'Heritage not hate' is an oft heard refrain from Arkansans working to protect the state's dual observance of Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr. But throughout 2015 and 2016 long-established heritage groups, like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, overlapped and interacted with modern-day Southern, white nationalist groups like the League of the South on numerous occasions.
The same forces are organizing once again this legislative session, after calls by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson to honor Civil Rights leader King without the encumbrance of Confederate General Lee.
It's been a couple years and Tom Bird, the Heritage Operation Director for the Arkansas SCV, is still using Facebook regularly to communicate with members of the League of the South. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes it as the pre-eminent neo-Confederate movement.
An excerpt from a Jan. 5 post from Bird on the Arkansas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Facebook page evokes the p.c. rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump.
"I hope this puts a fire in you. In a recent meeting with the SCV and the UDC, this same governor said that he had already made a commitment to remove Robert E. Lee from the joint holiday. "WHO DID HE MAKE THIS COMMITMENT TO?" It is very plain to see that he has crawled on bored [sic] with the political correct ban wagon, Apparently he hasn't realized that there is a movement all across this country to stop the political correctness. This joint holiday is there for everyone, it doesn't cost the state any extra money. It is just another move to remove all things Confederate. This is a slap in the face to all of our veterans that fought in all the wars. Our state senators and representatives were not appointed by the governor, they are not his puppets.Stand up my Southern friends. Please make your calls and send your emails. These government officials need to know how you feel. In your communications, be nice and very short and state " the joint holiday alone". Put it on the subject line so they have to read it. The battle lines have been drawn....we have to win.....no compromise.
God Bless You All
Heritage Operations Chairman Tom Bird.
Among those commenting were several people KUAR has linked with previous meetings that involved SCV, LoS, and unaffiliated members of the so-called heritage movement.
Nick Fitzpatrick has been spotted at Confederate heritage events, with League of the South iconography, and at meetings of a militia group the Arkansas Defense Force. Randall Freeman (not a known LoS member) has participated in events including all three parties as has John Ross Bryan (not a LoS member)- who unsuccessfully ran for JP in Faulkner County as a Republican in 2016. Most may not be direct members of the LoS, and even reject some tenants of the organization, but they are familiar with it and continue to interact with members for causes like Lee/MLK Day.
While the governor has planted his feet firmly on the side of removing Lee from observances of King, Republican House Speaker Jeremy Gillam is still straddling the fence. The fourth-term state representative from Judsonia recently told KARK he'll use the holiday weekend to figure it out.
I haven't made a decision on that yet," House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said during a Thursday press conference.
Gillam says he plans to take the upcoming holiday weekend to talk with constituents and gauge support in his district. "I'm having a lot of discussions," he said.
Bird and his crew are aware of Gillam's hedging and are reaching out.
Former state Rep. Nate Bell of Mena (then a Republican, later an Independent) identified the League of the South as a force in past committee debates. He's even played a voicemail from a LoS member threatening his family and property. A former state representative, Loy Mauch (R-Bismark) was once a member and testified during 2015 battles against separating the holidays.
LoS leadership frequently refers to African-Americans as Negroes, among other more hostile terms, and believe in establishing a non-democratic, religious ethno-state in the South.
KUAR has reached out the Arkansas SCV Commander Robert Edwards for comment.