As membership plummets, a struggle for control of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has broken out between hard-line factions
Infighting within the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) heritage group has reached monumental proportions, as the "Lunatics," the nickname for the SCV's most extreme political hard-liners, call for the resignation of the group's commander, Chris Sullivan. The power struggle exploded during the SCV's convention in late July, when two Lunatics had their memberships suspended by the SCV's ruling General Executive Council (GEC).
Until this April, Sullivan, although a suit-and-tie type, was widely liked in Lunatic circles, where biker attire and extreme-right views predominate. After all, Sullivan has for years published Southern Partisan, a neo-Confederate magazine that has defended John Wilkes Booth's assassination of President Lincoln as "not only sane, but sensible" and called the Emancipation Proclamation "sinister." Sullivan earned extra credit with the Lunatics for his close relationship to fellow South Carolinian and prior SCV commander Ron Wilson (2002-2004), a Lunatics darling who once sold anti-Semitic material on his website.
That extra credit has now been spent. During the convention, the Sullivan-led GEC suspended the membership of James "Jim" McManus, who distributed a racist essay on an SCV E-mail list in 2004, and Eddie "Grooch" McRae. Both men are members of the Norwood, N.C., James-Younger SCV "camp" (or chapter), which is essentially a motorcycle gang dressed up as Confederates.
The suspensions may have been the first step in a Sullivan plan to clean up the SCV's image and thereby halt a dizzying membership freefall. According to the group's proposed fiscal year 2007 budget, the SCV is only sure of receiving dues from 18,600 members, a stunning drop from the 30,000-plus members it claimed a year earlier. Thousands of moderate members have left as embarrassing revelations of racism within the group have been made public, principally in the pages of the Intelligence Report.
The GEC — presumably because of the financial strains caused by plummeting membership rolls — also voted at the convention to raise dues by $10 per year starting in 2008.
The bad blood between the Sullivan and the Lunatic factions broke out in April when Sullivan, with the support of a majority of the GEC, cancelled funds for four members of the James-Younger camp to distribute Confederate flags during a May NASCAR race in Darlington, S.C. The SCV has been livid at NASCAR since its CEO, seeking to broaden the stock car racing circuit's popular appeal outside the South, condemned the flag as racist on "60 Minutes" in 2005.
In an April letter, Sullivan explained that the funds were denied because one of the men, Donnie "Porkchop" Hatley, wore a T-shirt depicting the violently white supremacist race war novel, The Turner Diaries, at a 2006 race where Hatley and two friends were protesting NASCAR's stand. A photograph of that protest, depicting Hatley in his T-shirt, along with the now-suspended Eddie McCrae and another man named Steve Poteat, was published in the Summer 2006 issue of the Intelligence Report, causing considerable embarrassment among SCV leaders seeking to avoid the "extremist" label. Sullivan, who declined several E-mail requests from the Report for comment, wrote that the SCV was "understandably leery of proceeding" to fund "the same ones who had demonstrated such bad judgment last year."
This was quite a change of course for Sullivan. At the SCV's July 2006 convention, Hatley, McRae and Poteat, plus their fellow camp member McManus, were awarded SCV "Heritage Defense" medals for protesting NASCAR.
Once Sullivan deemed the James-Younger members unacceptable representatives of the SCV, all hell broke loose as the bikers and their allies went on the attack. Overnight, Sullivan went from being a respected hard-liner to a useless "Granny" — as SCV moderates opposed to the Lunatics are known — who was mocked for his fancy garb and derided for thinking, according to Louisiana member Mark Brandon, that he is "Emperor of the SCV."
Calls for Sullivan's ouster came fast and furious from SCV members who ironically had earlier worked with Sullivan, and Wilson before him, to expel some 400 anti-racists from the North Carolina division. McManus, one of the main supporters of the North Carolina purge, wrote in a recent E-mail that Sullivan should quit. After hearing of his suspension in July, McManus raged, "[W]e are determined to kick the Seersuckerd [sic] High Priests and there [sic] minions out of office & out of our back pockets!!!"
