over heritage and hate is splitting the Sons of Confederate
B Y J O N
E L L I S T O N
Chip Pate is
a history buff on a collision course with the near future. A
marketing specialist in Pittsboro, in his spare time Pate serves as
public information officer for the North Carolina Division of the
Sons of Confederate Veterans, the pre-eminent Confederate history
group. He runs the Web site of his Siler City-based SCV camp, edits
newsletters and historical journals, and writes columns. He helps
restore rebel grave sites and fields questions from the media about
Civil War heritage. Along the way, he says he's spent upward of
$15,000 of his own money promoting this region's Confederate legacy.
a few weeks ago, Pate removed his framed SCV certificate from the
wall, and now he's considering taking the commemorative license
plate, which bears the Confederate stars and bars, off his car.
Soon, he says, he may have to quit the organization altogether.
|January 16, 2002|
|C O V E R F E A T U
"This is a mess," Pate says.
"I realize I may not be a member of the SCV anymore, and that's
sad." He is one among several prominent Confederate enthusiasts in
this state who fear that the heritage organization they have proudly
served is about to shame itself by endorsing modern-day hatred.
|Photo By Jenny Warburg|
pro-Confederate flag rally in Columbia, S.C. |
The former Confederate officer who founded the SCV charged it
with waging "the defense of the Confederate soldier's good name."
Just what that means is still open to debate. The 31,000-member
organization is best known for staging historical re-enactments of
key campaigns between the Blue and the Gray. But suddenly, this
isn't about playing soldier anymore.
The SCV has long been criticized by outsiders for harboring
racist sympathizers, but lately, the fiercest conflicts have
occurred within the group. Sectarian politics that hinge on
questions of heritage and hate threaten to tear the 105-year-old
Two Tar Heels are in the trenches, vying for the commandership of
the Army of North Virginia, the largest of the SCV's three national
groupings. In one corner is candidate Kirk Lyons, a Black
Mountain-based lawyer who has made his name as the defender of the
radical, and frequently racist, right. In the other is Charles Hawks
of Raleigh, a retired tax administrator and present commander of the
SCV's North Carolina Division. Hawks says he'd rather stay out of
the spotlight, but that he wants to save the group from a
This isn't exactly Antietam or Gettysburg, but the next
tide-turning battle for the Confederacy will occur in Memphis, when
the SCV's national elections are held at the Peabody Hotel in early
For an organization supposedly stuck in the past, this election
will chart the future. And each candidate is arguing, to the
great-great-grandsons of rebel soldiers who will cast the votes in
Memphis, that the organization will suffer defections if their
To hear the candidates tell it, this is a horse race, pure and
simple, between two different breeds of latter-day Confederates.
Lyons wants the SCV to adopt a combative approach, using lawsuits
and lobbying to promote Confederate issues, and sweep aside what he
says is an old guard of SCV officials who are too timid because of
their fear of being branded racist.
"I think this is the last gasp of the 'let's get along' crowd in
the SCV," says Lyons, who emphatically denies he's a bigot.
Hawks, for his part, says that this may be the SCV's last, best
chance to show its disapproval of racism in the ranks. So far, he
has refrained from calling Lyons a hate-monger, but he will say
this: "If you are found in a cave with bin Laden, you are assumed to
be a follower of bin Laden. If we elect Lyons, then obviously we
approve of his agenda, and his agenda is obviously racial."
A scrappy and boisterous debater, Lyons seems to relish the
opportunity to put his past on trial. "This will give the electorate
the clearest possible choice for their commander," he says. "They
can say exactly where they want this organization to go. It could
not be clearer."
"I would agree 100 percent with that," Hawks says. "That's
probably the only thing I would agree with him on." A reserved and
reluctant campaigner, Hawks says that he wouldn't have joined the
race at all, except that he felt Lyons must be stopped.
In his Black Mountain office, located in a nondescript apartment
in this historically liberal town, Lyons is surrounded by militaria.
