Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, says an Alabama organization — which has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group — didn’t help him write his bill that would strengthen Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act, but that two members of that organization, one of them a judge, did.
Holmes’s House Bill 242 would enhance penalties in the state’s Memorial Preservation Act by enacting a $10,000 daily fine for elected officials and institutions, such as universities, for every day a monument is removed.
Holmes told APR Tuesday he’s always been interested in U.S. and Alabama history, and that he doesn’t believe the Civil War was fought primarily over slavery but rather over tariffs.
“It’s very important to me. I believe in the old adage, if you deny your history or don’t remember your history, you’re doomed to repeat,” Holmes said.
Holmes said he drafted the bill after seeing many violations of the act since it was passed in 2017. Confederate monuments have been taken down across the South, including monuments in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile. Monuments on several college campuses and buildings named in honor of people with ties to the Confederacy have also been removed or renamed.
“I started getting grassroots contacts from all over the state. Strong, strong organizations from all stripes. Historians, attorneys, judges, from all over the state, saying we’ve got to fix this,” Holmes said.
The Southern Cultural Center in Wetumpka, which is identified as a neo-Confederate hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a Facebook post on Feb. 4, stated that the group aided in the writing of Holmes’s bill.
“For the past 8 months the Southern Cultural Center has been a member of a special team of our people to rewrite the disastrously and disappointing Monument 2017 law. This was requested by Representative Mike Holmes District 31,” the post reads. “The rewrite is complete and Rep Mike Holmes has introduced it into the 2021 Legislative Session.”
Holmes told APR that the Southern Cultural Center did not help him write the bill, but that two members of the center — whom Holmes identified as a historian and a judge — did help him as he drafted the legislation.
“I was looking for expertise wherever I could get it,” Holmes said.
Asked to identify the judge, Holmes said: “I’m not going to tell you. He’s asked to remain anonymous.”
Asked whether the public should know who helps write the legislation drafted by elected officials, Holmes noted polling that shows strong Republican support for protecting Confederate monuments.
“So there’s my motivation. It has nothing to do with what you’re talking about,” Holmes said.
A Morning Consult poll in June 2020 found that 71 percent of Republicans polled said Confederate monuments should remain standing, down from 75 percent who said so in 2017. The 2020 poll found that 32 percent of all voters wanted the monuments taken down, up from 26 percent who said so in 2017.
Holmes said that while the majority of people in Birmingham might vote to take down such monuments, it’s the majority of the people statewide who support his efforts.
Mike Whorton, chairman of the Southern Cultural Center, told APR by phone on Tuesday that the Facebook post by the center references the center’s support of the bill. He declined to say who posted to the center’s Facebook page a statement that said the center had been a member of the team that was rewriting the bill at Holmes’ request.
“We were not involved, or we’re not involved in the drafting of the bill and the writing of the bill,” Whorton said, adding that the center supports the bill and wants to preserve such monuments.
Asked about Holmes’ statement that two center members did help him as he drafted the bill, Whorton said the center does have supporters who aren’t members.
“But we don’t have a judge that’s a member, that I know of,” Whorton said.
Whorton said he was unaware that the SPLC had placed the center on its list of hate groups, adding that he’d visited the SPLC’s website a week before and didn’t see the center listed. He disagrees with the SPLC labeling the center as a hate group. Whorton said the center holds courses on survival prepping and CPR.
“A lot of things are going on in this country and people need to be prepared to take care of themselves when push comes to shove,” Whorton said. “That’s what we’re involved in. We love our southern culture and it’s not against anybody else’s culture. We’re not trying to hurt anybody else.”
The Southern Cultural Center on its website states that “an intentional attack is underway against the South and all of our institutions” and that since the start of the Civil War, there’s been an attempt to rob states of their sovereignty.
“The Southern Cultural Center believes that the answer to these problems is a free and independant [sic] Southern republic,” the center’s website states.
“We will work to preserve the traditional culture of the South, which makes us a unique people,” writes the center’s executive committee in a statement on its website. “We will work to educate all about our unique culture, both fellow Southerners as well as those that don’t share our culture. We will work to regain control of our own political destiny free of federal control of our State and local governments.”
“We will work to restore the biblical Christian foundations of the Southern people. We will work to preserve and erect monuments, street names, flags, music, and literature that honour the South’s glorious past and future,” the statement continues.
The SPLC in a response to APR said that the Southern Cultural Center and its five chapters — located in Wetumpka, Dothan, Northport, Oxford and Weogufka — were placed on the hate group list in 2020, and that the center formed in 2018, over a fallout between Whorton, who had been a League of the South member and chairman of the group’s Alabama chapter, and Michael Hill, president of the League of the South.
The League of the South, also listed as a hate group by the SPLC, was sued civilly over its involvement in the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally Charlottesville. One of its members was sentenced to two years after being convicted of beating a Black man with a stick at the rally. The lawsuit is ongoing.
The league had for years held its annual conferences at the center’s Wetumpka building, but in December 2018, Hill announced that the center would no longer rent its Wetumpka building to the league.
The SPLC reported that Whorton resigned from the League of the South in late 2018, and disbanded the league’s William Lowndes Yancey chapter, which was based in Wetumpka, and that the center planned to issue a new mission statement in January.
“We don’t have anything to do with them at all, and it’s not because of Charlottesville,” Whorton told APR, referring to the league. “It’s just a difference of … it’s just a difference. I think we all know what a difference is.”
“We put on our gospel armor … and when you fight, the Lord comes with a sword, and he expects us to be men and women and get out there and fight” in the face of “cultural genocide,” Whorton said in a speech on the steps of the Alabama Capitol in 2015, on behalf of the league, SPLC reported.
“The new organization clearly resembled the former LOS in its description of its mission to ‘preserve the traditional culture of the South,’” the SPLC’s statement reads. “They have specifically denigrated immigrants, blaming them for destroying the United States and Europe. ‘3rd world immigrants,’ the group has written, have ‘invaded Europe until they’ve literally sucked the life blood from our former homelands’ and brought ‘ungodly customs and religions into our homes and cities.’”
Holmes’s monuments bill was read for the first time on Feb. 2 and moved to the House State Government Committee. That committee doesn’t yet have a scheduled meeting in this legislative session.
“I’m nervous about that, but I’m communicating constantly with the chairman of that committee,” Holmes told APR on Tuesday. “He’s as frustrated as I am. He’s got bills backing up on him. They’re all gonna be demanding to be heard before they go to the full House.”