In Monument Debate, Calls for an Overdue Reckoning on Race and Southern Identity – New York Times

But as the new century wore on, the energy around Confederate memorializing waned, and the membership of Southern heritage groups seemed to be aging. They would gather at the Civil Wars 150th anniversary commemorations, discussing the perfidies of the Union and the theories of what truly motivated the Souths secession taxes and tariffs were common culprits. It was in hard-core decline, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors neo-Confederate activities. Even on the fringes of the radical right, the Southern nationalist cause was waning.

Then in 2015, a Confederate-sympathizing white supremacist, Dylann S. Roof, murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. In a dramatic reaction, South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds altogether, weeks after Alabamas governor ordered four flags removed outside the State Capitol in Montgomery. Calls went up for the removal of other relics of Confederate memory, including the battle flags place in the corner of the Mississippi state flag, and major retailers, including Walmart, stopped selling merchandise that included the battle flag.

The backlash was swift. Membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans spiked, and large pro-flag demonstrations crowded the grounds of Southern state capitols. The rallying cry was still mostly focused on heritage, but a new and more incendiary faction had begun to emerge.

Starting in the early 2010s, a growing number of young, openly white nationalist Southerners began joining Southern nationalist organizations, primarily the Alabama-based League of the South. Mr. Griffin, an Auburn University graduate who had become radicalized by books and in online forums that had little to do with the Confederacy, was among them.

Recent statements from participants at the protests.

These men dismissed those making a racially friendly case for the Confederacy rainbow confederates, as Mr. Griffin disparagingly calls them in favor of an unapologetic embrace of the Souths white supremacist past. Lets be frank, said Matthew Heimbach, a former member of the League of the South who went on to co-found the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party. The Confederacy was struggling and fighting for the purpose of maintaining white dominance in the South. We were threatened by abolition, and we wanted to maintain our own homeland.

They began to organize as a new front of Southern nationalism under the umbrella of the alt-South. The term was coined by Mr. Griffin, who earns his living from donations through his website and married a daughter of the founder of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens. His ties to white identity groups were strengthened in the rallies leading up to and after the election of Mr. Trump. In gatherings this spring in Pikeville, Ky., and New Orleans, League of the South members faced off against left-wing protesters alongside neo-Nazis and other far-right activists. One outgrowth was the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

We see the takedown of these statues as more than just Confederate heritage, because the real war is not just against our heroes and our statues but against us, said David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, who gave the keynote address at a League of the South conference in June. There is a war being waged against white people.

U. W. Clemon, a Birmingham lawyer who was the first black federal judge in Alabama, said the Charlottesville protesters were acting out of desperation after recognizing that their sway in the so-called New South was eroding. They see blacks and women and Jews in pretty powerful positions and not just up North, but here down South and I think that they see their power and influence dwindling, he said.

In a statement on Monday, the Sons of Confederate Veterans repudiated in the strongest terms attempts by any group that advocates hatred, bigotry or violence towards others to use our symbols, or otherwise undertake to tarnish the good and glorious name of the Confederate soldier.

This is a prevailing view among those white Southerners who view the neo-Nazis with disgust and worry that their open championing of Confederate public history may finally lead to what many Southern whites fear most: the eradication of Confederate monuments.

Campbell Robertson reported from Eufaula, Alan Blinder from Chulafinnee, Ala., and Richard Fausset from Atlanta.

A version of this article appears in print on August 19, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Monument Debate Spurs Calls For a Reckoning in the South.

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In Monument Debate, Calls for an Overdue Reckoning on Race and Southern Identity – New York Times

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