Along with neatly stacked legal documents, piles of mass mailings,
several desktop computers and hundreds of military history books,
Lyons keeps piles of antique weapons and a closet full of historic
Lyons, 45, is an avid "re-enactor," which is to say that he has
spent many a day and night playing the part of long-dead soldiers
from the Revolutionary War and Civil War. "This weekend, I'm
supposed to be going to Trenton to stop Mr. Washington from crossing
the Delaware," he says, "but unfortunately, because of illness in
the family and financial realities I think I'm probably going to be
in the office."
With five kids to raise and a
busy law firm to run, Lyons' re-enactor days may be dwindling. But
he still prides himself on the authenticity of his outfits, which
he's been hand-sewing since he was a teenager.
|Photo By Jenny Warburg|
Lyons, shown here in his Black Mountain office, wants a more
Lyons shows off his wardrobe, pointing out the authentic buttons,
quilted linings, interior pockets and hand-stitched buttonholes.
When possible, he uses original period fabrics, like the
130-year-old silver embroidery he picked up at a shop in Manhattan.
"I've got sources literally all over the world for the wool, silk,
and linen you need to make this type of clothing," he says. "You
know, if it's not made with the right materials, it's just not going
to look right.
"This is what I collect," he says. "All of these trunks are full.
I have women's clothes as well.
"If we were doing this interview in 1850, this is probably what I
would wear," he says. "It has a silk brocade vest, and then a black,
broad-clothed frock coat. This is what Jefferson Davis would have
worn in his office."
Now that Lyons has launched a bid to wear the commander's uniform
in the Army of Northern Virginia, it's the details of his career,
not his garment-making credentials, that are making news. If there's
a pro-Confederacy activist who's become accustomed to bad press,
it's Kirk Lyons. For the last 15 years, he's been described in print
as a white supremacist, an anti-government zealot, a leading
extremist and everything in between.
"I'll be the first to admit it, I'm a right-wing name dropper,"
Lyons says. "I have known all of them, talked to all of them, have
probably given advice to all of them. That doesn't make me one of
them, save for the fact that I believe they have the same rights
under the Bill of Rights and Constitution that everyone has."
His connections to the radical right are well-documented, and
could be summed up in many ways, but his critics usually start with
In September 1990, Lyons was married in a ceremony that suggested
his love life had come into alignment with his professional one. The
bride: Brenna Tate, daughter of Charles Tate, a leader of Aryan
Nations, white power group. The setting: the Christian Identity
church on the Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho. It was a
double ceremony: Another daughter of Tate's, Laura Beth, married
Neill Payne, Lyons' close associate. (Another of Charles Tate's
children, David, was then and is now serving a life sentence for
murdering a Missouri state trooper while he was a member of The
Order, a right-wing terrorist group.) Aryan Nations founder Richard
Butler officiated, and to top it all off, Lyons' best man was Louis
Beam, former Grand Dragon of the Texas Ku Klux Klan.
Friends like these have made Lyons some enemies. One of them is
Monroe Gilmore, who directs Western North Carolina Citizens for an
End to Institutional Bigotry, a watchdog group based in Asheville.
Gilmore and Lyons have fought a long-running war of words over
whether Lyons' racist contacts implicate him.
"He says this is just guilt by association," Gilmore says. "But
it's association after association after association. And when you
add to it his activities and what he has said, there's no question
why he is named one of the leaders of today's white supremacy
Lyons dismisses criticism of his family ties, calling it "a
gutter tactic" that "hits below the belt." "I married the
moonshiner's daughter," he says. "It's the same type of thing. Are
we going to attack my wife for the alleged sins of her family?"
Whether or not his reputation gets snarled in the roots of his
family tree, Lyons' work as an attorney and activist may trip up his
run for the commandership, at least among moderates in the SCV.
Since the late 1980s, when he earned a law degree from the
University of Houston, he's been on the front lines of various
cultural and legal battles that were watersheds for the ultra-right.
