Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Coddling extremists

The GOP's little problem with extremism -- notably the neo-Confederate version -- has cropped back up in South Carolina, where one of the radicals who has been trying to take over the heritage-oriented Sons of Confederate Veterans, a fellow named Ron Wilson, is now running for the state Senate:
S.C. Senate candidate touts right of secession

Notably, Wilson is in the running for the GOP nomination:
Running as a Republican for an Anderson County seat in Tuesday’s primary, Wilson openly promotes the right of secession. He also wants to have "Confederate Southern Americans" designated a specific minority group, like Hispanics or African-Americans.

"Confederate Southern Americans are a separate and distinct people," Wilson said in a statement posted on the Internet. "As a people, Confederate Southern Americans are tired of being the 'whipping boy' for the rest of the country's racial problems."

Wilson has been significantly involved in recent years in the attempt to radicalize the Sons of Confederate Veterans by placing neo-Confederate ideologues in upper-echelon positions. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking this takeover attempt for some time now (a recent report follows up on this in-depth study of the matter); the SPLC also named Wilson as one of its "40 to Watch" catalogue of the nation's most powerful right-wing extremists.

And though Wilson and his apologists attempt to gloss over the extent of his activities as an extremist, one only need look at who's supporting his campaign now to get the bigger picture:
One Wilson contributor is Lexington County restaurant owner Maurice Bessinger, who gave Wilson $1,000. Several years ago, major food chains yanked Bessinger's barbecue sauce from their stores when it was revealed that Bessinger distributed pamphlets at his stores saying that slavery was God's will for blacks and that blacks were happier being slaves in America than free in Africa.

Wilson's opponents -- Bryant and Allen -- declined to discuss him. However, both acknowledged Wilson has a base of support with hundreds of Sons of Confederate Veterans members and their families who live in the Anderson area.

"Don't count Wilson out," said political scientist Neal Thigpen of Francis Marion University.

It will be interesting to see how national GOP officials respond if Wilson indeed wins the primary. It would be comparable, frankly, to David Duke's election to the Louisiana Legislature in the late 1980s.

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