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Sons of Confederate Veterans' Future Remains Unknown

The battle over the future of the Sons of Confederate Veterans remains unresolved after the group's annual convention.

Efforts to complete an extremist takeover of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) were beaten back by moderates within the heritage group this summer, but by such a narrow margin that a climactic final battle is now expected in mid-2004.

At the SCV's annual convention this July in Asheville, N.C., Commander-in-Chief Ron Wilson (see Hijacking Heritage) led the extremist faction's efforts to strip his opponents of voting power on the group's general executive council with a "reform" package consisting of 24 constitutional amendments. In a series of votes, Wilson's faction easily won simple majorities, but lost because such changes require a two-thirds majority.

The battle is now expected to move to next summer's SCV convention.

The SCV has been undergoing an internal civil war since August 2002, when Wilson — who is allied with a number of white supremacists and members of hate groups like the League of the South — won election to the 32,000-member group's top post.

Since then, he has suspended some 300 opponents, unilaterally removed a leading enemy from the executive council, and worked to turn the SCV from a group interested in history into a political organization of activist neo-Confederates.

Although Wilson's faction is extensive and may even represent a majority of SCV members' thinking, he had recently suffered some unexpected reverses.

After a series of exposés in the Intelligence Report, a group called Save the formed to battle Wilson and his allies — men like white supremacist attorney Kirk Lyons, racist Web site operator Allen Sullivant and Southern Partisan editor Chris Sullivan. Save the SCV is explicitly fighting to rid the SCV of racist attitudes and members.

Last year, Wilson ratcheted up his attempts to consolidate power, suspending hundreds of opponents because, he claimed, they had ignored a controversial rule that forbids members from criticizing the SCV in public.

He also suspended Charles Hawks as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, one of the SCV's three geographical divisions. In the 2002 elections that brought Wilson to power, Hawks, running on a platform explicitly opposed to racism, had squeaked past Wilson ally Kirk Lyons in a bitterly contested election.

Then, this March, a meeting of the SCV's executive council was held at the group's headquarters in Elm Springs, Tenn., where appeals of the suspensions were to be heard. Much to the surprise of Wilson, who assumed he controlled a majority of votes on the executive council, several former commanders-in-chief — all of whom are ex officio members of the board — arrived unexpectedly and voted against him.

Wilson did not take the repudiation of his policies well. In fact, scarcely had the executive council broken up when Wilson again unilaterally suspended Hawks.

Revenge and Reaction
The package of constitutional amendments proposed by Wilson this July was, in effect, meant as Wilson's revenge. One measure would have stripped past SCV commanders-in-chief of their right to vote on the executive council. Another would have put the group's chief of heritage defense, another Wilson ally, on the council.

A third would have removed from the council the commander of the Military Order of Stars and Bars (MOSB), an SCV affiliate for descendants of Confederate officers. Wilson viewed the MOSB as a center of opposition to him and his followers.

But Wilson found himself facing a new set of opponents in Asheville. Allen Trapp, head of the Army of Tennessee division of the SCV and not formerly known as a Wilson opponent, managed to turn most of his division against the commander-in-chief, according to an E-mail circulated by Wilson ally Roger McCredie.

Trapp declined to speak to the Intelligence Report, saying it would not be "appropriate" to discuss internal SCV matters with non-members. But last year, in an E-mail mistakenly forwarded to the Report, Trapp gave an inkling of his feelings, writing fellow executive board members about the refusal of some SCV "camps" to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag.

He called the practice "a PR nightmare waiting to happen" and warned that it provided SCV critics with dangerous "ammunition."

The meeting was a raucous and contentious one, with tempers frequently flaring and harsh words flung about throughout the day. Because of that and because Wilson overloaded an already busy agenda, only a handful of his amendments came to a vote.

But what was probably the most important measure to Wilson — removing past commanders' voting rights — did, and failed by a thin margin, just 51 votes less than the two-thirds majority required for amending the SCV constitution.

Nothing was done to address appeals by members suspended earlier. And an election to replace the once-again-suspended Hawks, which had been promised in the June issue of the official SCV Gray Line newsletter, was simply not held.

"The overall results of Saturday's business meeting was a general waste of time, as the grannies [the extremist faction's term for moderates] and their lawyers filibustered and delayed any real constructive business from being done," wrote James M. McManus of the "John Wilkes Booth camp," an unofficial grouping of some of the hardest-line Wilson supporters within the organization.

"So while our enemies are advancing ... we leave many important actions on the table."

On the Horizon
Although his reform attempts failed in Asheville, Wilson and his allies did manage to successfully launch one project in July. The first issue of The Southern Mercury, a magazine subtitled "Unpardoned, Unrepentant, Unreconstructed" and described by Wilson as "the latest weapon in the war for our Southern heritage," was published under the rubric of the newly created Foundation for the Preservation of American Culture, a nonprofit arm of the SCV.

The magazine's board is stacked with Wilson allies, including James Ronald Kennedy of the League of the South and Boyd Cathey (see (Re)writing History), an editorial advisor for years for the publication of the Institute for Historical Review, a leading Holocaust denial organization.

The magazine is part of Wilson's effort to radicalize the SCV and to take on its perceived enemies. (One major story attacks the Southern Poverty Law Center, which publishes the Intelligence Report). It is edited by Frank Powell, an executive board member who also now edits the SCV's Confederate Veteran magazine.

The Southern Mercury is thick with nostalgia for the antebellum South, and features revisionist takes on slavery. In one article, author Frank Conner argues that the SCV should fight to protect the "unique belief-system of the Old South" and goes on to describe desegregation efforts as an attack on that system.

"Beginning in the late 1950s, under the guise of providing the Southern blacks with civil rights, the Northern liberals sent the federal government to invade the South and systematically destroy the Old South and crush and suppress its belief system," Conner writes.

With efforts like The Southern Mercury now under way, Wilson is working hard to extend his influence within the SCV. Though he and his allies lost the battle of Asheville, they seem confident that they are steadily gaining power.

That will come to a final test in July 2004, when the SCV holds its next full convention and a whole new slate of officers will be voted in. If Wilson and his allies can consolidate their position, the SCV could be headed for status as a full-fledged hate group.