The Sons of Confederate Veterans elected a new leader this weekend at its annual convention, held this year in Dalton.
Denne Sweeney, of Ferris, Texas, won a controversial election in which another candidate for commander in chief, Walt Hilderman of Eutawville, S.C., was blocked from attending the convention.
Hilderman and his group, Save the SCV, have maintained that the SCV leadership is being taken over by racists and extremists. He was blocked from attending the meeting by SCV lawyers and security guards.
The commander in chief for the past two years, Ron Wilson, has publicly declared his belief that the Southern states have the right to secede from the United States. He also has said that he believes “Confederate Southern Americans” should be a protected minority.
Wilson, who was blocked from running again this year by the group’s bylaws, has ties to The League of the South, which advocates secession for the region.
Wilson supporters have submitted a petition to have Hilderman expelled.
They dispute Hilderman’s claims that Wilson has been trying to turn the organization from a heritage group into a white nationalist organization.
Sweeney was supported by Wilson, but he told the Journal-Constitution last week that he opposed any SCV support for extremist political groups.
The SCV has about 31,000 members nationwide. Members must be directly descended from men who fought for the Confederacy.
Columbia Daily Herald (SC), Jul. 29
DALTON, Ga.—When Walt Hilderman attends the Sons of Confederate Veterans reunion this week, he says many others in the group will consider him the enemy.
Hilderman is the leader of “Save the SCV,” self-declared reformists who think the 108-year-old organization is being taken over by racists.
“I am in bed with the liberal media, the national Democratic Party, Jane Fonda, all of them,” the retired Charlotte, N.C., police officer says. “I am the enemy.”
The reunion began Wednesday and lasts until Saturday, when members of the 31,000-strong group will elect a new leader, called the commander in chief. The group’s international headquarters is based in Columbia, Tenn.
Hilderman is running for the job against two others.
Michael Tuggle, heritage officer of the North Carolina Division and a fierce opponent of Hilderman, posted an open letter on the Internet criticizing him. Tuggle wrote he hoped the Sons would make a point of getting “up close and personal” with Hilderman at the reunion.
Hilderman, who lives in Eutawville, S.C., said he knows he has no chance of winning. He has been suspended and cannot even vote for himself. He just wants a chance to address the crowd.
Hilderman says that in the last few years, the upper ranks of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has been infiltrated by members of the League of the South, which advocates secession, and the Council of Conservative Citizens, an anti-immigration group that is a descendent of organizations that fought integration.
He claims the current commander, Ron Wilson of Easley, S.C., is transforming the organization into a fringe political group. Wilson is stepping down this year after his two-year term, as required by the group’s bylaws, but will remain active in the executive body.
Hilderman wrote Wilson last month, threatening to sue if he is injured and asked for guards during his stay in Dalton.
Both the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens have members in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but the extent of their influence is disputed. Many SCV members consider Hilderman’s claims off-base.
Allen Trapp Jr., the public relations officer for the reunion and a lawyer from Carrollton, said Hilderman’s fear of violence by league or council members is “a tempest in a teapot.”
“I’m not concerned about any serious trouble,” said Trapp, 51.
The reunion committee has sent Hilderman a list of its rules, which prohibit getting drunk, distributing non-SCV literature, using profanity, launching “attacks on character,” inciting violence and talking to the media. Rule No. 8 reads that if you don’t abide by any of the rules, you can be kicked out. “Security will be present at all times,” the rule states.
Two years ago in Tennessee, Kirk Lyons, an attorney who has represented white separatists, was narrowly defeated from holding a major post in the organization. His political ally Wilson, however, became commander.
Last year, a few chapters, called camps, in North Carolina openly criticized Wilson and his supporters as racist extremists. Wilson suspended the camps. The 350 camp members, including Hilderman, were barred from voting in Sons of Confederate Veterans elections.
Many members argue the group’s purpose is to commemorate the valor of their ancestors. The group defends displays of the Confederate battle flag and preserves monuments and grave sites, said Denne Sweeney of Texas, a commander candidate running against Hilderman.
Sweeney said he is not a member of any political organization. “I want the SCV to stay away from anything to do with politics,” he said.
In March of last year the group’s executive council debated whether to expel one of its members, Gilbert Jones, who repeatedly charged that the organization was becoming too political and that Lyons and Wilson are white supremacists. The group ultimately accepted Jones’ resignation.
Ben Sewell III, executive director of the Elm Springs Plantation, said a provision added to the organization’s constitution in September 2002 prohibits members from speaking publicly against the organization or other members.