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Rising sons?



United by race and region, a neo-Confederate revolution says, if at first you don't secede...;;Standing atop the Charleston Battery -- between the massive cannons that fired on Fort Sumter and touched off the War Between the States -- Michael Hill notes the similarities he sees between a new band of Southern separatists and the militant patriots of the West.;;"All of these movements are dissatisfied with a Federal government in Washington that defies the limits of its own authority," Hill says between puffs on a large cigar. "Most of what it does is unconstitutional. That's the thing that binds these disaffected movements together.";;But Hill, founding president of The League of the South, says incidents like the Oklahoma City bombing demonstrate that many would-be patriots lack the roots to build an independent nation. Those roots, he says, are the unique legacy of the South. And creating -- or rather, re-creating -- a Southern Republic is the League's goal. ;;"They don't have the history we have," he says, finally dismounting the ramparts of the first Confederate victory. "They seem to be trying to fashion something out of nothing.";;Hill strolls toward a gazebo where the League is hosting a picnic supper. After welcoming his guests, he begins rummaging through a large plastic cooler. "The Confederacy was once its own nation," he continues, pushing his sleeves up further so that he can dig deeper into the ice. "We have a history, albeit a short one. We have our own national anthem. We have our own constitution. We have our symbols, our flags, our stories, our heroes. We have everything we need to be a nation -- everything, that is, except our political independence.";;He sets aside cans of Pepsi and Sprite as he makes the economic case for a Southern republic. With a population of 74 million citizens, a nation comprising the 11 states of the old Confederacy would be the world's 13th most populous, he says, and would have the world's fourth-largest gross national product.;;"Before we can secede politically, however, we must secede culturally," Hill adds, still searching for a can of iced tea. "We must rebuild communities that are economically and culturally independent. We Southerners will have to secede from Wall Street and from Hollywood before we can secede from Washington, D.C.";;There is no tea. Hill is not amused.;;"What kind of Southerners are we?" he bellows, to no one in particular, "serving this Yankee sugar water?";;Internet Country Store ;;The League of the South, whose Florida chapter convenes its second annual conference this weekend in Altamonte Springs, is at the vanguard of an aggressively middle-class revolution sprouting in the burgeoning suburbs of the latest New South.;;Frustrated by the social breakdown of their communities -- and fed up with what they see as the federal government's unlawful intrusion into their private lives -- a growing number of Southern whites are joining neo-Confederate organizations that promote traditional Southern culture, states' rights, conservative Christian values, and, in some cases, secession.;;Yet far from the "redneck" image often associated with unreconstructed white Southerners, most neo-Confederates are educated and affluent. They tend to be middle-aged white men who work professional jobs and live in the suburbs. They are voracious readers of history and avid users of the Internet. All in all, they have more in common with the John Birch Society than with the Ku Klux Klan.;;Many are Republicans who've grown too angry to remain passive loyalists of the Grand Old Party. Fueling their anger is the sense of betrayal they feel toward fellow Southerners Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott -- "scalawags" who neo-Confederates accuse of having sold out their conservative ideals to Yankee business interests.;;Walter Donald Kennedy is co-author of "The South was Right!," one of the most popular tomes of neo-Confederate thinking. Kennedy has seen a huge shift in the Southern attitude since he first began preaching separatism back in the late 1960s. Back then, Kennedy says, 80 percent of Americans told pollsters they trusted the federal government. Today, 80 percent say they don't.;;"People are just angry. They're mad. They know they're getting it stuck to 'em. And they're tired of it," Kennedy says. "The times are right for what we are talking about.";;So is the technology. Previous Confederate revivals were led by literary movements, such as the 1920s poetry of The Fugitives. This one thrives on the Internet. There are hundreds of pro-Confederate sites on the World Wide Web, ranging from the rabid to the reasonable. Many of the best are linked to one another via the "Dixieland Ring," a loose alliance of autonomous organizations. The hyperlink, as it turns out, is a paragon of confederation.;;Electronic mailing lists have become virtual country stores in which feisty neo-Confederates chew the fat and spit out their opinions. One such list, called "Heritage-L," broadcasts messages on topics ranging from simple resentment toward popular movies such as "Amistad" to detailed debates over the legal authority of U.S. District Courts.;;The League and lobbying;;Confederate revival organizations are growing like kudzu. The Heritage Preservation Association is among the loudest groups. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is far and away the largest. The League of the South is the fastest-growing, and the most articulate in its call for cultural and political secession. Among its dues-paying members is Charley Reese, the Orlando Sentinel's right-leaning op-ed columnist. "Charley was a speaker at our first conference," says Mike Crane, who works for a Broward County-based software company and who, as the League's state chairman, is organizing this weekend's conference on the anniversary of Florida's secession. ;;Founded by a handful of college professors in 1991, the League of the South now claims more than 6,000 members, although its roster in Florida has yet to top more than a few hundred. The first state conference drew about 40 people and signed up four new members, says Crane. He expects as many as 60 people to gather this Saturday at the Holiday Inn of Altamonte Springs.;;League members pay $40 a year in