Sons of Confederate Veterans Heads in More Radical Direction
Leaner and meaner under a new leader, the Sons of Confederate Veterans heads into more and more radical territory.
by Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok
Since his 2004 election, Sweeney has moved to consolidate power by appointing to key leadership positions men who have belonged to hate groups or have histories of racism. Last year, for instance, he selected Jim Pierce of North Carolina to develop a "new and expansive" genealogy program for the SCV.
Pierce is a well-known radical in the SCV civil war. In 2002, he circulated a grossly racist cartoon -- a huge-lipped caricature of a black woman endorsing an anti-racist candidate for high SCV office to be her "massa" ("He sho am good foa me"). The following year, after a rare black SCV camp commander criticized a North Carolina SCV officer who is a Holocaust denier, Pierce angrily challenged the critic to provide documents proving "he is truly eligible to join the SCV."
As chief of staff, Sweeney selected Ronald Casteel, who has been a member of the neo-secessionist League of the South (LOS), a racist hate group that opposes interracial marriage and whose leaders have defended both segregation and slavery (Casteel's license plate holder reads "SCV-LOS"). Sweeney's appointed historian in chief is Charles Kelley Barrow, who also has been a member of the LOS.
As chaplain in chief, Sweeney named H. Rondel Rumberg, who has been a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). The CCC, descended from the infamous White Citizens Councils, has called blacks "a retrograde species of humanity" and lamented that non-white immigration is turning the U.S. population into a "slimy brown mass of glop." (It was Rumberg's description of miscegenation as "not the way of God" that helped drive the Rev. Dean out of the SCV.)
Indeed, membership in such groups has become almost commonplace in the new SCV -- so much so that this January, Gene Andrews, commander of an SCV camp in Brentwood, Tenn., casually boasted in a newsletter that he belonged both to the CCC and the LOS. He went on to describe as "first class men among men" a group including Jared Taylor, who edits American Renaissance, a racist periodical devoted to the idea that whites are smarter and less "pathological" than blacks.
None of this bothers Denne Sweeney. He told the Intelligence Report he would be concerned only if SCV members also belonged to a group that "espouses violence and overthrow and killing of black people" and added that he saw the CCC and LOS as mere "borderline" groups. That's a view not shared by the Republican National Committee or the Conservative Political Action Committee, both of which have described the CCC as a racist group that their members should avoid.
In the last year, Sweeney has moved the SCV ever closer to Lyon's SLRC, which specializes in defending symbols such as the Confederate battle flag and has filed numerous lawsuits to defend the rights of "Confederate Americans." Thanks to Sweeney, the two organizations now share many of the same officers.
Two Sweeney aides -- Bragdon Bowling, the SCV's national press officer, and R. Burl McCoy, who was appointed to five SCV committees by the commander in chief -- have joined the SLRC's board of directors. The near-merging of the two groups has gone in the other direction, too. Sweeney appointed SLRC co-founder Neill Payne -- a man who was married in a double wedding with Lyons at the Aryan Nations compound -- to the SCV's Amendments and Resolutions Committee. He also appointed Roger McCredie, who is the SLRC's executive director and has been a member of the LOS, to the SCV's Media/Public Relations Committee.
Sweeney even selected Ron Wilson, the Lyons ally and former SLRC board member he replaced as SCV commander in chief, for a post as the SCV's director of field operations, a new political outreach arm. This ambitious new program is to be paid for with funds from the Davis Coiner Rosen Fund, a $1 million bequest left to the SCV in 2003. Before his death, Rosen wrote that he hoped to see the bulk of the money used to renovate a Confederate cemetery near his home in Mt. Jackson, Va. He also hoped the SCV would consider building a museum at the site and buying his daughter's house, once home to Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
That's not what's happened. Sweeney actually used $67,500 of the fund to buy out the Military Order of the Stars & Bars as part of the group's separation agreement with the SCV. And he plans to use much more on the outreach program. Sweeney aide Jim Dark said recently that the fund was unrestricted and could be used as Sweeney liked.
That doesn't sit well with Virginia Rosen. "My dad's probably up in heaven having a heart attack right now," she told the Intelligence Report angrily.
"Who decided to spend the money that way?"
Rosen isn't the only one bothered by Sweeney's actions. The ties between Sweeney and the SLRC have pained moderates throughout the Southern heritage community. "We have the SCV with a CiC [commander in chief] controlled by the SLRC," wrote Georgia Head, the leader of the Shreveport, La., chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group for women long allied with the SCV.
"Sound like a heritage organization you want your sons to be in?"
For his part, Sweeney, who told the Report that he speaks to Lyons about every two weeks, sounded unconcerned. But even after speaking to the Report at some length about the SCV, he declined to answer an E-mailed follow-up question: Did he agree with Lyons' March 2004 statement, made on an SCV discussion list, that "mere Klan membership should not be sufficient to remove a member"?
"It is inappropriate," Sweeney wrote, "that I respond any further."