BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – As 21st century activists seek to topple monuments to the 19th-century Confederate rebellion, some white Southerners are again advocating for what the Confederates tried and failed to do: secede from the Union.
It's not an easy argument to win, and it's not clear how much support the idea has: The leading Southern nationalist group, the Alabama-based League of the South, has been making the same claim for more than two decades and still has an address in the U.S.A., not the C.S.A.
But the idea of a break-away Southern nation persists.
The League of the South's longtime president, retired university professor Michael Hill of Killen, Alabama, posted a message in July that began, “Fight or die white man” and went on to say Southern nationalists seek “nothing less than the complete reconquest and restoration of our patrimony – the whole, entire South.”
“And that means the South will once again be in name and in actuality White Man's Land. A place where we and our progeny can enjoy Christian liberty and the fruits of our own labor, unhindered by parasitical 'out groups,'” said Hill's message, which was posted on the group's Facebook page a day after a rally in support of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.
While white-controlled government is its goal, the group says in a statement of beliefs that it offers “good will and cooperation to Southern blacks in areas where we can work together as Christians to make life better for all people in the South.”
According to the U.S. Census, 55 percent of the nation's black population lived in the South in 2010, and 105 Southern counties had a black population of 50 percent or higher.
Secession also finds support on some websites that support white nationalism, including Occidental Dissent, run by a Hill associate, and the openly racist, anti-Semitic Daily Stormer.
Extremist watchdog Heidi Beirich said strict Southern nationalism seems to have been swept up into the larger white-power agenda in recent years.
Chuck Thompson's 2012 book “Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession” argued that both the United States and the South might both be best served if Southern nationalists won the argument and succeeded in forming a new nation.
The South has been at odds with the rest of the nation for generations over issues including education, race, politics, shared history and religion, Thompson said in an interview, and some things just don't change.
“It's not that just the rest of the country would be better off without them,” he said. “It's that everyone would be better off without them, both sides.”