- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. It's not so much that Steven Rogers wants to see the United States break up. He just wants to return to an older, more limited form of government and if a few states get left behind, well, so much the better.
"I'd love to take all 50 states with us, to get our constitution back," says Mr. Rogers, a store owner from Clover, S.C. "But the Northeast and some other places, a lot of people think they are beyond saving."
Mr. Rogers and a handful of other Southerners patriots, they regard themselves have concluded that they are best off being entirely separate from the rest of the nation. They gathered over the weekend in this suburb of Charleston to write a platform for a new party, dedicated to the proposition that the South should rise again.
"Our nation is occupied, our culture and heritage are under attack," says Ron Holland, finance director of the new Southern Party. "The problem is we have always been on the defensive against big government."
Now members of the Southern Party want to be on the offensive. They hope to organize in 17 Southern and mid-Atlantic states perhaps a few pro-Southern states in the Southwest as well and elect pro-secession candidates to the statehouses and governors' mansions wherever they can.
Of course, the last such drive for secession didn't work out very well. The new Southern Party wants to make secession a legal, ballot-driven exercise and avoid the military unpleasantness, the invasion of the South, and all that.
"It will have to be peaceful or it will never happen," says Herb McMillan, a retired vending service company owner from Tega Cay, S.C.
The party's principles are simple: limited government, low taxes, and self-determination for the South, which members see as a distinct and unified place, different from the North, the Pacific Northwest or the upper Midwest.
Members concede that it will be a difficult battle. The verdict of 1865 quieted talk of secession for more than a century, and the majority of people in the country seem to accept the notion of union as an unalterable fact of life.
But members also say historic change can come quickly. Walter "Donnie" Kennedy, author of "The South Was Right" and the reigning philosopher of the party, points out that nobody expected the reunification of Germany in 1989 and almost everyone was astonished by the sudden demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"All we've got to do is tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may," he says.
Although the party is almost all white, it rejects any notions of racial segregation. All Southerners, black and white, members say, share a common cultural heritage and economic interest.
Party Chairman Jerry Baxley insists that a recent e-mail letter, signed by an official of the Georgia state party, should not be viewed as a racial document, though it called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which has led a campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from public places, "an odious blight on the universe."
The e-mail message invited Southern patriots to "ride with Forrest," an obvious reference to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate cavalry wizard who founded the Ku Klux Klan after the war and later disbanded it.
"You'd be surprised how many black folks think Nathan Bedford Forrest is a positive symbol" for his defense of the Southern homeland and his later rejection of the Klan, Mr. Baxley says.
The NAACP, however, said such talk masks the agenda of the new party.
"This group, and some others as well, have gone to great lengths to reinvent their image, even to the point of forging pseudo-relationships with progressive groups, trying to legitimize what they do, while underneath all their efforts are the same white supremacist agenda," says Dwight James, executive director of the South Carolina conference of the NAACP.
The only black person attending the Southern Party convention says Mr. James' remarks are typical of those he has heard when he talks about his ancestors' role in the Confederate cause.
"Backs have been turned, I have been labeled a race traitor, told I was trying to turn white," says Robert Harrison, a reference librarian from Summerville, S.C., who gave a rousing pro-Confederate speech at the convention. "But that's OK. That's understandable," given the pro-Northern spin of the politicians, media, and history texts.
The convention was sparsely attended, not even approaching 100 in a room that was set up for 300. Not all of the states sent formal delegations and there was even some momentary confusion as organizers looked for a flag from Delaware briefly mistaken for the flag of Canada's separatist-minded province of Quebec.
But the organizers were undaunted, noting that this is merely the first formal convention of a brand new party, established only last summer at a meeting in Asheville, N.C.
"We're today at the most neophyte stage," says Thomas Brown, state chairman for Maryland, surveying the tiny but vocal crowd. "For every person here, back home there are 200 or 300 people that feel the same way."
The proceedings were overshadowed by events a two-hour drive away at Columbia, the state capital. By coincidence, South Carolina formally lowered the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse dome where it has flown for 40 years. The flag came down after a bruising fight, with white traditionalists arguing the flag is a symbol of pride and heritage and black leaders arguing it's a symbol of racism.
At noon, the appointed hour at which the flag was to be removed from the dome, conventioneers in North Charleston stopped for a moment of silence.
In an emotional speech, Mr. Holland chided "Northerners and Washington bureaucrats" who fear the flag "because it is a symbol of resistance to big government, empire and federal power. They fear our flag, they fear our movement, they fear the hopes and dreams of our founding fathers and our Confederate ancestors… . Make no mistake about it, we are small in number, but they fear us today."

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