This past weekend the League of the South decided to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the July 22 cabinet meeting in which Lincoln shared his thoughts on an emancipation proclamation by meeting themselves in their own facility in Alabama. Judging from what we’ve heard on websites, blogs, and on several Facebook discussion groups, one major theme of the meeting, as emphasized by the president of the League of the South, Michael Hill, is that the League wants to eschew being politically correct and denounces what it calls “rainbow Confederates.” Among those being charged with being a Rainbow Confederate obsessed by political correctness is none other than Connie Chastain, who spent whatever hours she had this past weekend that were not devoted to attacking me to doing battle with her foes on Facebook, her preferred field of battle (her blog has not been updated since June 18).
It’s not the first time Chastain has been so described. Indeed, Hunter Wallace has been applying that label to her for some time. What intrigues me about this recent debate is that to raise the question of whether Connie Chastain is a Rainbow Confederate (and what that term means) sheds some light into the internal dynamics of the relationship between “southern heritage,” southern nationalism, and white supremacy.
In one corner we have Hunter Wallace, who runs Occidental Dissent, as well as the folks at Southern Nationalist Network. These folks favor a race-based white supremacist/separatist movement, and they make no bones about it (watch SNN squirm about this: Wallace has the courage of his convictions). Wallace has no problem highlighting the white supremacist roots of the Confederacy. Yes, these folks are interested in history, but they are more interested in achieving their goal, and in Wallace’s case, the new white republic need not be located in the area of the former Confederacy.
In a second corner we have the League of the South, which can’t quite make up its mind about how it wants to view issues of race. Does it believe in white supremacy? Perhaps. Would its independent South exclude blacks? I don’t believe so. Why my uncertainty? Because the League waffles a bit on these issues (having just changed its stance on the word “racism”). That’s one reason why OD and SNN were so pleased by the events of last weekend … because they have not always been happy with the League’s seeming moderation (although I emphasize “seeming”) on such issues. As for its understanding of history, the League is also interested in crafting a usable past to buttress its political positions.
And then we have the group denounced this past weekend by OD, SNN, and the League … the so-called Rainbow Confederates. First of all, it’s important to understand that this is a label devised by people who want to lump together folks like the Virginia Flaggers, the Southern Heritage Preservation Group, and Chastain. They describe the social views of these people in ways that might make them sound as if they are welcome in polite society (or that they are the covert arm of the despicable antisouthern blogging movement, a label “invented” by the very people who now find themselves labelled by their critics who don’t see them as truly committed to the real Confederate cause. Ah, irony). According to these critics, the Rainbow Confederates are tolerant of racial differences, embrace “political correctness” (and thus are incorrect Confederates), and seek some sort of biracial southern future (multiracial seems to be too much of a reach: even Chastain still sees the world in black/white terms, which is surprising given that she resides in Florida). The use of “rainbow” as a modifier is designed to tell the rest of us that this is a group that tolerates, even embraces difference: thus the interest for some in black Confederates or black supporters such as H. K. Edgerton or Virginia Flagger Karen Cooper. And, as before, this group is interested in fabricating a heritage at odds with the historical record, largely to serve their own political beliefs. They are not really interested in taking on OD, SNN, and so on, in part, I suspect, because they secretly believe much of what those groups espouse.
This is how it looks to an outsider … I’m sure insiders will pick away at this categorization and description, and we all welcome clarification in the interest of accuracy.
And so it falls to me to do something many of you who wallow in personalities (and thus miss the point) will find shocking: I agree with Connie Chastain. She’s not a Rainbow Confederate. She’s at best a white paternalist who rejects most forms of racial (and gender) equality, defends antiSemitic rantings, and has demonstrated an intolerance of sexual choices and lifestyles. In short, she’s not tolerant at all: she reluctantly accepts what she has to accept. She’s not alone among those who are being labeled Rainbow Confederates, but she’s someone whose views have been examined here in the past. Her problem is that she, too, waffles, largely for appearance’s sake, and perhaps because she knows that she would further diminish her already limited readership if she was to be candid about her convictions. If she had the courage of those convictions, I suspect she would not be targeted as she was (well, the truth is that last weekend it was Connie Chastain who instigated the fight on the League of the South’s Facebook page, so he presented herself as a rather easy target in true Chastain style, complete with charging everyone who disagreed with her as being a liar and answering questions with questions rather than defining her own position in her own words).
Chastain’s own muddled method of presentation and argument has allowed her critics to take her apart. She’s not ready for prime time, and had mistaken a bit of cyberspace notoriety for real influence. Yet she remains a figure of interest and amusement (as well as a useful example for people to make a point). Wallace shared with us her expulsion from the League of the South’s Facebook group; Chastain responded that she’s been readmitted and had been in contact with Hill, who once highlighted his friendship with her. That might give Wallace and SNN cause to pause.
UPDATE July 27, 2012: Here’s what Michael Hill says in response to Chastain’s comment that she’s back in the League’s FB discussion group page:
Note: Despite what Simpson writes, Connie has not been allowed back on the League FB page. If she has, it was done without my knowledge and consent.
So, folks, I think we outsiders are wrong to place the emphasis on “rainbow” in “rainbow Confederate.” It’s a modifier used to denote distance where in fact very little exists. I’d emphasize the “Confederate” in the term as a reminder of just how much these groups have in common, even as they continue to disagree about the history of the Old South, slavery, and the Confederacy. Even then, “Confederate” is a bit of a distortion, because in truth there is no Confederacy and there are no Confederates. I believe “white supremacist” is more accurate.
As for what all this means for Confederate heritage groups (namely the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy), well, these folks might want to think before they get involved in this fracas, lest they prove their most devoted critics to be right after all. And for the rest of us, well, this is another case study in the interplay between the past, history, memory, and heritage, as well as how people seek to craft a memory of the past to serve present concerns.