North Carolina SCV leader Bruce Tyson hit the roof. Tyson said he'd already disciplined Hatley and that it was "only ONE T-shirt, worn by ONE man." Tyson mocked Chief of Heritage Defense Darryl Starnes, a Sullivan acolyte, for complaining that "biker attire" worn by McRae and Hatley was "not proper." Tyson ridiculed Starnes' concerns that the "extreme leftist Southern Poverty Law Center … would find out about the protest and create trouble for the SCV." And Hatley's fellow protester, McCrae, wrote of Starnes and Sullivan: "I would not want to be in their shoes when they meet their Confederate ancestors at the Gates."
Since the events of April, Sullivan has found himself under constant attack from his right flank. Remarkably, he was tagged as an NAACP lackey for a June SCV press release that actually mocked the NAACP as a "fringe group" following a "flawed program" of attacking Confederate symbols. Though obviously belittling of the NAACP, the press release's clearly sarcastic statement that the SCV is ready "to meet with [the NAACP] and discuss meaningful and responsible ideas" was seen as a sign of weakness by the Lunatics. Ed James, for instance, wrote on the Southern-Herald E-mail list that Sullivan's release was "nothing short of kissing their ass."
Sullivan now is also under attack for the GEC's vote against an amendment put forward during the convention by Alabama SCV Commander Leonard "Flagpole" Wilson. An arch-segregationist and member of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, Wilson asked the membership to uphold a measure that would have condemned any state legislature that voted to apologize for slavery (so far, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia have done so). After a voice vote that Lunatics sympathizer Mark Brandon swore was won by the "yeas," Brandon wrote in an E-mail: "SullyCo [a derisive term referring to Sullivan and his administration] then overrode the opinion of the delegates from the chair … to reject and overrule the will of the body assembled by stating, 'In the opinion of the chair, the 'nays' have it.'"
The fallout from this conflict is still spreading.
The most surprising person to come under harsh criticism is white supremacist lawyer Kirk Lyons, who was married on the grounds of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations compound and had for years been seen as a hero by the Lunatics for orchestrating the infiltration of the SCV by racists. Lyons, who suggested in a 2003 E-mail that Klan members should be allowed in the SCV, is now seen as a Sullivan lackey. Lyons complained in his law firm's July E-mail update about former allies angered by the positions Lyons had taken on "internal SCV political matters" and who "have since mounted a campaign to discredit anything related to the SLRC" — that is, Lyons' nonprofit law firm, the Southern Legal Resource Center.
The reason for the anti-Lyons jihad, according to Lunatic Jim Pierce, is that while the SCV gives Lyons' SLRC "tens of thousands of dollars" to defend children suspended for wearing Confederate flag T-shirts to school, Lyons has done nothing to defend the T-shirt his fellow North Carolinian, Hatley, wore at NASCAR. One Lunatic even suggested Lyons, formerly a Lunatics hero, could be a spy.
McManus and McRae, meanwhile, are blaming two other prominent former Lunatics for their suspensions. They claim that Charles "Chuck" McMichael and Ron Casteel forwarded some of their more embarrassing E-mails to the GEC. McMichael and Casteel were both at one time members of white supremacist neo-Confederate groups and active on Lunatics E-mail lists. McMichael hotly denied the accusation in an SCV Dispatch E-mail, contending that the Lunatics had their facts wrong. Both McMichael and Casteel refused to comment to the Report.
The outrage expressed by SCV hard-liners virtually guarantees that this conflict will likely rage on at least until elections are held for new leadership at next year's SCV convention in Concord, N.C.
"Let us count our cartridges, musket caps, clean and shoulder our muskets and march forward to victory in Concord," wrote Brandon, the Lunatic, on the Southern-Herald E-mail list. "The consequences of losing this fight for control of the SCV will be just as devastating as the consequences our ancestors faced upon defeat by the damned yankee race in 1865. The thoroughly reconstructed 'Granny' party of the SCV must be defeated soundly in 2008."