dues, and pledge to "advance the cultural, social, economic, and political well-being and independence of the Southern people by all honourable means." Thus far, these means have consisted primarily of attending meetings such as this weekend's. Several hundred members rallied at the League's most recent national convention, held in Biloxi last June. Most of that conference was dedicated to hands-on workshops on topics such as recruitment, political action, organization, media, fundraising and the use of the Internet. Hill's visit to the Charleston Battery was part of a smaller but more in-depth "summer school" held in South Carolina.;;The training hints at much more aggressive goals. "We have not entered the realm of political candidates yet," says Crane, perhaps a bit ambitiously as chairman of such a small state group. "Our first priority is, of course, to build the organization, and then we will more seriously address the other issues. Walk before you can run.";;But the Florida League -- whose banner reads, "The Right Cause Then & The Right Cause Today" -- already has aligned itself with a coalition pushing conservative measures before the state constitutional reform committee. Among its goals: give voters the power to recall all non-federal elected officials and state and county court judges and justices; end school-related property taxes for people who teach their kids at home; and affix an expiration date on all state statutes, so that "future generations [will] not be burdened by legislative excesses of the past.";;The state chapter also is circulating petitions to help restore Confederate Memorial Day -- April 26 -- as a full state holiday; in the Florida of his youth, the 49-year-old Crane recalls, that was a day when state offices were closed. ;;The League is pursuing its goal of cultural secession through a variety of unusual projects. There is a Southern song contest in the works, as well as plans for a made-for-TV movie in which President Lincoln's war crimes are enumerated during his trial at the hands of a victorious Confederacy. As part of an overall effort to revive the honor of Confederate heroes, the League is supporting a Tennessee project to erect a 25-foot-high statue of swashbuckling Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest near Nashville.;;"Political independence will come only after we have convinced the Southern people that they are indeed a nation in the organic, historical and Biblical sense of the word, namely, that they are a distinct people with a language, mores and folkways that separate them from the rest of the world," Hill says.;;And while the League's desire to become active in electoral politics is long-term, it is organizing now. A year ago, the Florida League set out to create one new regional chapter every six months, with each region called upon to organize one new county chapter in the same time frame. "We're running ahead of that," says Crane.;;Militant metaphors;;Talk of secession stirs powerful emotions among even the most laconic Southerners. Last time this was tried, 600,000 people died.;;According to its website, the League proposes a Southern Republic "founded on private property, free association, fair trade, sound money, low taxes, equal justice before the law, secure borders, and armed and vigilant neutrality. Self-governing states and local communities invoking the favour and guidance of Almighty God. A bold, self-confident civilisation based on its European roots.";;The League of the South and other secession-minded neo-Confederates labor to distance themselves from the violent fringe of the patriot and militia movements. League leaders quickly squelch members who even talk of armed rebellion."Many of the patriot groups are caught up in simple formulas about individual rights," says Thomas Fleming, another League founder. "They say, ‘I got my rights. And the government is trying to take them away from me. So me and my friends will get a truck filled with dynamite and do something about it.';;"But that's no way to build a nation," Fleming continues. "That's the morality of the robber baron. Or the terrorist.";;Says Crane, a Civil War re-enactor who earned his political battle stripes fighting a Hollywood, Fla., city council decision to remove a longstanding Confederate battle flag display: "People with agendas that are different quickly become disillusioned with the League, 'cause their agenda is not ours.";;Nonetheless, the League's incessant use of military metaphors invites comparison to those Western movements. Both groups warn of a vaguely defined New World Order. And Hill himself often deploys violent rhetoric: "Our dream will be made real only when we love each other enough to die for each other." ;;The League also is supporting an effort to create a private, all-male military college that would preserve the traditions of Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel. The proposed Southern Military Institute would be an "overtly politically incorrect institution" that will emphasize discipline, Christian studies and the military traditions of the Confederacy. Rather than commission officers into the U.S. Armed Forces, SMI would train with and promote into National Guard units under the command of Southern states.;;Fleming argues that in order to understand the League's apparent obsession with what it calls the "War of Northern Aggression," one must look beyond the battlefield and examine Confederate society itself.;;"The Confederacy was a nation," he says. "But the Confederacy is also a myth, a symbol, an allegory. Many people feel that, despite the Confederacy's obvious failings, the South has enough good things which are unique.";;The popular appeal of the allegory ;is indisputable: the ranks of neo-Confederates are swelling.;;"There will probably always be a segment of white Southerners who share this nostalgic view," says William Ferris, who directs the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. "Essential to all of these groups is a harkening back to the good old days and a desire to simplify life.";;Equally indisputable is the myth's Achilles heel: slavery. Regardless of how the neo-Confederates view their symbols -- regardless, even, of widely misunderstood facts about Antebellum life -- history has branded the Confederacy a symbol for the institution