Counting ‘Confederates’: Once More, Kirk Lyons Tilts at Census Windmills

The neo-Confederate movement’s best known legal champion is getting some media buzz for urging Southerners to declare their race as “Confederate Southern American” on the 2010 U.S. census questionnaire.

In recent video messages posted on YouTube and Facebook, white supremacist attorney Kirk Lyons told his compatriots to eschew the traditional racial classifications and instead write in “Confed Southern Am” (abbreviated to fit the space) under “other race.”  Census forms were mailed or delivered this month to homes across the United States.

“There is no identifiable group more persecuted, humiliated, embarrassed, singled out for ridicule, fired from jobs, kids suspended from school, civic groups representing [them] being denied parades, than the Confederate Southern Americans of the United States,” he said in the first video message. “This is an opportunity for us to put our numbers on record, tell the government how many of us there are, and tell our fellow citizens how many of us there are.”

Lyons insisted that “Confederate Southern American” is an appropriate designation because the South seceded to form an independent nation for four years during the Civil War — or, as he puts it, the “War of Northern Aggression.” “If there can be Cajun Americans, if there can be Serbian Americans, there can be Confederate Southern Americans,” Lyons said. Proclaiming their national origin as Confederate Southern Americans would send the message that they “will not sit in the back of the bus anymore.” He added that the Confederate community constitutes “the largest single minority group in the United States today.”

Over the past several days, Lyons’ plea has been noted by mainstream and alternative media outlets, including the Washington Post, Hartford Courant, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nashville Scene and AlterNet. Most have treated his census initiative as a curiosity and provided little information about Lyons besides his title: chief trial counsel for the Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC). A notable exception was Fox News radio host Alan Colmes, whose questions about Lyons’ background sent the “Confederate Southern American” into a tizzy. When Colmes asked Lyons to confirm that he was married at the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations compound during the live interview Monday night, Lyons repeatedly accused Colmes of attacking his family. “You don’t ask any other people this kind of nonsensical, ancient history question,” he fumed. He also lashed out at the Southern Poverty Law Center for characterizing him as a racist (which he denies) and refused to give his opinion of Richard Butler, the late Aryan Nations leader who presided over his wedding. Lyons’ best man at the wedding was Louis Beam, a particularly vicious ex-Klan leader who was, for a time, on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

Though he’s made a name for himself as an indefatigable crusader for the Old South, Lyons has also defended several high-profile racists and anti-Semites. They include Beam, “ambassador-at-large” for the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, and James Wickstrom, a notorious preacher of bigoted Christian Identity theology. In 1990, he wed Brenna Tate, the daughter of high-ranking Aryan Nations official Charles Tate. A few years after the wedding, Lyons moved his legal practice (described in a 1993 ad as “America’s only pro-white law firm”) from Texas to North Carolina. In 1996, he started the SLRC (for which he solicits donations on both videos) to litigate “heritage violations.” Since then, the organization has fought mostly unsuccessfully to lift bans on the confederate flag in schools and workplaces.

Lyons census pitch isn’t the first time he’s suggested that Confederate Southern Americans should be legally protected minorities. In 2003, for instance, he took on the case of seven longtime DuPont employees in Richmond, Va., who had been forbidden by the chemical giant to wear or display the Confederate battle flag at work. In one court filing, he described Confederate Southern Americans as a diverse people, with their own religion and culture, who were being discriminated against because of their national origin. The argument didn’t fly: After rejecting Lyons’ claims multiple times, the court fined him for litigation abuse at Dupont’s request.

Though it remains to be seen whether Lyons’ latest venture will be more successful, many of the YouTube comments were less than encouraging. “All you’re doing is creating a needless hassle for census workers,” one commentator wrote, “and making an ass of yourself.”