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A new political party in Virginia and throughout the South seeks to promote the interests of all Southerners. And they're willing to secede to do it.

Rising Again?


Picture a country a little bit like Switzerland.

It's neutral and doesn't fight offensive wars, but protects its borders with a standing citizen's army who take their weapons home with them after exercises. The weak central government handles a few tasks and is funded by a flat tax on every citizen, but mostly governing is left up to semi-autonomous regions within the country. There's prayer in the schools, term limits and tightly regulated borders.

But this country isn't in Europe. In fact, it's right here.

It's called the Confederate States of America.

Well, it's not exactly here yet, but to hear Jerry Baxley tell it, it's on its way.

Baxley, an auctioneer who lives in Chesterfield, is chairman of Virginia's Southern Party, which registered with the State Board of Elections in June. He is also vice chairman of Southern National Committee, which is in the process of establishing the party in all of the Southern States. The party is currently registered in Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Texas.

The broad goal of the Southern Party, which launches officially at a rally in Flat Rock, N.C., Aug. 7, is to champion right-wing causes such as limited government and states' rights. But the party is taking that unremarkable conservative agenda one radical step forward. Its ultimate goal is to elect enough Southerners to local, state and national office to declare independence and to accomplish what the South couldn't more than 130 years ago — secession from the United States.

Its platform will emphasize the 1st, 2nd and 10th amendments (freedom of religion, right to bear arms and sovereignty of states), neutrality, an end to affirmative action and set-asides and the promotion of Southern heritage.

Baxley says the party hopes to have a slate of candidates to run in local and state elections by 2002.

In person, Baxley, who is well-dressed in khaki pants, shirt, tie and a blue blazer with a Confederate States of America flag lapel pin, is as articulate and personable as the idea of secession seems far-fetched.

"The Southern people are so different from everybody else," he says, sitting, sipping an iced tea in the bar at Charley's Stony Point Cafe. "We all base our views on our beliefs in our God and our beliefs in our ancestors. We literally pay homage to our ancestors." Southerners, he says, share a common background, experience and interests.

But he adds that those interests have been abandoned by the federal government and the Democratic and Republican parties. Southerners are not represented in a "fair and equitable manner," Baxley says. "I watched the [Republican] party start to disintegrate. ... They were not representing the needs of Virginia's people and Southern people."

Last year, Baxley and some of his colleagues in The League of the South — what Baxley describes as a nonprofit group that celebrates Southern heritage — formed the Southern Party Exploratory Committee. When the SPEC met in April, it decided such an overtly nationalistic party was viable and formed the Southern National Committee.

He says the impeachment of President Clinton had a lot to do with it. "After the Republicans rolled over and played dead for Clinton, that tore it," Baxley says. Recent votes on gun control, in which some Republicans voted for control and some Democrats opposed it, illustrate how the two parties have become interchangeable with neither representing the South, Baxley says.

"That is where the Southern people have drawn the line in the sand. That is why the Southern Party was born," Baxley says.

Baxley is adamant in his affirmation of state sovereignty and explains that secession is the right of the Southern states. But he says it may not come to that. The important thing is to get control of the states and give the power back to the people. "We may not have to secede," Baxley says. With a solid bloc made up of 90 million Southerners in 16 states, the rest of the country will secede to us," Baxley says.

Some local observers aren't quite as certain of the party's chances for success as Baxley is.

"What a bunch of nuts," says Chris LaCivita, the executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia. LaCivita says that the Republican Party is absolutely the party of states' rights and limited government. "I'm a huge 10th Amendment supporter, so are most Republicans," LaCivita says.

"I think most people who are realistic in politics know that secession is not an option," he adds. "I think it's a bunch of guys with too much time on their hands."

Larry J. Sabato agrees. The director of the University of Virginia's Center for Governmental Studies says, "It's not going to amount to much in most places, maybe all places." But Sabato does concede that the party may find limited success at the local level, where Baxley says it will concentrate its initial efforts. Sabato says that in local elections where only a thousand or so votes are cast in a close race, small parties can have an impact.

"[But] I wouldn't even bet on that happening," Sabato says.

In spite of political naysayers, Baxley remains profoundly confident that Southern people will flock to the banner of the Southern Party, which happens to be the third national flag of the Confederacy, adopted in 1865.

Baxley says it's a party whose time is long overdue, and the interest is outpacing organizing efforts. He says he receives about 100 to 125 e-mails daily about the Southern Party, and answers about 35 or 40 phone calls to the Party's headquarters in Chesterfield. Baxley is a bit overwhelmed. He has been fielding interview requests from the Associated Press, National Public Radio, The New York Times, and radio stations and newspapers all across the country and the world.

Baxley says Southern expatriates from as far away as Belize and Hong Kong have expressed interest in joining. He estimates that about 1,000 people have officially joined, which he says is impressive given the fact that the party has only existed since mid-May.

The party charges a $25 membership fee, but so far that's all of the fund-raising Baxley has had time for.

"The influx of people coming in has been absolutely incredible. I have absolutely never seen this kind of movement of grassroots people," Baxley says.

Though pundits like Sabato dismiss the party's drawing power, Mark Potok sees a "burgeoning neo-Confederate movement" at work. Potok, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center and editor of the Intelligence Report, the SPLC's quarterly journal covering the radical right, cites the growth of groups like the League of the South, the Conservative Citizens Council, and the Southern Party as proof.

"Our concern with all of these groups is we're getting a broader and broader neo-Confederate movement, one that seeks to impose a social order that goes back [to the 19th century]," Potok says. Potok stops short of calling the League of the South a racist group, but he does feel that much of its Christian and Anglo-Celtic rhetoric can and does attract individuals with racist tendencies.

Baxley dismisses any concerns about racism in the Southern Party. He says what makes the South unique is that it has been able to blend diverse cultures into a common heritage, and all of those cultures are important to the South. "Black, white, red, we're all Southern," Baxley says. "The values of all the races in the South are the same values. ... Southern people are so intertwined with all their culture, that we no longer look at it as this group, that group," Baxley says. "We're a party for everyone, all Southerners," Baxley explains. "If you believe in what we think, we want

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