Tuesday, Aug 3, 2004
By ASHLEY E. BONE/Staff Writer
The new commander in chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said Monday he has a new agenda following the group’s annual convention in Dalton, Ga.
Denne Sweeney of Ferris, Texas, was elected to commander in chief of the SCV on Saturday, when 700 delegates met.
On the ballot were Troy Massey of Harrison, Ark., Walt Hilderman of Eutawville, S.C., and Sweeney.
Hilderman has claimed that the group’s former leader, Ron Wilson, was attempting to turn the organization into a white national organization rather than a heritage group. Hilderman, founder of a group called Save the SCV, was banned from attending the convention and voting for the new head.
Sweeney and Executive Director Ben Sewell, of Columbia, where the international SCV corporation is based at Elm Springs, both denied Hilderman’s allegations that SCV is a political group and a union of white supremacists.
"I’ve traveled across the country and met thousands of SCV members, but I’ve yet to meet an authentic KKK member in this organization," Sweeney said. "If there are, they better keep quiet around me because I’m not going to tolerate any of it. We’re a heritage organization that tries to protect the confederate soldiers’ good name and history."
The newly elected members had their first board meeting following the election, where Hilderman’s allegations were discussed and a decision was made to appoint an inspector to investigate the case, Sweeney said.
"We have black members, Jewish members and Hispanic members. Our membership requirement is a lineal or collateral descendent of a member of confederate armed forces who served honorably," Sewell said. "It’s one thing to call someone racists or Nazis but Hilderman just made hollow allegations that are not substantiated.
"Hilderman has made very libelous statements that he cannot support. I’ve seen many quotes in the press using derogatory statements that I wouldn’t use on my worst enemy," Sweeney said. "I have never seen anything in the SCV that he is talking about."
Sweeney added that SCV members passed a resolution Saturday urging that Hilderman be expelled from the group.
"Hilderman has spoken out so vocally that many members want to expel him. Our group’s constitution has a policy to suspend or expel individuals who try to undermine the organization, but we have to give him due process first," Sweeney said.
Sweeney said more about the Hilderman case will be known after the inspector’s report is completed in time for the next board of directors meeting in October.
Sweeney said SCV member Kirk Lyons is pursuing a lawsuit to get organization members a protected status.
"Frequently people who are descendants of Confederate veterans are discriminated against, like getting fired from jobs for putting a Confederate flag on a tool box. We want to make sure they have some kind of protection like other minority groups," Sweeney said. "I see no differences in someone with a Confederate flag pin, American flag pin or state flag pin. It’s a symbol of heritage and when worn honorably it should be treated like any other symbol. If someone wants to wear a label pin or picture of Robert E. Lee on their tee shirt, they should be able to without someone getting in their face about it."
He said the SCV wants to protect people’s First Amendment rights.
"We’re a heritage group and we want to stay that way. We aren’t a political group," Sweeney said. "We get involved with things perceived as political, but we view it as First Amendment Rights and anyone can sue over that."
Some goals of the SCV are fixing veteran’s monuments, cleaning up graves and bringing historical Civil War programs to schools. More than 500 unmarked graves have been marked with a veteran affairs headstone during the last six years in Hazard, Ky., by the local chapter, Colonel Benjamin Caudill SCV camp.
"In our eyes, it’s part of American history. It used to be taught in schools and we want to honor them and have the true history of the period from 1861-1865 taught to future generations," Sewell said.
Upon his election, Sweeney appointed former president Wilson to the post of lieutenant commander in chief, but said he will work closely with all the members of the SCV.
"We have had a lot of distention in ranks and I want to work hard to rebuild trust among members. I informed the council Saturday that I view everyone as equals and friends," Sweeney said.
The local camp in Columbia is called the Sam Watkins SCV Camp No. 29. It meets at the Elm Springs mansion the third Tuesday of every month and has approximately 60 members. Nationwide, 31,000 members are in the SCV.
Copyright Columbia Daily Herald.