The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a 32,000-strong organization that has been traditionally "non-political," has begun purging its non-radical members.
The timing was uncanny. Right after the Feb. 1 deadline for 32,000 Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) members to send in their annual dues, Commander in Chief Ron G. Wilson fired another shot in the Southern culture wars, moving to purge the organization of a number of moderates.
Hundreds of North Carolinians affiliated with Save the Sons of Confederate Veterans got letters in early February telling them their SCV memberships had been suspended. Save the SCV was set up after Wilson's election last summer to protest growing racial extremism in a group that has been traditionally "non-political" and "non-racial," devoted to preserving the legacy of Confederate troops.
According to Save the SCV, about 350 North Carolinians — 10% of the state's SCV members — were suspended, including four brigade commanders and nine camp commanders. Seven North Carolina camps had their charters suspended as well. Greensboro camp leader Gilbert Jones, a leader in Save the SCV, said Wilson would appoint a tribunal at this July's SCV conference to decide whether or not the suspended members and camps should be permanently expelled. Ironically, the SCV member in charge of the camp that will host the conference, in Asheville, N.C., is one of those who's been suspended.
If the dissenters are expelled, it will tilt the divided groups' balance even farther toward the hard right. Wilson had already removed one of the organization's most powerful moderates, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia Charles Hawks, from office in November. Shortly afterward, N.C. Division Chief of Staff Lewis Lawrence and Historian Larry Walker were relieved of their duties, too. In Lawrence's stead, Wilson appointed Boyd Cathey, an editorial board member of the Holocaust-denying Institute of Historical Review.
In addition to steering the SCV rightward, Wilson's purge might be intended to stop Save the SCV from asking pesky questions about how dues money is being spent. On its Web site, Save the SCV questions the SCV's Heritage Defense Fund, which has helped finance the work of Wilson's extremist ally, Kirk Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center (see Cashing in on the Confederacy). Save the SCV has asked for a "case by case accounting" of legal causes the SCV has paid Lyons to pursue. Ben Sewell, executive director of the SCV, refused to respond to Intelligence Report's questions about Save the SCV's concerns.
Wilson's faction might not even need to purge Save the SCV members to complete its takeover of the group. Officials have refused to say how many members have quit, but it's clear that prominent voices for tolerance in the SCV have started to throw in the towel. Gilbert Jones, Greensboro camp leader and Save the SCV activist, resigned his membership in February.
Kyle VanLandingham, a semi-retired attorney and amateur historian who'd been a prominent member of the group for more than 25 years, decided a month earlier to let his membership lapse. VanLandingham told the Intelligence Report he became concerned about hate groups infiltrating the SCV last year, then was viciously attacked when he aired his worries on the SCV's official E-list. The SCV, he says, "is in real trouble."
That opinion is shared by Charles Yow, an attorney who quit the group not long after being appointed Judge Advocate of the Alabama SCV. In 2001, Yow teamed with Kirk Lyons to file a "heritage defense" suit against the Lawrence County, Ala., school system. Less than two years later, Yow, a Cherokee Indian, has resigned because of the SCV's incipient racism.
"I have said it until I'm blue in the face," reads Yow's E-mail letter of resignation. "Unless the SCV cleans house, and removes anyone who advocates against sitting and eating with another person because of the color of their skin, the end is in sight."