Meet the Secessionist Group Waiting for the Collapse of US Empire So the "South Can Rise Again"
Since its bookish beginnings as a group dominated by academics in 1994, the League of the South (LOS) has been obsessively driven to glorify Southern history and culture, pining for the independence denied the region by federal troops 150 years ago.
But over the years, the neo-Confederate group’s platform grew to be distinctly racist, with the goal of building a theocratic South defined by “the cultural dominance of the Anglo-Celtic people and their institutions,” as its president, former Stillman College professor Michael Hill, once put it. At the same time, its early rhetoric angrily demanding that the rest of the country treat the South with more respect was replaced with explicit calls for a second secession from the “ungodly” North.
Now, the LOS agenda appears to be evolving even further, this time away from the ivory tower. Beginning in 2007, when its national conference was titled “Southern Secession: Antidote to Empire and Tyranny,” each year has seen further and more militant dedication to that idea. The theme in 2008 was “Surviving the Empire’s Collapse” — an idea of survivalist resistance that similarly has since been echoed each year with increasing enthusiasm.
During its national conference this July in Abbeville, S.C. — the self-proclaimed “birthplace and deathbed of the Confederacy” — the LOS continued in the same vein of preparing for the day the federal government collapses and the South rises again. “The mantra [that] violence, or the serious threat thereof, never settles anything is patently false,” Hill said in a prepared speech that was later posted on the group’s website. “History shows that it indeed does settle many things. Please don’t forget this — your enemy hasn’t.”
For two days at the conference, more than 100 members sat through workshops delivered with end-of-days flair and focused on surviving the unrest to come. Pastor John Weaver, former “chaplain-in-chief” for the Southern heritage group Sons of Confederate Veterans and a member of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, gave lessons on basic gun safety. Franklin Sanders, considered the LOS’s No. 2 man, encouraged members to invest in silver and gold — the idea being that when the government collapses, so will the Federal Reserve. There were also training sessions on how to stock and maintain a home pantry, lessons on how to hunt and track, and calls for members to buy shortwave radios and begin using them instead of telephones.
Hill said much to suggest that a physical fight is brewing. “He who is willing to die for a cause will defeat one who isn’t,” he told his listeners. “Always act as if you are fighting in the last ditch for the survival of all you hold dear.” Later, Hill added, “We are already at war — we just don’t know it.”
For a group that initially defined itself as a kind of political club for culturally concerned intellectual Southerners, this apparent embrace of survivalist paramilitarism comes as something of a surprise. But in many ways, the conference marked the culmination of a long and steady march toward the extremist fringe.
For years, in fact, there have been hints of hard-line militancy from some key LOS members. At a meeting of the LOS’s Georgia chapter in March, Hill had compiled a list of supplies to keep for the day the “Evil Empire” toppled. He encouraged members to stock up on assault weapons (AK-47s are preferred because they require less maintenance) and plenty of ammunition. He said a family would need 400 rounds of ammunition to last in the woods for two days, and he even recommended the style of bullets — deadly hollow points. He also recommended families equip themselves with tools to derail trains and a deer-hunting rifle with a scope.
“American deer hunters are the largest army in the world,” Hill said.
As clear as this evolution seems, the LOS has fervently denied anything is afoot beyond a reasoned response to troubled times. After the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog drew attention to the group’s increasing militancy, Mike Tuggle, editor of the LOS blog Rebellion, mocked the suggestion that the game had changed. “Lord help us, they’re canning vegetables!” he wrote of his compatriots.
But there is other evidence of the league’s mounting radicalism. Consider the case of Michael Tubbs of the Florida division of LOS and the increasingly prominent role the former Green Beret demolitions expert has played in the group in recent years.
In the 1990s, Tubbs pleaded guilty to theft and conspiracy for stealing weapons from the military — some of them at gunpoint from fellow soldiers. The case went back to 1987, when then-Sgt. 1st Class Michael R. Tubbs and another Army Green Beret, toting automatic weapons fitted with silencers and dressed completely in black, robbed two fellow soldiers of their M-16 rifles during a routine exercise at Fort Bragg. “This is for the KKK!” they shouted as they fled.
Years later, after an informant talked, authorities broke the case and found several caches containing machine guns, 25 pounds of TNT, land mines, an anti-aircraft gun, grenades, 45 pounds of C-4 plastic explosive and more. Prosecutors said Tubbs had drawn up a list of targets including newspapers, television stations and businesses owned by Jews and black people, though none was ever attacked.
But none of that caused the LOS to back away from Tubbs. In fact, Hill and others in the LOS today seem to be giving Tubbs more airtime than ever.
At the Abbeville conference this summer, Tubbs gave a major speech on why reforming the federal system is impossible. Using rhetoric reminiscent of that of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, Tubbs told the national gathering to withhold loyalty from the federal government and instead pledge allegiance to the Southern National Congress, a neo-Confederate group focused exclusively on advancing a new secession through political means. Tubbs’ presentation also included a seven-part strategy to “delegitimate” the federal government through the establishment of “organic local communities.”
“The beast is dying and dragging us with it,” Tubbs said.
For Hill — a former history professor, with expertise in Celtic traditions, at Alabama’s historically black Stillman College — the coming fight is no different than Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace’s insurgent war against the British. In fact, he first developed his ideas about Southern heritage in the 1970s, expanding on the theory that the South was different from the materialistic, ungodly North because its white population was “Anglo-Celtic” and fully embraced “Orthodox” Christianity — a belief that led to the creation of the LOS. Now, Hill seems to believe that the only way to defend the South against the “Jacobin” egalitarianism and secular humanism of the North is through force of arms.
“What would it take to get you to fight? … What would it take to turn you into a William Wallace?” Hill asked in opening his Abbeville speech. “We are not made to live in isolation. Rather, we here in the South are a people. … The South is where we make our stand.”
The LOS also continues to associate itself with other hard-line extremists, including Larry Darby, an Alabama man who was once a leading atheist activist but more recently has spent time associating on friendly terms with neo-Nazis and denying the Holocaust. Even Pastor John Weaver, who has defended American slavery, continues to be a mainstay.
At the same time, there are worries that LOS’ influence on the radical right may be spreading. Matthew Heimbach, a member of the league’s Maryland division and an attendee of the Abbeville conference, claimed on a YouTube video posted this July that his league chapter would be working with Youth for Western Civilization (YWC), a campus group that already had ties to a number of other white nationalist organizations. Heimbach described YWC as having “similar principles to us and similar goals.”
Also at this year’s conference in South Carolina, Weaver held a class with a focus on armed battle. He showed a gathering of about 60 people how to draw a pistol, how to hold it and not accidentally shoot the weapon, even how to draw down on an enemy. “Divine providence always arranges the time for fighting. You must remember, God is the god of war,” he reassured them. “Do you realize when God is involved, the outcome is guaranteed? When God is involved, victory is assured. When God is involved, there is no failure.”