Originally created 01/02/00

'Southron' man fights to protect heritage, freedom, flag



JOHNSTON, S.C. -- Virgil Huston has Confederate ancestors who fought in what he cannot bring himself to call the Civil War, but he seldom looks back through that narrow window of time.

He says he prefers to concentrate on what's happening now and what the future will be like for his teen-age daughter and son:

"I'm not as worried about my granddaddy as I am my kids. I put my energy into current causes and stay more focused on the future. One problem the Southern movement has is that so many people are focused on a four- to five-year period a century ago when Southern history is so much more than that going back to the colonization of this country in the 1600s. Southerners won the Revolutionary War. Southerners gave us the Constitution."

And he says it is Southerners who have always tried to live up to the Constitution, although many have ceased to prefer freedom to the security that government programs tend to promise.

Mr. Huston's battlefront is the Internet, which is doing more than perhaps any other forum to encourage Southerners who used to feel like dinosaurs, clinging to ancient ideals about how free people ought to live and how government ought to let them alone to do it.

He recalls the night two years ago that he first found the League of the South on the Web. His father -- also named Virgil Huston, of Aiken -- had read about the league and called its founder to make sure it was not affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan before getting involved in it. Then he told his son about the group, which is actively working to achieve a free Southern nation. It attracts intellectuals, readers, analytical thinkers, watchers of freedom and separatist movements around the world, and people like Mr. Huston who tend to act on their beliefs.

"I looked up the Web site and read until 3 in the morning," recalled the younger Mr. Huston, 44. "I realized for the first time there are a lot of people out there who think like me. I'm not by myself. I've heard a lot of other people say the same thing since then. We are not alone."

One person who promotes that sense of unity is Mr. Huston, whose name is known to thousands who cruise Southern sites, although most never met the man whom closer associates describe as having strength of character and an unswerving sense of right and wrong. Like many who call themselves "Southrons," the old-fashioned name for Southerners, he is committed to making a difference in the world his children will inherit and preparing them to live in it.

He maintains e-mail contact with hundreds who have asked to be told when something new goes onto the sites that he maintains himself, often signing off simply as "Virgil."

Mr. Huston designed and maintains Web sites for the League of the South in South Carolina -- something he volunteered to do when he became a member -- and the South Carolina Heritage Coalition, which will hold a huge celebration in Columbia next weekend, including a show of support for the Confederate flag on the state Capitol dome.

He also designed sites for the Southern Anti-Bigotry Coalition, which combats negative portrayals of Southerners, their heritage and culture, and the Southern Legal Resource Center, a nonprofit legal organization that concentrates on heritage and free-speech issues.

The Edgefield Journal, a Confederate States newspaper published in Edgefield by nonagenarian William Walton Mims and edited by Mr. Huston, also has a Web site.

It all means hours of his own time in a basement office and little time to work on his own Kudzumedia site, which -- so far -- has nothing on it but a link to the Heritage Coalition. By day he manages a technical communications department for a company in Batesburg. By night, he hunkers down in front of a computer monitor and keeps working.

His task has intensified since summer, when the NAACP called for a tourism boycott of South Carolina as long as it flies a Confederate naval jack -- an elongated version of the battle flag -- over its Capitol. Although it's a debate that has increased accusations of racism -- "a real thorn in the side" -- against flag supporters, Webmaster Huston has been in the thick of it.

He says he appreciates those who see the flag as a symbol of heritage, but it is for him "the last gasp of state sovereignty."

As long as it flies over South Carolina's seat of government, he says, "it very quietly tells the federal government, `We're in charge."'

That's an important issue to people who home in on the part of the U.S. Constitution that refers to the "sovereign and independent states" in the federal union.

While pressure to take the flag down has escalated statewide, the spirit of defiance has increased among those who want it to stay where it is, even if they don't agree on why.

"Groups that have never worked together before are working together on this issue. It has brought us together," said Mr. Huston, who believes that could have important implications for the Southern movement. "It's an issue that all of us can get our head around."

He wrote in The Edgefield Journal: "It is true that Southerners are harder to herd than cats and our organizations often have trouble getting along. That is the downside of the Celtic heritage that many of us share. The upside of this heritage is we are able to rise to the occasion when it is demanded of us. It happened in 1861. It is happening as we enter the 21st century....

"There have been disagreements. That is to be expected. However, such disagreements have been worked out constructively. This is the only way we can operate and it is the way all Southerners must operate in the future. Despite each organization's -- not to mention each individual's -- purposes, all of us can agree that the destruction of our culture must not be permitted. Differences must be set aside to reach the common goal ... to take our heritage and culture back from those in the government, business, entertainment, media and education worlds who see us as an obstacle to their view of America, a multicultural dreamland without room for Southerners, Christians or nationalists."

If he sounds like someone born in the South who never left it, that's only partially true. He was born in Memphis, Tenn., but grew up literally all over the world. Between his father's employment with General Motors and his own military service, Mr. Huston has lived on five of the seven continents -- all but South America and Antarctica -- but feels comfortable only in the rural South.

Virginia is too far north for him. Most of Texas is too far west.

His views spring from a background in anthropology and an agrarian philosophy. When he considers what's wrong with society, he blames part of it on automobiles, which helped destroy small towns; part of it on air conditioning, which decreased family times outdoors; part of it on television, which kept people from reading as they used to do, shaped their world view and, in many households, put an end to family dinners around a table with conversation; part of it the demise of front porches, where neighbors talked, in favor of backyard decks behind a fence; part of it on consolidated schools, which took children out of their communities.

The worst happened, he says, when people began expecting government to do for them what they should be doing for themselves.

Long before he got involved in the Southern movement, he was an activist for sustainable agriculture and against "terminator" chemicals that mean farmers can't save seeds and once-healthy crops cross over into weeds. And he has always been concerned about genetically altered foods.

He used to think of himself as a liberal because he didn't think much of big business, but couldn't buy the notion of big government and its plethora of programs either.

"I came to realize that I am probably a true conservative," he said.

Others who are active in the League of the South see Mr. Huston's contributions to it as nothing short of invaluable. He's a "septurion," leader of a "sept," or small group that works at a higher level of commitment than other members. He's also on the league's speaker's bureau.

And the South Carolina Web site he maintains is regarded as one of the best around because of the variety of information it offers, including reading lists, columnists, links that lead to nearly 200 other sites, a section featuring letters to the editor that newspapers have refused to print and issues that established news media have not dealt with, updates on the Confederate flag debate, and the league's own campaign to have the American flag taken off buildings that are not the federal government's.

Lake E. High of Columbia, who recently stepped down as the league's chairman to devote more time to The Edgefield Journal and Southern Anti-Bigotry Coalition, is among those who see the Internet as an essential tool.

"If you think you are politically active, or think of yourself as an activist, but you don't have a computer, then you are fooling yourself," he wrote. "If you don't have a computer where you can receive e-mail messages from others and receive the news the Ruling Elite doesn't want you to see, then you are simply not in this fight."

Virgil Huston is in it big time.

Web sites

These are just a few of the Web sites that deal with Southern themes, including the movement to form a free Southern nation. They are a starting place from which a browser can spend hours -- or days -- on the Internet, using the links they provide:

South Carolina League of the South: www.palmetto.org

The Southern Traditionalist: www.freedixie.net

Sons of Confederate Veterans: www.scv.org

Confederate States of America Historical Preservation Society: www.csahps.com

Aw Shucks!: www.shucks.net

Dixiecaust: www.dixiecaust.org

Southern Messenger: www.southernmessenger.org.

Another popular Southern nationalist site, Dixie Perspective, has temporarily shut down for repairs.

ReachMargaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.