July 26, 2015
MANKATO FREE PRESS
It has often been remarked that the South lost the Civil War but won the peace. After the war, Confederate veterans and sympathizers conducted a campaign of terror against blacks to keep them from voting, and to obstruct Reconstruction — mostly successfully.
In the intervening 150 years, neo-Confederates have attempted to whitewash the history of the Civil War, attempting to refute the fact that it was about slavery.
The recent shootings in Charleston are a continuation of the same racist violence; the North Carolina KKK endorsed it, asserting that it was commanded by the Bible. Dylann Roof, the killer, attributed his radicalization to information from the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), as he noted on the white supremacist forum Stormfront. org.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, over 100 murders and hate crimes have been traced to members of Stormfront, which promotes the values of “the embattled white minority.”
There is no mistaking the white supremacist views of the CofCC, either: its Statement of Principles declares that it “oppose(s) all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people … to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.”
Like its predecessor, the infamous White Citizens Councils, it has cultivated politicians and clergy over the years as cover, among them Mike Huckabee (a Southern Baptist minister who addressed its 1993 convention on tape), Ron Paul, Haley Barbour, Bob Barr and many others.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans is another leading neo-Confederate group; it “commemorates” the war with monuments, flags, awards for “patriotism” and conducts (Southern) history classes. The Charleston shootings prompted some to question Confederate history and the meaning of the battle flag, leading to the flag’s removal from the South Carolina state capitol grounds and the Alabama capitol. Many diehards are refusing to disavow the battle flag, claiming it is part of their history, and denying that it is a symbol of hate or white supremacy.
The state of Texas codifies neo-Confederate revisionism in its new textbooks, adopted after a fierce battle in 2010. The new guidelines call for teaching that “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” caused the Civil War, implying that slavery was a secondary issue.
The states’ rights claim is a red herring: Ta-Nahisi Coates in Atlantic. com has compiled pre-war statements from Confederate leaders that demonstrate unequivocally that the South seceded over slavery, not states’ rights. In addition, some states — oblivious to the irony — justified secession by citing Northern states’ refusal to return escaped slaves as required by the Fugitive Slave Laws, an exercise of Northern states’ rights.
An integral element of neo-Confederate ideology is Christian Dominionism, the idea that Christians should work toward a nation governed by Christians, based on biblical law. Michael Lind argues in Politico that religiosity is one of the defining characteristics of the South, along with a pre-modern “culture of honor” that promotes violence in all its forms; that Southern politicians have long used public piety to troll for votes, something unique among English-speaking democracies.
Segregationists and neo-Confederates have traditionally adopted this Christian identity, and historically, used the Bible to justify slavery; Leviticus 25, for example, explicitly allows buying and selling slaves, including children. Other verses deal with the treatment of slaves, and admonish slaves to obey their masters.
The neo-Confederate influence is apparent in such things as Texas’s new social studies curriculum. As the Washington Post recently noted editorially, it mandates that Texas schools teach students that Moses played a bigger role in inspiring the Constitution than slavery played in causing the Civil War.
The Constitution is not based on the Ten Commandments. It lays out the responsibilities of three co-equal branches of government, but it does not mention God or the Ten Commandments; there is no proscription on worshipping idols or false gods, nothing about coveting a neighbor’s ox or donkey or male servant, about respecting parents, keeping certain days holy, committing adultery, or taking God’s name in vain. The forefathers were creating a secular republic not a Christian theocracy.
Texas’ rewriting of history is the consequence of decades of neo-Confederate propaganda, coupled with a long-standing hostility toward Washington, and recently, toward a black man in the White House, which have fueled a new secessionist movement.
As the second largest state, its textbooks have inordinate influence and are sold in many other states, spreading their unreconstructed neo-Confederate views around the country. As events in Charleston demonstrate, this can have tragic consequences.
Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counterterrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He lives in Mankato.