Operating from Texas, he represented such defendants as Klan
leader Beam, who, with Lyons help, was acquitted of federal sedition
charges. (It was shortly thereafter, Lyons says, when he lectured on
the case at an Aryan Nations conference and fell in love with Brenna
Tate.) Other clients and advisees included members of violent
right-wing groups like Posse Comitatus, the White Patriot Party and
White Aryan Resistance.
Still, Lyons maintains that he's neither a racist, supremacist
nor separatist. "I'm a Christian, un-reconstructed Southerner from
Texas," he says. "That's all I've ever claimed to be."
"I do not regret any of the
clients I have represented," Lyons says, because "they were all on
trial because of what they believed." Still, he is aware that "from
a PR angle, a lot of my associations as an attorney obviously are
not going to get me into Who's Who."
|Photo By Jenny Warburg|
|Charles Hawks, of Raleigh, says he is trying to
save the SCV's good name. |
Lyons grounds his defense in religion. "I have never cared what
non-Christians think about me," he says. "I am concerned when
Christians take opinions from non-Christians to evaluate me and my
work. I'm upset when people go to these so-called watchdog groups
and take what they say as holy writ about me."
But Lyons has provided the watchdogs with plenty of fodder for
their Web sites and newsletters. Shortly after his 1992 move to
Black Mountain, he founded the CAUSE Foundation, "a clearinghouse
for civil rights concerns for European derived people." The acronym
stood for Canada/Australia/United States/South Africa/Europe.
He's been a lightning rod for criticism ever since. In April
1993, he participated in a protest at the opening of the Holocaust
Museum in Washington, D.C. The same year, a German rightist magazine
published a lengthy interview with Lyons, who made waves with his
comments about the KKK: "I have great respect for the Klan
historically but, sadly, the Klan today is ineffective and sometimes
even destructive. ... 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.' That would make the Klan stronger than ever before."
Lyons says his critics are considering the quote out of its
context. "It was very practical advice, but the advice was geared
strictly towards making sure that Germans don't join the Klan. Now
if you go to Germany today, you will not find the Klan. You can
thank me for that."
Then there were his 1992 comments at a meeting of German
nationalists, which were broadcast by Spiegel TV. Lyons, speaking in
German, opened his remarks by saying he was "honored to be in the
country that has produced the world's most famous composers, artists
and architects as well as the greatest führer of the 20th century."
Again, Lyons says, consider the context before passing judgment.
And read his words very carefully. "It was a free speech test," he
says. "I knew about their anti-free speech laws, and so a German
attorney and I sat down and we crafted my speech to push the
Besides, he says, he didn't name the leader he was praising, and
the word Hitler did not pass his lips. Since the title "führer"
translates to "political leader," he says, "I could just as easily
have been referring to Helmut Kohl."
While Lyons became a popular figure among German rightists, he's
done most of his work on the home front. In 1996, he launched his
current vehicle for litigation: the Southern Legal Resource Center
(SLRC). The chief aim of the center, he says, is to "stop the ethnic
cleansing of Dixie," largely by filing suit against schools,
companies and other institutions that bar the display of the
Confederate flag. Lyons is chief trial counsel. His brother-in-law,
Neill Payne, is executive director.
The SLRC has filed about 10 cases in federal courts, Lyons says,
and is researching and filing claims in roughly 70 other cases. The
firm's victories are few. The most significant recent success came
in the ongoing "Hank Williams concert T-shirt case." Lyons filed a
federal lawsuit for two high-school students who were suspended for
wearing the shirts, which bore Confederate flags. Last March, a
three-judge panel in Ohio ruled that the T-shirts constituted
"speech" and that the case would go to trial.
Another important continuing case, Lyons says, is his effort to
force Texas to return Confederate memorial plaques to the walls of
the state capitol building--plaques that then-governor George W.
Bush ordered taken down.