of race-based slavery.;;So while the League of the South and other neo-Confederate groups repeatedly denounce racism and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, their embrace of symbols such as the Confederate Battle Flag causes them to be labeled by many as racist. This stereotype is reaffirmed by the neo-Confederates' apparent lack of interest in the cultural contributions by Southerners who happen to be Jewish, Muslim, Hispanic or African-American. The League would establish an overtly Christian government, would raise substantial barriers to immigration, and would eliminate the role of the federal government in promoting civil rights.;;"Demographic projections show that we (white Southerners) will be on the verge of becoming a minority in our own land by the middle of next century," warns Hill. "I, for one, don't relish the thought of my daughters and their offspring living amidst a non-European majority to whom the principles of western Christendom mean nothing.";;Hill embodies the contradictions that plague the movement. He is a well-regarded professor of British history and the author of several books about Celtic culture -- who has spent his entire career teaching at the all-black Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.;;The proposed statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest illustrates the stubborn yet practical way most neo-Confederates respond to these contradictions.;;Forrest's daredevil military campaigns are studied in war colleges across the world. But after the war, Forrest became the first Grand Wizard of the original Ku Klux Klan. As a result, his image offends many Jewish and African-American southerners.;;Publicly, the League argues that Forrest is misunderstood, that he left the Klan before it turned racist, and that he deserves remembrance. Yet privately, the League is planning to construct the statue of graffiti-proof materials.;;Sidebar:;;Defence mechanisms;;Mike Crane, a 49-year-old employee of a Broward County software company and chairman of the Florida League of the South, discovered the book "The South was Right!" and ordered his own autographed copy through the Internet.;;But his real call to arms was a 1994 vote by the Hollywood city council to remove the Confederate battle flag and other historical flags from public display. Taking his cue from the Heritage Preservation Association, a "Confederate heritage defense" organization formed a year earlier to defend the Georgia state flag, Crane founded Preserving Our Heritage, which has carried on his so far unsuccessful, three-year battle to have the flags restored.;;"POH is also active in the courts defending Southern schoolchildren from ‘politically correct' school administrators who think it's OK to expel and suspend Southern kids from school for the ‘offense' of wearing Confederate flag apparel and having battleflag stickers on their notebooks," reads a description. "POH presents a positive image of Confederate heritage to the world with projects like a Black History Month seminar on black Confederate soldiers.";;Crane joined the League of the South about two and a half years ago. "The goal is secession," he says, seemingly numb to the bemused response that such a statement invites.;;"If that was all we stood for, yes, that would be the reaction you would get from a lot of people," he says. "But the true goal is reinstatement of the principles on which the country was founded. One of those aspects is a constitutional republic of republics, which are words right out of the mouth of Thomas Jefferson.;;"To those that speak extremely critical of the idea," he adds, "I also like to point out that King George would have been extremely proud of them." ;;It's mostly the media, he says, that sees the appeal of a neo-Confederate movement for extremists who may have other reasons to embrace a legacy that includes slavery and violent displays of white supremacy. "I don't know if I've had a real live one walk up to me yet, but I've been asked a zillion times what we do with them," he says. "It's not really a problem that I've run into.;;Who joins a group that emphasizes saving an Anglo-Celtic culture? In Florida, membership numbering "in the hundreds" is evenly split among men and women, says Crane. "I don't know if we have any black members. We do have Hispanics, Jewish members. That's not really how we categorize people.";;But they do have their work cut out. For now, the skirmishes are mostly small scale -- though at the national level, the League tracks enough of them to justify its ongoing "heritage violation alerts" ("Cracker Barrel Restaurant bans Confederate flag merchandise from its gift shops").;;"The League of the South, like so many other pro-South organizations, is committed to repelling the relentless and mean-spirited campaign of ‘cultural cleansing' being waged by the ‘politically correct' elements of American society," says the League, which portrays such acts as "cultural genocide.";;"This effort is one of the most compelling challenges facing the South today as liberal agitators continue to press for the complete censorship of all reminders of the Confederate history of the Southern people On almost any given day, one finds news reports of anti-Southern bigots waging their assault using a variety of tactics, including the following:;;"Banning the display of Confederate flags;;"Removing Confederate monuments and memorials from public display; ;"Agitating for the abolition of Confederate holidays in the Southern states;;"Persecuting individuals who display Confederate flags or other related symbols on their clothing, vehicles or at their places of work;;;"Presenting a hateful and revisionist version of the history of the Southern people and their struggle for independence to the public;;"Indoctrinating Southern schoolchildren in this same bogus history with the design of turning them against their own heritage." ;;Sidebar:;;Net works;;The neo-Confederate movement has built its grass-roots efforts through the Internet. See what the leading organizations say of themselves:;;Confederate States of America;;;The Heritage Alliance;;;The Heritage Preservation Association;;;The League of the South;;;Sons of Confederate Veterans;;;The Southern Defense Initiative Corporation;

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