No Comment — September 15, 2009, 11:46 am

Joe Wilson, Neoconfederate

Back in 1856, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks took offense to an anti-slavery speech delivered by Massachusetts abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner. Accompanied by another congressman from the Palmetto state, Laurence M. Keitt, Brooks waited until Sumner was almost alone on the floor of the Senate and then approached him. He called Sumner’s speech a “libel on South Carolina,” and then raised a thick gold-capped cane over Sumner’s head and began to strike him. Brooks continued to deliver blows to Sumner’s head until his stout cane broke and Sumner collapsed in a pool of blood on the floor. When several senators came to Sumner’s defense, Keitt brandished a pistol in their face and warned them to keep away. Sumner barely escaped with his life and was incapacitated for a full three years.

southern_chivalry

Brooks, however, became a hero to his fellow fire-breathing white South Carolinians. Dozens sent him new canes, one inscribed with the legend “Hit him again!” He died a few months later, after surviving an effort to expel him from the House. But his legacy lived on. As South Carolinians opened the first volleys of the Civil War three years later, wags up north talked of “Poor South Carolina–too small to be a country, too large to be an insane asylum.”

Judged against the Brooks and Keitt standard, South Carolina Congressman Addison Graves (“Joe”) Wilson’s disruption of President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress last week with the words “You lie!” looks pretty pale. On the other hand, the flow of support he received from the array of birthers, tenthers, and deathers who now call the G.O.P. home seemed predictable. More than any development in recent memory, it demonstrated the inversion of the Republican Party. No longer is it a party that identifies with Lincoln and Sumner. The G.O.P. of 2009 is led by forty- and fifty-something white men with romantic (and delusional) longings for the antebellum south. Take Joe Wilson.

In 2003, Wilson attacked Strom Thurmond’s natural biracial daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, saying her public acknowledgement of her parentage shortly after Thurmond’s death was “a smear” designed to “diminish Thurmond’s legacy.” Wilson launched his political career working as an aide to Senator Thurmond and has continuously held the staunch segregationist as a hero.

Now Max Blumenthal probes more deeply into Wilson’s relationship with a radical Neoconfederate organization entitled the Sons of Confederate Veterans, SCV for short:

Who are the SCV?… By 2006… the SCV had been substantially taken over by an organized cadre of white supremacists 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.”

Lyons, 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.”

No doubt about it. Preston Brooks would approve. And so, evidently, does Joe Wilson.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2016

Fighting Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Front Runner

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Habits of Highly Cynical People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Unhackable

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Imperium

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Elisabeth Zerofsky on Marine Le Pen, Paul Wachter on the quest for an unhackable email, Rebecca Solnit on cynical people, Andrew J. Bacevich on truth and fiction in the age of war, Samuel James photographs E.P.L. soccer, a story by Vince Passaro, and more

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Front Runner·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The F.N. asked to be sent to an institution whose legitimacy it did not accept, and French voters rewarded the party with first place in the election."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Memoir
I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A paean 2 Prince
"And one thinks, Looking into Prince's eyes must be like looking at the world."
Photo ©© PeterTea
Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"As wacky as it sometimes appears on the surface, American politics has an amazing stability and continuity about it."
Article
Plexiglass·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

Photograph (detail) by Karine Laval

Average number of pounds of pennies in an American home:

6

There were new reports of cannibalism in North Korea.

The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today