"We are promoters of a Southern civil rights movement, and it's
going to, over the next few years, revolutionize politics and the
dispensation of justice in the South," Lyons says. "And of course
it's going to have spillover into all of the heritage
Lyons is part of a "reform faction" within the SCV that backs his
mission, he says. "We are not some minority anomaly. The reform
faction has been moving to essentially managerial control of the
organization for several years now." And indeed, in the last
elections, in August 2000, the Army of Northern Virginia elected
Lyons an "executive councilman," so he's already got a vote, and a
foothold, on the SCV national board.
Many of the donations that
keep his legal center operating come from SCV members, Lyons says.
"Our opponents demonize the SLRC for one reason," he wrote in a
recent fundraising letter that went out to thousands of SCV members.
"We are the most effective and hard-hitting fighters on the Southern
|Photo By Jenny Warburg|
Edgerton, black Civil War re-enactor, marching at a January
2000 Confederate flag rally in Columbia, S.C. |
Given his controversial history, Lyons is the media draw, but his
opponent, Charles Hawks, enjoys his own prominence as the commander
of the N.C. Division of the SCV. He's also been an active defender
of the Confederacy, but his approach differs markedly from that of
If Lyons is a firebrand, Hawks is a slowly smoking ember. He
answers questions about the election in clipped, carefully chosen
phrases, and often defers to his spokesman, Chip Pate, for direct
comment on the hot-button issues in the campaign.
Hawks, 59, keeps both the United States flag and the Confederate
battle flag pinned to his blazer lapel, and his blood-red necktie is
crossed with stars and bars. But that's about as far as he takes it,
cosmetically speaking; though Hawks says he appreciates the work of
the re-enactors, that's not his passion.
The SCV's work, Hawks says, is mostly a matter of quiet and
determined memorial projects. "This is what we're doing to honor our
veterans, getting their stories out," he says. When critics question
whether he's manned the barricades enough for the Confederate cause,
he ticks off a list of his historical efforts.
Hawks is proud of the N.C. Division's role in arranging the
rededication of the Confederate Memorial Forest--125,000 acres of
spruce pines in western North Carolina that were preserved with
funds from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. For decades, the
forest has had no sign. Now, thanks to the SCV, it does.
And under Hawks' leadership, the division has waged a successful
legal challenge to secure the SCV's right to have commemorative
license plates, and conducted a vigorous outreach campaign to
explain the objectives of the group.
Come May, when Hawks' state division term expires, he had planned
to retire from SCV leadership. Lyons' announcement last fall that he
would run for the commander's post in the Army of Northern Virginia
changed that. Hawks says he went to other division officers and
entreated them to mount a challenge. "Nobody else would do it, so
it's up to me," he says.
"Just as Kirk is judged for the company he keeps, so will the SCV
be judged by the men we elect," Hawks says. "When this becomes the
face of the organization, then we're all branded as racists."
For years, the SCV has gone to some pains to separate itself from
associations with racist causes. In 1989, for example, the national
convention passed a resolution denouncing hate groups that fly the
rebel flag. Still, no matter who is flying it, that flag remains an
offensive symbol to many. And that's all the more reason, Hawks and
his supporters say, to choose leaders untainted by charges of
"This is a critical time for the SCV," Hawks wrote in a Nov. 15
letter announcing his candidacy. "Our cause and our colors are being
attacked on numerous fronts, and often being raised on high by
organizations whose objectives are not to honor the sacred memories
and sacrifice of our ancestors, but rather to sow seeds of prejudice
and divisiveness." He warned that Lyons' "alleged ties, whether real
or perceived, to certain infamous organizations could be devastating
to the SCV."
Lewis Lawrence, a farmer in Sanford who serves as heritage
officer for the N.C. Division, says that a Lyons victory would
nullify years of SCV outreach efforts. "We're always talking about
wanting to be accepted as a mainstream civic organization, and then
we have someone like this running," he says. "As long as I've been
in the SCV, we've always stood against white supremacy and the Klan
and things like that, and Lyons' path would appear to be the exact
A fog of racial contradictions surrounds a recent scene at a
Chinese lunch buffet in Black Mountain, two days after Christmas. At
first, it seems a most unlikely gathering.
