Southern Party Ready to `Ride with Forrest'

Article excerpt

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. - It's not so much that Steven Rogers wants to see the United States break up. He just wants to return to an older, more limited form of government - and if a few states get left behind, well, so much the better.

"I'd love to take all 50 states with us, to get our constitution back," says Mr. Rogers, a store owner from Clover, S.C. "But the Northeast and some other places, a lot of people think they are beyond saving."

Mr. Rogers and a handful of other Southerners - patriots, they regard themselves - have concluded that they are best off being entirely separate from the rest of the nation. They gathered over the weekend in this suburb of Charleston to write a platform for a new party, dedicated to the proposition that the South should rise again.

"Our nation is occupied, our culture and heritage are under attack," says Ron Holland, finance director of the new Southern Party. "The problem is we have always been on the defensive against big government."

Now members of the Southern Party want to be on the offensive. They hope to organize in 17 Southern and mid-Atlantic states - perhaps a few pro-Southern states in the Southwest as well - and elect pro-secession candidates to the statehouses and governors' mansions wherever they can.

Of course, the last such drive for secession didn't work out very well. The new Southern Party wants to make secession a legal, ballot-driven exercise and avoid the military unpleasantness, the invasion of the South, and all that.

"It will have to be peaceful or it will never happen," says Herb McMillan, a retired vending service company owner from Tega Cay, S.C.

The party's principles are simple: limited government, low taxes, and self-determination for the South, which members see as a distinct and unified place, different from the North, the Pacific Northwest or the upper Midwest.

Members concede that it will be a difficult battle. The verdict of 1865 quieted talk of secession for more than a century, and the majority of people in the country seem to accept the notion of union as an unalterable fact of life.

But members also say historic change can come quickly. Walter "Donnie" Kennedy, author of "The South Was Right" and the reigning philosopher of the party, points out that nobody expected the reunification of Germany in 1989 and almost everyone was astonished by the sudden demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"All we've got to do is tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may," he says.

Although the party is almost all white, it rejects any notions of racial segregation. All Southerners, black and white, members say, share a common cultural heritage and economic interest.

Party Chairman Jerry Baxley insists that a recent e-mail letter, signed by an official of the Georgia state party, should not be viewed as a racial document, though it called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which has led a campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from public places, "an odious blight on the universe. …