This interview was first published on December 6, 2010.
Dr. J. Michael Hill is a blogger, book author, historical researcher, and former history professor. He co-founded The League of The South in 1994. The League seeks to “advance the cultural, social, economic, and political well-being and independence of the Southern people by all honourable means.” Dr. Hill left academia in 1999 to devote his full time to the organization.
The League of The South has members in 46 states and chapters in about 25 states, but only about half of those are Southern states, right?
Well, we have chapters in all of the states of the old Confederacy, plus Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. So 15 of those states where we have chapters are in what we consider to be the current South. The rest of the chapters or individual members are either copperheadsor Southern diaspora.
Those states you just named were considered sort of semi-Confederate states back then , were they not? And as I recall, Maryland would have been a Confederate state had Lincoln not preemptively arrested their entire legislature.
That’s exactly right, and those states are Southern enough. I know some people in Missouri, for example, who will get awfully angry at you if you don’t include them as a Southern state. That’s not to say that all the people in Missouri consider it to be a Southern state, but there are a significant number of people there who do. The same goes for Maryland, Oklahoma, Kentucky…
I have some friends from south Indiana who consider themselves Southerners.
I know some folks from central and western Pennsylvania who do, too.
So how much hate mail do you get?
I have gotten some death threats, but I figure if somebody’s really going to kill me they’re not going to tell me about it first. I get hate email sometimes, but most of it is just juvenile crap, so there’s no reason to pay any attention to it. I think we got more hate mail when we first started the organization than we do now. I think a lot of people have gotten used to the idea of secession and Southern independence. It’s not a novel idea like it was 16 or 17 years ago.
On the League’s website, you said that you seek a peaceful means to Southern secession. Suppose The American Empire collapsed under its own weight tomorrow and the United States of America was an entity only on paper. There are many people in The South who would rage against the birth of a new Southern nation. It’s true that many of the idle among them would vote with their feet and leave when they stopped getting paid to be idle, but still, the Deep South is facing ever-accelerating and ever more dire demographic changes right now. Would it not be wise for the theoretical Southern homeland to relocate itself in, say, southern Appalachia? Not that that would be easy, but wouldn’t it be easier?
I certainly see what you’re saying, and with the demographic revolution that’s taking place right now, I would never completely rule something like that out. But imagine how hard it would be for any true Southerner to leave his particular piece of ground, especially if that area had been home for generations. Think of all he has learned from his parents and grandparents about that place and his closeness to the culture and history that surrounds him. It’s in his blood. It’s part of his genetic memory.
Necessity can make you accept a lot of things, but I think it would be gut-wrenching for somebody from south Alabama, south Georgia, south Mississippi to have to say “Okay, I’m abandoning my home. I’m going to some other part of the South to re-establish myself.”
I know a lot of people from coastal Carolina. I’ve talked to them, just to gauge what they feel and think about something like that, and it would be very difficult for most of the people I’ve talked to. The Appalachian Mountains are such a different place, such a different part of the South, and to them it’s not the same as home.
I agree that that sense of homeland as an almost sacred place is crucial to the survival of a culture. I think having a living vernacular peculiar to that culture is vital also.
I have long despised that rough beast, Progress, and its handmaiden, Monoculture. Southern accents and dialects are disappearing rapidly, particularly in our cities and suburbs, and especially among younger people. I realize it’s a double-edged sword, but can The South exploit mass media technology for the good of The South, or will mass media make Southern speech succumb to American Empire English?
There’s always a possible concomitant backlash that can accompany technology. Unexpected consequences, you know. But we’re certainly not Luddites. We like to think that if email and the internet and the computer and video and audio communication technology available to us now was available to Nathan Bedford Forrest, he would have used it and used it well, probably better than anybody else at the time. You just have to remember that any technology is simply a tool, and what really matters are relations between flesh and blood human beings, not between computer servers.
It is a problem, though, when you have that sort of universal means of communication and entertainment. It does tend to root out things like long-standing accents and dialects, particularly when generations of people are exposed to that kind of mass communication from infancy onward.
I’m not big into conspiracy theories, although I’ve studied history enough to know that important and powerful people do get together and talk about manipulating circumstances to their own advantage. But a lot of the wilder theories I don’t subscribe to, and that’s one of them, that a group of people conspired to take our dialect away. It is disappearing, though, and I’m sad to see it because I love our Southern speech. And our speech is certainly not monolithic. Being a native of Alabama, I can tell you, sometimes even down to the county, where a person is from just by listening to him speak, and I think that’s a nice thing.