On one side of the table are
Kirk Lyons and Neill Payne, alleged white supremacists. On the other
sits H.K. Edgerton, a black civil-rights activist clad in
|Courtesy Of The Citizen Times|
notorious napkin incident: Lyons, Edgerton and Payne posed
with pretend KKK hoods the day they met. |
In the 1990s, Edgerton served as president of the Asheville
chapter of the NAACP. Then he started dressing in Confederate battle
garb and toting the rebel flag and a "Heritage, Not Hate" sign.
Today he is chairman of the board at Lyons' legal center, and may be
Lyons' biggest fan. The pair line up at the buffet before returning
to their table.
These men don't just eat together, they fight together. The SCV
camp run by Lyons and Payne has appointed Edgerton an honorary
member, even though he has not identified an ancestor who fought
with the Confederacy. The trio were introduced in 1997 by civic
officials who hoped they could broker some peace during an upcoming
KKK march in Asheville, which authorities feared might turn violent.
At the time, Edgerton was president of the Asheville NAACP.
Between mouthfuls of egg rolls and fried rice, they recount their
fateful meeting, which took place in a pub. "We hit it off with him
immediately," Lyons says. "It's like we'd met a long-lost friend."
"For me, it felt like being at a peace conference, because out of
all this terror and evilness, I had met two men who had finally
showed me a little light," Edgerton says.
The happy-hour crowd flowed in, Lyons says, and "we sat and
talked, gosh, for hours, while everybody in Asheville walked around
us." It was about then that someone snapped the notorious "napkin
"We started joking about the NAACP being 'the Klan with a tan,'"
Payne says. "And we said, 'Well, H.K., we'll just join your Klan.'"
Strange high jinks ensued. "We put our 'hoods' on--the dinner
napkins," Lyons remembers. The three men hoisted the napkins to
their foreheads and posed for a photo. When the photo ran on the
front page of the Asheville Citizen-Times, it made for
surreal Southern slapstick, either hilarious or revolting, depending
on your perspective. The state NAACP responded negatively, and in
January 1999, Edgerton was ousted in a reorganization of his
Edgerton says he's happier with his new crew. "I wish to God, if
I could have a wish, that I could meet at least 10 more 'white
separatists' like Kirk D. Lyons and Dr. Neill Payne," he says.
"All my life, I have been taught to hate white folks in the
Southland of America. And all this lying has been done to black
folks about that flag and about the Southern Christian white
folks--my problems have never been with the Christian white folks in
Edgerton's problems, he says, are with the Yankees, who he blames
for bringing misery to blacks in the South. "It was our homeland,
just like it was white folks'. I certainly wouldn't call Africa our
homeland; they didn't want us then and they don't want us now."
"You know, those Africans who climbed off those boats didn't know
anything about my lord and master Jesus Christ," he adds. "It was on
these Southern plantations where Sunday was the most integrated day
of the week."
Edgerton says many Southern blacks made common cause with the
Confederacy. "I wear this gray not just for myself and my family, I
wear it for all the black folks," he says. "Those who remained loyal
to the South, their voices were not heard, because of the propaganda
machine. We earned a place of honor and dignity around here. As
soldiers, and on those plantations we made all the implements of the
war, and the foodstuffs. If it wasn't for the black folks, I don't
believe those boys would have lasted days, much less for years."
Lyons backs him up: "But for
the slaves on the plantation remaining loyal and taking up the place
where the white men left, the Confederacy would have ground to a
halt in the first year of the war."
|Photo By Jenny Warburg|
(left) and Chip Pate say many SCV members will leave the
organization if Lyons becomes the Army of Northern Virginia
There has been much speculation about the nature of Lyon's
relationship with Edgerton. "Kirk is using him to show he's not a
racist, but that's obviously not the situation," Hawks says. "He's
just got him there to show as a prop."
But during their lengthy lunch conversation, Edgerton and Lyons
seem to be authentic allies. They banter freely, and mimic and
praise each other. There is much they agree on.
