In 1992, the nation's largest "heritage" group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, seemed to be moving squarely into the mainstream when it passed a resolution condemning the Ku Klux Klan and "all others who promote hate."
But racial extremists have infiltrated the group and attempted to turn back the clock in recent years — and now they're questioning the wisdom of turning away Klan members.
"Mere Klan membership should not be sufficient to remove a member," white-supremacist attorney Kirk Lyons, a close associate of SCV Commander-in-Chief Ron Wilson, wrote members in a March e-mail. Rick Forlines, head of the Norfolk County Greys SCV camp, chimed in: "I'll take my allies wherever I can find them."
Paul Burr, an SCV member from Albemarle, N.C., added, "A Klan member has the RIGHT to join the SCV."
With the 31,400-member group about to hold national elections at its biennial convention in July in Dalton, Ga., the increasing influence of extremists has been solidified in recent state-level elections.
In Alabama, longtime segregationist Leonard Wilson was elected to head the state's SCV division. In Virginia, a radical slate headed by Bragdon Bowling, a fierce admirer of John Wilkes Booth, took all the state-level positions. North Carolina's Jim Pierce, who passed out a grotesque anti-black cartoon prior to the 2002 national elections, became that state's SCV historian. And in Missouri, Gordon Baum, leader of the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, now serves as Judge Advocate General.
The backward turn toward white supremacy has left some moderate members downright despondent. "I look back on the past decade of my life and wonder if I have not wasted some of my best years," general executive council member Allen Trapp wrote other SCV leaders in May.
"Considering the state of the SCV today, I do not believe that I have accomplished a damn thing."
The letters claim that the League, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a "respectable organization" devoted to "the preservation of historic local cultures." No mention is made of the League's rejection of interracial marriage or its belief that the South should be "Anglo-Celtic."