The debate over the Confederate flag is once again at the forefront of national news and the same argument is being heard: heritage versus hate. This time around, however, the conversation is happening in the wake of nine African-American men and women losing their lives. The shooter’s motives were posted on his online manifesto, where photographs showed him next to a car with Confederate flag license plates and where he wrote he was attempting to incite a race war. He says he was truly awakened to his beliefs by the Council of Conservative Citizens’ website, a group that is headed by Earl P. Holt of Longview, Texas, and traces its roots back to the 1950s de-segregation era.
Amber Phillips, who has written about the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) for the Washington Post, says the group sprung up in opposition to the Supreme Court’s mandate to desegregate all public schools. Although they eventually dissolved, there was a resurgence in the late 1980s.
“People who were part of this council decided that there should be a new group promoting what professors who studied this called ‘neo-Confederate views,’” she says.
And what did these views include? That the Civil War was really fought over Christianity and that Southerners are of a different ancestry than the North.
“Many of the leaders of neo-Confederate groups, like the CCC, kind of spin the Bible to justify segregation and slavery,” she says.
Their connection to national and local politicians has been just as controversial. On top of Holt contributing tens of thousands of dollars to presidential candidates, Phillips’ reporting found that the group has been involved in almost every level of deep South politics, particularly in the ‘90s and early 2000s.
“It kind of flew under the radar until 1998 when national media revealed that Bob Barr, a Republican, addressed the group’s national convention,” she says. He had to publicly dispute these allegations and say he didn’t know what the group was all about. “But reporters started looking into it and found that this went from the lowest levels of politics to the highest levels of people in the deep South addressing these conventions.”
The appeal of such an old group to a young man may be striking. Phillips says that this is because after 9/11, the group became more radicalized.
“It became less and less a part of the national political scene, but more kind of an underground extreme radicalized group that someone like the Charleston shooter eventually found,” she says.