The neo-Confederate movement has swelled to "tens of thousands of people" in at least 25 states, including South Carolina, and is made up of "racist hate groups" that have grown increasingly radical, according to a report issued Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens, and the Edgefield Journal were listed as part of the growing neo-Confederate movement, according to a report by the center's Intelligence Project, which tracks hate groups nationwide from its office in Montgomery, Ala. All three groups were involved in the effort to keep the Confederate flag flying above the South Carolina State House, which ended in compromise after a tumultuous debate this year.
"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 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."
Lake High, past chairman of the League of the South and an editorial consultant at the Edgefield Journal, said any report by the Southern Poverty Law Center should be viewed with skepticism.
"This is the same group that said neo-conservatives were going to take over the world when computers shut down during Y2K," High said. "These are the same guys who said black church burnings were going up when they were actually going down. They're 0-for-2 so far in the last year. This must be their third hoax."
When told that the new report labeled the League of the South a hate group, High laughed. "You ought to throw this stuff in the trash," he said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center won a $37-million verdict in 1998 against a Ku Klux Klan group accused of burning a black church in Manning.
In Idaho on Thursday, a jury awarded $6.3-million to a woman and her son who were attacked by Aryan Nations guards outside the white supremacist group's north Idaho headquarters. The center filed the suit.
The report attributed much of the growth among neo-Confederates to the League of the South, which it said has some 9,000 members nationwide.
"The contemporary neo-Confederate movement did not really take off until the League of the South was founded in 1994," the report said. "Thanks largely to its veneer as a respectable, non-racist organization led mainly by academics, LOS grew very rapidly, counting 4,000 members by 1998 and more than twice that number now."
The League of the South has "a couple of hundred" members in South Carolina, High said. Asked if he considered the organization racist, he replied: "I maintain that it is no more racist than anybody else _ and not nearly as racist as the National Association for the Advancement of Only One Race."
High was referring to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which led the fight over the flag at the South Carolina State House and continues to boycott the state.
Julian Bond, national NAACP board chairman, said the NAACP "is open to anyone who believes in the basic American values of fairness and justice for all."
In response to an e-mail query, Bond called the report "disturbing news which serves to confirm what many had long believed _ that lurking behind some groups' supposed reverence for the Confederacy was hostility to blacks and blatant racism."
"I can only hope that the center's report alerts Americans to this danger in our midst, that behind the flag hides the robes of the Ku Klux Klan."
The Edgefield Journal, which bills itself as the "Conservative Voice of the South," was formed "to offer an alternative to the mainstream press," according to its Internet site. On Thursday the site included articles on subjects ranging from the Republican Party's appeal to black and Hispanic voters, an essay entitled "If I were a Yankee," and another called "An apology to the black man from the white race."
The latter, under the byline "Arthur Kemp, South Africa," began: "We apologize for giving you doctors and free medical care, as a result of which you have been able to survive plagues and catastrophes and grow in numbers. We apologize for teaching you to read and write, and for building you thousand of schools which we have repaired after you vandalized them and burned them down."