Joe Wilson's Strange Friends

The controversial congressman has been a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans. Max Blumenthal asks: Did he remain so even after it became a hate group?

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The controversial congressman has been a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans. Max Blumenthal, author of the just-published Republican Gomorrah, asks: Did he remain so even after it became a hate group?

Since Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina bellowed at President Barack Obama, “You lie!” during the president’s nationally televised speech on health care, the fourth-term backbencher has emerged as a hero for the conservative grassroots. One of the most enthusiastic endorsements of Wilson’s histrionics came from the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a group that Wilson has belonged to according to his own biographical materials.

“Mr. Wilson, never apologize for allowing your love of truth to overrun your desire to be polite,” the SCV Tea Party declared on its website. “It is the liar who must apologize, not the one who identifies the liar!”

SCV leader Kirk Lyons harbored dream of creating a seemingly benign front group for a more sophisticated version of the Ku Klux Klan.

Who are the SCV? A once-proud organization of Confederate history buffs and Civil War re-enactors that traditionally spent its money to restore battlefields and Confederate cemeteries. By 2006, however, the SCV had been substantially taken over by an organized cadre of white supremacists (read here for more background) who sought to turn the nation’s oldest Southern historical society into what the veteran white supremacy activist Kirk Lyons called “a modern, 21st century Christian war machine capable of uniting the Confederate community and leading it to ultimate victory,” had seized much of the SCV’s leadership positions, the Southern Poverty Law Center released an extensive list of SCV officials who belonged to “hate groups.”

Alex Massie: In Praise of Joe WilsonSamuel P. Jacobs: Meet Joe WilsonLyons, a key member of this new leadership, had harbored dreams of creating a seemingly benign front group for a more sophisticated version of the Ku Klux Klan. “I have great respect for the Klan historically, but, sadly the Klan today is ineffective and sometimes even destructive,” Lyons told a German neo-Nazi magazine in 1992. “It would be good if the Klan followed the advice of former Klansman Robert Miles: 'Become invisible. Hang the robes and hoods in the cupboard and become an underground organization.'” With the SCV, Lyons discovered he didn’t have to go underground after all.

Once Lyons helped install his close friend, Ron Wilson, as president of the SCV, the organization’s political newsletter, The Southern Mercury was transformed into a propaganda mill for crude white supremacist cant. Mailed to all dues-paying members of the SCV until it folded in 2008, the Mercury published articles describing blacks as genetically inferior to whites, calling African-Americans as “a childlike people,” and warned that if Obama runs for re-election, race riots of an “exceedingly violent nature” would immediately ensue, leaving “entire sections of some of our cities in ruins.”

Here are a few highlights from the Southern Mercury:

“After the turn of the 20th century, the white Southerners had disfranchised and segregated the blacks, in perhaps the mildest reaction possible at that time to the blacks’ transgressions. The blacks—then a childlike people—had been selling their votes to the Democrats en masse for $.25 apiece in national elections.” —“Where We Stand Now, And How We Got Here,” by Frank Conner, Southern Mercury, September/October 2003

Mark McKinnon: Send Joe Wilson Home“Previously, anthropologists had routinely recorded the notable differences in IQ among the races; but at Columbia, a liberal cultural anthropologist named Franz Boas…decreed that there were no differences in IQ among the races, and the only biological differences between the blacks and whites were of superficial nature… Meanwhile, the liberals in the media heaped special praise upon black athletes, musicians, singers, and writers—and treated them as typical of the black race. The liberals were creating a false image of the blacks in America as a highly competent people who were being held back by the prejudiced white Southerners.” —Conner, September/October 2003

“It is very clear to me that if Barack Obama should be elected President, he would be extremely anti-white and would demand reparations for slavery and press hard for affirmative action to the degree that it would hurt young whites who were seeking jobs or admission to College and Graduate Schools.” —“Americans Face The Worst Presidential Candidates In History,” by Robert Slimp, Southern Mercury, May/June 2008

“I believe that [Obama’s] rhetoric and anti-white legislative proposals would stir up racial riots. If he were running for re-election, these riots would turn into an exceedingly violent nature that would seriously damage race relations in America, and leave entire sections of some of our cities in ruins.” —Slimp, May/June 2008

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According to Edward Sebesta, a leading researcher on the neo-Confederate movement and its ties to mainstream politicians, “The SCV tries to present a face of ‘heritage,’ historical nostalgia, to the public, but the articles in the ‘Southern Mercury’ show a group that is seething with an extremist reaction to a changing world. With Obama the SCV members are confronted by a very visible sign that their idea of a world, or even their locality, being one where Reactionary white Christian men should dominate, is nearing an end, if not over.”

Watch: Joe Wilson: 'I Will Not Be Muzzled' Did Rep. Joe Wilson resign from the SCV as soon as the organization’s takeover by avowed white supremacists began? There’s no public indication, and his office phone lines have shut down under the blizzard of calls prompted by his Obama outburst, so he couldn’t be reached for comment. What we do know is that while serving as a state senator, Wilson led an SCV-inspired campaign in 2000 to keep the Confederate flag flying above South Carolina’s state capitol. “The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage, is very honorable,” Wilson proclaimed at the time, responding to critics of the Confederate flag.

Wilson’s rebel yell at Obama has electrified the Republican grassroots, filled his campaign coffers with donations solicited on conservatives websites, and earned the previously unknown backbencher primetime appearances on right-wing talk shows. Interesting choice.

Max Blumenthal is a senior writer for The Daily Beast, writing fellow at The Nation Institute and author of Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books). Contact him at [email protected].