An organization active in battles to preserve public display of the Rebel flag has been branded a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Law Center, a Montgomery-based watchdog organization that tracks hate groups throughout the United States, will issue a report today identifying the Tuscaloosa-based League of the South as the vanguard of a radical and growing neo-Confederate movement. The League's Mississippi chapter has been active in pro-Rebel flag protests on the Coast.
"The racism of these groups is undeniable, and it is spreading to thousands who once were merely enthusiasts of Confederate symbols and Civil War history," said Joe Roy, director of the center's Intelligence Project. "These groups remind us that white supremacists do not always come wearing Klan hoods, shaved heads or swastikas. Sometimes they are dressed up with business suits and Ph.D.s."
Michael Hill, the League's president, said he welcomed the designation as a "badge of honor."
"When you deal with organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have a very leftist agenda, these sorts of things are designed to discredit you publicly," Hill said. "We take our stand against the leftist agenda and they are one of the primary purveyors, and any time we can be cast in opposition to them it is a credit to where we stand in our philosophy."
The League describes itself as a Southern independence organization seeking lawful ways to advance the social, political and economic well-being of the Southern people.
Hill said the League's goal is to "re-exert Southern independence" since secession was already achieved and there was no formal peace treaty ending the Civil War.
"We would like to see an independent Southern nation," said Hill, a 49-year-old former University of Alabama history professor, who founded the organization in 1994.
Asked where black people would fit in his independent Southern nation, Hill replied that the "Southern culture under attack today is the Anglo-Celtic culture of the South . . . People should be free to socialize or not socialize within or without various ethnic groups with no government intervention.
"Parents ought to set up their own neighborhood schools and pay for them," Hill said. "They ought to be able to say who comes and who doesn't." The 53-page Law Center report titled "Rebels With A Cause" focuses heavily on the League, and Hill directly, as well as the Council of Conservative Citizens.
The report cites instances in which Hill and other neo-Confederates defend slavery, alleges ties between the League and neo-Nazis, and notes a growing trend toward revisionist Civil War history.
The claim that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery is similar to statements by Nazi sympathizers denying the Holocaust took place, said Mark Potok, the Intelligence Report's editor.
"These people have concocted a mythologized South of mint juleps and magnolia trees that never existed," said Potok. "They imagine an Anglo-Celtic South created by, of and for white people, unrelated to any other people or cultures."
Potok also was critical of Hill's vision of a Christian Southern nation in which the separation of church and state does not exist.
John Cripps, president of the League's Mississippi chapter and a self-declared independent candidate for governor, says the hate group designation is unfair, but not unexpected.
"If they are against you they are going to paint you with as wide a brush as possible, that's how they increase their revenue," said Cripps, whose statements about the Rebel flag and Black Springbreak on the Coast were cited in the Law Center report.
"If flying the Confederate flag supposedly keeps certain tourists away, and if these blacks are the tourists that the flag offends and if you really don't want them to return next year then here is your solution, fly the Confederate flag and get your wish," Cripps wrote in an editorial on his Web site that was directed at Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway.
Cripps said in an interview Wednesday that those comments were directed only toward "very wicked" black people who attended Black Springbreak, an April event that gridlocked traffic along the Coast amid reports of nudity and assaults on young women.
"We as an organization do not have or foster any hatred toward any particular race," said Cripps, who denounced a Labor Day Rebel flag rally in McHenry because of its organizer's links to the Ku Klux Klan. "I am capable of hatred of oppression and subjugation but I have no hatred towards a race of people."