COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Last week's selection to the state board of education of a neo-Confederate leader who once sold anti-Semitic books has caused an uproar with civil rights groups and education officials.
"This should send chills down the spine of all South Carolinians," said Mark Potok, director of the Center's Intelligence Project.
Ron Wilson, a former commander in chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, ran unsuccessfully for state Senate this year but was elected to the 16-member education panel by a 4-3 vote of state legislators from Anderson County's delegation to replace John Hostetler, a former high school principal who is retiring.
Wilson once sold textbooks to parents who home-school their children, including the viciously anti-Semitic Barbarians Inside the Gates, which touts a discredited theory that Jews are working toward world domination.
The new post puts Wilson in the role of approving textbooks, settling teacher grievances and working with the education superintendent's office on policy.
When Wilson led the national Sons of Confederate Veterans from 2002 to 2004, he led a purge of more than 300 politically moderate members. Working closely with white supremacist ally Kirk Lyons, Wilson appointed racists and anti-Semites to key posts in the SCV.
"He led the attempted takeover of the SCV by extremists and is a very important player in the radicalization of that group," Potok said. Wilson was one of 40 individuals profiled in the Fall 2003 Intelligence Report as ideologues poised for leadership roles in the right-wing extremist movement.
"I'm not acquainted with Mr. Wilson," South Carolina state superintendent of education Inez Tenenbaum told the The State newspaper, "but what I have read and heard about him today is very troubling, particularly his links to racist and anti-Semitic activities."
Update: Tenenbaum is now mounting a challenge to Wilson's appointment, concerned that including Wilson on the state education board "sends a message of intolerance," according to The State.