In the wake of the church massacre that left nine dead in South Carolina, the state Senate voted by an overwhelming majority to remove the Confederate Battle flag from the Capitol.
And while a swell of opponents to that decision have held rallies in support of the Confederate flag across the South, some leading to violent clashes, support for the flag in the halls of political power has always run deep.
On the eve of the South Carolina House of Representatives taking up the bill on Wednesday, a look at Sens. Lee Bright and Danny Verdin III, two of the three senators who voted against removing the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, shows why the change is so hard for some.
For them, it’s not heritage. It’s a deep and abiding association with the radical right. And after examining both Verdin and Bright’s past, it’s not difficult to see why both voted against removing the Confederate flag.
Sen. Lee Bright
Elected in 2008, Senator Bright has a deep history of ties to racists and neo-Confederate southern nationalists.
In May, 2009, Bright spoke at a “Rally for Sovereignty” held at the state house, where he shared the dais with Roan Garcia-Quintana, a white nationalist. A year before he shared the stage with Bright, Garcia-Quintana spoke at the national conference of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the group responsible for inspiring Dylann Roof, according to the gunman’s assumed manifesto posted online just before the shootings.
At a 2012 “Day of Resistance Rally” in Greenville, Bright claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court could dissolve the states if it desired. He has said immigrants should “self-deport,” asserted that able-bodied people who rely on food stamps “shouldn’t eat,” and accused U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham of being a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Bright also advocated abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, which he claims President Obama has trained as “Brown Shirts” to enforce the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by such ideas, he has promoted the idea of reigniting the Civil War, wisecracking at one point, “If at first you don’t secede, try again.”
Bright’s perennial campaign manager, Christopher Sullivan, is very active in neo-Confederate circles, too. A former national commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a Confederate heritage organization, whose ranks have been infiltrated by racists for a number of years, Sullivan is also the former editor of the now defunct Southern Partisan, a controversial neo-Confederate magazine that once depicted antebellum slaves as happy and slave traders as benevolent.
Sen. Danny Verdin III
Verdin has served in the South Carolina Senate since 2001, but his defense of the Confederate flag and his associations with hate groups predates his time in office.
In 2000, Verdin was one of the main speakers at a huge “Heritage Celebration” in Columbia, S.C., to defend the flag. At that celebration, Verdin shared the podium with several prominent neo-Confederate hate group leaders as well as white supremacist Kirk Lyons, a white supremacist lawyer who co-founded and serves as “the chief trial counsel” for the Southern Legal Resource Center. More than 6,000 people attended, many in period dress. Activists also unfurled on the Statehouse steps what is said to be the largest Confederate battle flag in existence — a huge piece of cloth owned by the CCC.
That same year, Verdin spoke at a large neo-Confederate gathering in Montgomery, Ala., sharing the event with Michael Hill, longtime president of the hate group League of the South (LOS) who was the opening speaker.
Despite the repeated reports of his ties to extremist groups, all of which he denied, Verdin was elected to the South Carolina Senate in 2000. But shortly after, an email written by Christopher Sullivan appeared on the LOS website asking for donations for Verdin’s campaign. Despite those attempts to distance himself from his extremist ties, the LOS supported Verdin.
Verdin also has promoted an anti-immigrant agenda during his time in office. He served as a member of State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI), a coalition of anti-immigrant state lawmakers brought together by the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
FAIR’s legal arm helped to draft anti-immigrant legislation and the lawmakers in the SLLI coalition, then introduced it in their states. At an SLLI event at the National Press Club, Verdin attacked undocumented immigrants, stating, “It’s just to be poisoned over time or to be sick over a long period of time or to have a sudden lethal dose of poison or something that brings on a calamity. In this case the malady can be cured. It’s not too late.”
This article was first published on the Hatewatch blog.