Both say they want the United States to crack down on
immigration. And on the issue of interracial romantic relationships,
their views mirror each other.
"My brother is married to a Filipino woman, and I'll be very
honest, I did not approve of their marriage," Lyons says. "I am a
traditional Southerner and all that implies. That doesn't mean that
I hate other races, but I did not approve of the marriage. He should
have married a Southern girl."
A Southern woman of any lineage? "A white Southerner," he
"My brother's married to a Puerto Rican," Edgerton interjects,
while Lyons and Payne listen from across the table. "I certainly did
not subscribe to that. That really sent me through three or four
"Some folks have a problem, they say, Kirk D. Lyons wants to have
his children have white babies," adds Edgerton. "Well, what's wrong
with a man wanting his grandchildren to look like him? I'd certainly
like to have some that look like me. I can't have Dr. Payne's son
come and have sex with my daughter; I don't know what that might
"Well if you really believe black is beautiful, the only way
you're going to perpetuate that is by having black children," Payne
After the laughter dies down, Edgerton continues. "Does that make
me prejudiced or a racist? The thing about race-mixing is: I don't
know what God had in mind when he made black folks and he made white
folks, but he must have known something. I think some better things
could come out of it if black folks stayed with black folks and
white folks stayed with white folks. There'd be a lot less problems
around here. At least the lily field would stay a lily field."
Lyons' alliance with a black Confederate re-enactor makes for an
interesting sideshow, but it has in no way tempered the rancor in
SCV debates about the controversial lawyer.
This is an uncivil war, as the campaign has lost all semblance of
civility. The epithets are flying like musket rounds. The Lyons
contingent calls the other side "grannies" and "bedwetters." The
Hawks camp fires back with "bigots" and "sheetheads."
The two combatants are gearing up with the same weapon, the one
that seems to matter most: history. There is nothing more sacrosanct
to the SCV members on both sides of this campaign.
"Most of the people coming into the SCV in the last 10 years have
done so because they want to fight for Confederate heritage, they
want to fight for the flag," Lyons argues. But thousands have left
the organization, he says, "because the SCV was not the heritage
fighter it ought to be," and he's out to change that by mounting a
strident defense of the symbols of the Confederacy.
Protecting the past requires fighting hard in the present, Lyons
says. "The principles that underlie the organization we need to
keep, but we need to organize everything else so that we can fight a
modern political war," he says. He wants to empower the SCV, but not
at the expense of being politically correct.
"People are always going to call names at someone who's
effective," Lyons says. "That just means that our opponents are
afraid of us. They fear us, and that's a good thing. And that's what
Charles can't understand: that our opponents are never going to love
us, and that this is a fight to the finish."
Hawks, for his part, has been studying up on Lyons' personal
history, and he will be sharing it with SCV members at upcoming
candidate forums. "The salvation of the organization is that they're
going to learn about his background," Hawks says. "I think he's
going to be surprised to find out how many people, once they know
about him, are not going to support him."
Still, Lyons has some prominent supporters who are familiar with
his record. Both the current national SCV commander and the present
commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, among other senior
officials, are backing Lyons. "There's a vocal minority that will
support Charles," he says. "But I am not worried about this
election. I'm not a betting man, but I'd be happy to bet you $100
that I'll be the next ANV commander."
Several state SCV leaders say they have a contingency plan for
what to do should Lyons win: They will leave the organization and
continue their Confederate history work under a different name.
Gilbert Jones of Greensboro, commander of the state SCV's
Northern Piedmont Brigade, is among those who would be inclined to
quit. "If we elect Kirk, we are trading in our honor. It would be a
sign that the inmates are in control of the asylum, and I couldn't
Pate says the race is forcing hard choices for SCV members.
"There's always the question, do you stay in a racist organization,
and fight against that? My answer is this: I will stay and fight,
but only until the racist character [of the organization] is known
to me. Then I'm out. This election is a big flashlight that will
show whether the SCV is a racist organization or not."
See Lyons' response to this article
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