As 21st century activists seek to topple monuments to the 19th century Confederate rebellion, some white Southerners are again advocating for what the Confederates tried and failed to do: secede from the Union.
It’s not an easy argument to win, and it’s not clear how much support the idea has: The leading Southern nationalist group, the Alabama-based League of the South, has been making the same claim for more than two decades and still has an address in the U.S.A., not the C.S.A.
But the idea of a break-away Southern nation persists.
White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they guard the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday
White nationalist demonstrators walk into Lee park surrounded by counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and police dressed in riot gear ordered people to disperse after chaotic violent clashes between white nationalists and counter protestors
The League of the South’s longtime president, retired university professor Michael Hill of Killen, Alabama, posted a message in July that began, ‘Fight or die white man’ and went on to say Southern nationalists seek ‘nothing less than the complete reconquest and restoration of our patrimony – the whole, entire South.’
‘And that means the South will once again be in name and in actuality White Man’s Land. A place where we and our progeny can enjoy Christian liberty and the fruits of our own labor, unhindered by parasitical ‘out groups,” said Hill’s message, posted on the group’s Facebook page a day after a rally in support of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The group’s website says it is ‘waging a war to win the minds and hearts of the Southern people.’
While white-controlled government is its goal, the group says in a statement of beliefs that it offers ‘good will and cooperation to Southern blacks in areas where we can work together as Christians to make life better for all people in the South.’
According to the U.S. Census, 55 percent of the nation’s black population lived in the South in 2010, and 105 Southern counties had a black population of 50 percent or higher.
Hill said they’re not advocating for a repeat of a Civil War that claimed 620,000 lives or a return to slavery, the lynchpin of the South’s antebellum economy.
‘We have no interest in going back and recreating an un-recreatable past,’ Hill said in a telephone interview. ‘We are future oriented.’
The group has erected billboards that said ‘SECEDE’ in several states, and it even has its own banner – a black and white version of the familiar Confederate battle flag, minus the stars.
Secession also finds support on some websites that support white nationalism, including Occidental Dissent, run by a Hill associate, and the openly racist, anti-Semitic Daily Stormer. Extremist watchdog Heidi Beirich said strict Southern nationalism seems to have been swept up into the larger white-power agenda in recent years.
‘I think it’s mostly subsumed into the white nationalist movement,’ said Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. ‘There might be a little Southern softness to it. But I can’t tell a whole lot of difference between the League and white nationalism.’
Meanwhile, critics are howling over the mere idea that HBO is considering a dramatic series based on the idea that the South really did secede again and slavery still existed.
This July 8, 2017 photo shows members of the KKK escorted by police past a large group of protesters during a KKK rally in Charlottesville
But secession isn’t the sole property of Southern white nationalists.
A group that wants California to secede from the United States is based mainly on liberals wanting to exit the United States because of President Donald Trump’s election. They are collecting signatures to place a secession ballot initiative on the 2018 ballot.
The initiative would form a commission to recommend avenues for California to pursue its independence and delete part of the state constitution that says it’s an inseparable part of the United States.
The ‘Calexit’ initiative also would instruct the governor and congressional delegation to negotiate more autonomy for California.
Secession also has been discussed on and off for years by the far right in states including Texas, particularly when Barack Obama was president.
Online, many Southern nationalists seem animated by drives to remove Confederate memorials, as happened in New Orleans and is planned in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Not everyone who supports Confederate monuments wants to remove the South from the United States once again. Some supporters of the Old South say they simply want to honor ancestors who wore the gray during the Civil War.
But some want to make a break.
Perhaps the United States should just let the South leave, said author Chuck Thompson.
Thompson’s 2012 book ‘Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession’ argued that both the United States and the South might both be best served if Southern nationalists won the argument and succeeded in forming a new nation.
The South has been at odds with the rest of the nation for generations over issues including education, race, politics, shared history and religion, Thompson said in a telephone interview, and some things just don’t change.
‘It’s not that just the rest of the country would be better off without them,’ he said. ‘It’s that everyone would be better off without them, both sides.’
Terror in Charlottesville: This is the moment the vehicle smashed into anti-fascist demonstrators Saturday
A 20-year-old Ohio man was arrested on Saturday after he ‘intentionally drove his vehicle into a crowd of anti-fascists at a white nationalist rally, killing one woman and injuring 19 others’ in Charlottesville, Virginia.
James Alex Fields Jr, of Maumee, Ohio, is being held at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. He was charged with second-degree murder.
Video of the Dodge Challenger, which is registered to Fields, showed the driver accelerating into the crowd throwing bodies into the air as people scream before reversing at high speed.
The deadly crash came after violent clashes erupted as hundreds of white supremacists including armed militias marched into Charlottesville sparking violent confrontations with counter-protesters.
Police cleared the scene with tear gas but the violence continued. Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas said a total of 35 people had been treated for injuries, 14 of those were from individual engagements on the streets.
Horrifying video from the scene of the attack showed the silver muscle car speeding towards a group of fleeing anti-fascist protesters.
Another clip showed the vehicle ramming into the crowd at high speed and victims crying out in pain as they desperately sought medical help.
Witnesses said the car was traveling up to 40mph when it hit and reversed before ramming into the crowd again and speeding off with someone’s shoe attached to its bumper.
Virginia Gov Terry McAuliffe strongly condemned all of the so-called ‘patriotic’ white nationalists during a press conference Saturday evening.
‘Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth,’ McAuliffe proclaimed. ‘You are not patriots. You came here today to hurt people and that is not patriotic,’ McAuliffe added.