North Carolina members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) collaborated with other neo-Confederate and far-right groups in failed efforts to preserve Confederate monuments in the state, according to emails, documents, and videos reviewed by the Guardian.
Members of the coalition of groups protesting the removal of Confederate monuments include a man with simultaneous membership in SCV and League of the South (LOS), and at least one attendee of the rally at the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January which turned into an attack on the building.
The SCV is a neo-Confederate group dedicated to preserving what it sees as southern heritage, in particular Confederate statues and war memorials, in spite of the rise of Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests, which frequently target such statues as memorials to racism and slavery.
James Smithson, a member both of SCV and the SCV’s Mechanized Cavalry (SCVMC), a motorcycle-riding “special interest group” attached to the organization, sent an after-action email to members after a 14 September 2019 rally in Pittsboro, North Carolina, organized in defense of a statue of a Confederate soldier which had stood outside the city’s courthouse since 1907. The email reported on the rally as a “win” for the organization, though the statue was removed by the city the following November.
Related: Revealed: neo-Confederate group includes military officers and politicians
Smithson noted the presence of 32 SCV members at the event, including James Shillinglaw, an SCV and SCVMC member who is also a member of LOS, which the Southern Poverty Law Center defines as a hate group. Shillinglaw, who attended the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, was also in attendance at subsequent rallies in Pittsboro, even after the SCV had ordered members to stand down from the increasingly contentious events.
Smithson also noted the presence of “Steve Marley and Laura Ray of ACTBAC”, or Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, another SPLC-designated neo-Confederate hate group. ACTBAC has been active in statue protests in North Carolina at locations including Pittsboro, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Graham.
In Graham on 20 May 2017 – more than two years before the event where SCV rubbed shoulders with identified members, and just weeks before Unite the Right – an ACTBAC rally was attended by Kyle Rogers, the former webmaster for the Council of Concerned Citizens (CCC), the neo-Confederate group whose online propaganda was credited by Dylann Roof as playing a central part in his radicalization in the lead-up to his massacre of black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015.
Also present at the Graham event were two men who were arrested after unfurling a flag associated with white nationalism groups.
Marley, who was a central organizer of the 2019 Pittsboro protest, thanked SCV and SCVMC for their participation in the “complete success” of the rally in a Facebook post after the event.
Along with them, he thanked a range of more radical neo-Confederate groups including the Hiwaymen, an Arkansas group led by Billy Helton, also known as Billy Sessions, who have attended contentious protests over statues throughout the south, and have also appeared at violent rallies as far away as Portland, Oregon. Helton has frequently endorsed political violence in social media videos.
Earlier this year, Marley posted footage of his own participation in the Capitol riot on 6 January. In the footage, provided to the Guardian by North Carolina anti-racist activist Lindsay Ayling, and filmed from Marley’s perspective, a large group of people can be seen approaching the Capitol from the exterior, and at one point a man’s voice can be heard saying, “We’re storming the Capitol.”
In a post accompanying the video, Marley wrote, “If you’re one that thinks storming the Capital House was wrong, you might want to quietly exit my FB,” and, “We made the charge to let the tyrants know that we are here.”
The email as seen by the Guardian was forwarded to SCV members by the organization’s state leader, R Kevin Stone.
Stone is also co-founder and self-styled “general” of SCVMC. That group’s motto, “Ride as you would with Forrest”, refers to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a prominent Confederate cavalry officer whose troops massacred hundreds of men who had already surrendered at the Battle of Fort Pillow, and who was the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, and its leader when it adopted terror tactics in the face of Reconstruction from the late 1860s.
Stone also sits on the SCV’s national executive council, as department commander of the Army of Northern Virginia Department, one of a number of regional sub-groupings of several states whose arrangement is patterned on the command structure of the Confederate army during the US civil war.
Stone works as a probation officer for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, in a state where, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, 61% of incarcerated people are black.
Stone has reportedly been implicated in an investigation by the North Carolina Board of Elections into the SCV-connected NC Heritage PAC, which has allegedly illegally shuffled money from SCV members to state Republicans.
Smithson and Stone did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
A spokesman for the North Carolina elections board said that campaign finance investigations are confidential under North Carolina law, and offered no further comment. The North Carolina department of public safety did not immediately respond to a question on Stone’s employment status with the agency.