that describes black violence against whites defending the Confederate battle flag (The Last Confederate Flag; see Fightin' Words), is the new chief of heritage defense. James "Jim" Dark, who is closely allied with Sweeney, is the new adjutant in chief.

Another hard-liner, Bragdon Bowling of Virginia, was named national press officer. In his first week, Bowling issued a series of press releases, including one charging that the NAACP had "lost its course as a true civil rights organization" and demanding that its tax-exempt status be revoked.

Sweeney faces stiff opposition, particularly from past national commanders, in his two-year term. After the convention, fellow radical James McManus said that Wilson, the outgoing commander, told him, "It's going to be a long next two years. You are going to see a lot of 9-to-11 votes going against Denne." Another radical, identifying himself in an E-mail as "Roger Ramjet," agreed that future votes will be contentious, but said that he expects the SCV to continue moving to the right.

"There is a hodgepodge group on the GEC, roughly 50% 'reform' and 50% 'granny' [the radicals' favored name for SCV moderates], or 'old school,'" he wrote. "Keep your eye ... on the measures which sail through largely unopposed. It is there that you'll find the ... [SCV's] true direction. Which will be to the right."

Former GEC member John Adams, ejected from his jobs as SCV webmaster and adjutant-in-chief last year after signing up an Intelligence Report writer for an array of pornographic Internet services, summed up the radical view of the Dalton elections in an August E-mail.

"Palatka [where Florida division elections were held earlier in the year] and Dalton solved nothing," he wrote. "If anything, they gave false hope to a dying breed of do-nothing grannies, who actually think they have a snowball's chance in Hell of turning back the clock to the 'good old days.'"