The term neo-Confederate describes a political and/or cultural movement based mainly in the U.S. Southern states that is characterized by a celebration of the history of the Confederate States of America (CSA) and support for the CSA's aims. Neo-Confederate issues may include states rights, such as nullification (in which state laws override federal laws), and a pro-Confederate view of history, particularly regarding the American Civil War and the role of slavery in that war. Some groups in the movement support full future secession, while others focus on preserving their image of southern heritage. The term "neo-Confederate" is considered by many people a pejorative political epithet and its application to specific groups and individuals has caused controversy.
A group that is frequently labeled as being "neo-Confederate" is the League of the South (LS), which does advocate future secession. It declares that it seeks the "well-being and independence of the Southern people." A number of small political parties also call for secession, including the Southern Party and its offshoot, the Southern Independence Party.
In 1999, during a radio interview, the Civil War historian James M. McPherson offended many Southern heritage organizations when he associated the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) with the neo-Confederate movement and described board members of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia as "undoubtedly neo-Confederate." He further said that the UDC and the SCV (The Sons of Confederate Veterans) have "white supremacy" as their "thinly veiled agendas." The incident outraged members of the UDC and the SCV, who accused McPherson of unfairly attacking them. Some SCV and UDC chapters subsequently urged their members to boycott his books and engaged in letter-writing campaigns. In response to this boycott, McPherson stated that that he did not mean to imply that all SCV or UDC chapters or anyone who belongs to them promote white supremacist agenda. He further stated that [only] some of these people have a hidden agenda.
McPherson has written on the origins of the UDC and states that “A principal motive of the UDC’s founding was to counter this ‘false history’ which taught Southern children ‘that their fathers were not only rebels but guilty of almost every crime enumerated in the Decalogue.” Much of what the UDC termed as “false history” centered on the role of slavery with secession and the war. The chaplain of the United Confederate Veterans, forerunner of the SCV, wrote in 1898 that history books as written could lead Southern children to “think that we fought for slavery” and would “fasten upon the South the stigma of slavery and that we fought for it … the Southern soldier will go down in history dishonored.” Referring to a 1932 call by the SCV to restore “the purity of our history”, McPherson notes that the “quest for purity remains vital today, as any historian working in the field can testify.”
In the 1910s Mildred Rutherford, the historian general of the UDC, spearheaded the attack on schoolbooks that did not present the Lost Cause version of history. Rutherford assembled a “massive collection of the racist underworld of the Lost Cause” which included “essay contests on the glory of the Ku Klux Klan and personal tributes to faithful slaves.” Historian David Blight concluded, “All UDC members and leaders were not as virulently racist as Rutherford, but all, in the name of a reconciled nation, participated in an enterprise that deeply influenced the white supremacist vision of Civil war memory.”
The core beliefs associated with neo-Confederates are wrapped up in the mythology of the Lost Cause. Historian Alan Nolan refers to the Lost Cause as “a rationalization, a cover-up”. After describing the devastation that were the consequences of the war for the South, Nolan states:
Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization. Clement A. Evans, a Georgia veteran who at one time commanded the United Confederate Veterans organization, said this: ‘If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union of our Country.
Nolan further states the racial basis of Lost Cause mythology:
The Lost Cause version of the war is a caricature, possible, among other reasons, because of the false treatment of slavery and the black people. This false treatment struck at the core of the truth of the war, unhinging cause and effect, depriving the United States of any high purpose, and removing African Americans from their true role as the issue of the war and participants in the war, and characterizing them as historically irrelevant.
The SCV on its main website, still speaks of “ensuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved” and claiming that “[t]he preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution.”
Historian David Goldfield observes:
If history has defined the South, it has also trapped white southerners into sometimes defending the indefensible, holding onto views generally discredited in the rest of the civilized world and holding on the fiercer because of that. The extreme sensitivity of some southerners toward criticism of their past (or present) reflects not only their deep attachment to their perception of history but also their misgivings, a feeling that maybe they've fouled up somewhere and maybe the critics have something.
An article in the liberal Institute for Southern Studies' magazine Southern Exposure uses the "neo-Confederate" label for the League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), the UDC, the SCV, and the Museum of the Confederacy.
The evangelical Christian organization Liberty Advocate has applied the "neo-Confederate" label to various pro-southern groups, basing this characterization on various biblical interpretations and prophecies. The group claims that "neo-Confederates" are "rooted in the occult" and identifies them as the Anti-Christ. Karen Pansler, a member of the organization, asserts that adduced "neo-Confederate" veneration for civil war generals is a continuation of Celtic worship of pagan "warrior-gods" transposed into modern times. Liberty Advocate also states that historical Civil War reenactor groups are used to promote "neo-Confederate" goals. Comparing them to the Hitler Youth, Pansler describes historical reenactors as part of a "covert conspiracy to recruit our children to their evil cause."
Not everyone avoids the term. Al Benson Jr., head of the former Southern Independence Party declares, "I am part of what Morris Dees calls the 'Neo-Confederate Movement'".
Various SPLC publications and Sebesta have also accused several well known American scholars, political commentators, and political figures of having connections to or supporting "neo-Confederate" causes or groups. The following are among those accused. Abbreviations Key: IR = SPLC Intelligence Report magazine; S = Ed Sebesta