Southerners, as you know, in the antebellum period, used British orthography. Some people have sort of laughed at us for resurrecting something that arcane, but we think it’s an important part of the culture.
It was good enough for Faulkner. That part of The South’s past wasn’t dead to him. It wasn’t even past.
That’s right. He knew that if you allow someone else to determine not only how you spell your words, but which words you can or cannot say, then you lose control of your language and your thoughts and your culture and you lose control of your life. Yankees like to look at us as dumb rednecks, but Southerners are very good with words. We instinctively know how to string them together and write novels and essays and stories and poetry as well as anybody in my opinion.
Wendell Berry is a Southerner who writes quite well in each medium you mentioned. You know him personally, don’t you?
Well, I’ve been to Mr. Berry’s farm up in Kentucky. He was a little under the weather that day, so we stayed for just a little while and we tried not to be a burden. We were on our way somewhere, anyway, so we just mostly drove around and looked at the property. But he was quite gracious and he has a beautiful farm there by the Kentucky River.
He’s something of an intellectual inheritor, I think, of the Agrarian philosophy of Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, John Crowe Ransom, et al. I find the tone of his essay, The Pleasures of Eating akin to I’ll Take My Stand, particularly the introduction. How important to you is growing your own food and avoiding all that mass-produced industrial farming slop?
We are very opposed to big agri-business, mainly because we believe the motive there is not to provide their customers with good food, but only to make money. They’ll sell whatever they can get away with and if they have enough money they’ll bribe the FDA or whatever bureaucratic agency they need to bribe to get the stamp of approval, then sell whatever shit they want to sell and call it food.
I have a particular disdain for these people—though disdain is probably too mild of a word-because I have had gastric problems for some time that I think came from unknowingly eating GMOs, genetically modified organisms, or whatever the hell it’s called. I think the bastards have been slowly poisoning me. Not because I’m a particular target, but because they’re poisoning all of us, making us all unhealthy and killing us before our time.
So, yes, we believe it’s good to dig up your backyard and plant an organic garden and save your vegetable peelings and start a compost, and have a well, and be as self-sufficient as possible.
Self-sufficiency, or sustainability, both for individuals, or families, and clans, or tribes, or communities, is one of those perennial virtues that came from the Old World and goes hand in hand with honor, and chivalry in traditional Southern culture. Do you believe it’s possible to reawaken those old virtues in Southern young people? Does the League have an active outreach to young people, and if so, what is their response like?
We are really trying to reach young people. There’s a vacuum in American youth culture, and something’s going to fill that space up, whether it’s baggy pants and a backwards baseball cap and rap music, or these kids learning who their ancestors were and learning to fit in to that mold. We try to help them do the latter, help them learn about the richness of their heritage, who their Anglo-Celtic forefathers were and what they believed in and what they stood for.
I quit teaching college about 11 years ago, and I was really alarmed at what was happening in academia then, though I’m sure it’s much worse now. I was a kid in the ‘50s and a teenager and then a young man in the ‘60s. I was indoctrinated even back then, and I know it’s gotten worse decade by decade. But these kids know they’ve been lied to, and there’s an innate, natural urge for them to try to learn who they are.
Tell us about your books.
Celtic Warfare was my first book. It was actually my PhD dissertation and it got accepted for publication in Scotland by a very reputable, prestigious publishing company in Edinburgh, and this was before I had even defended it. I had made a list of publishers, and I went to the top of the list and said if I had a choice, this is the company I would choose first to publish my book. Well, I went to them first, and they accepted my manuscript on my first try. So then I went back and told my professors, “I’m not just going to be defending my dissertation, I’ll be defending my book manuscript.” They said “What?” and I said “Yeah, I got my dissertation accepted as a book.” They weren’t very happy.
So that was published back in ‘85 or ‘86, I think. It’s a study of the Scots and Irish, mainly, their tactics, strategies, logistics, weaponry, the whole military thing from the late 16th Century on up until the middle of the 18th. I chose certain battles to illustrate certain characteristics and such. It was really fun to write and it got good reviews and sold fairly well for an academic type of book, because it was military.
Then I wroteFire and Sword which focused on a particular Scottish chieftain, Sorely Boy MacDonnell. I had run into him while researching Celtic Warfare. The guy was just a fascinating figure, but nobody had written anything about him other than maybe an article or two in The Sixteenth Century Journal. So I started doing the research and it was really like putting a puzzle together. It got published in ‘93 and got even better reviews than Celtic Warfare because it was about a figure nobody had ever written much about. Then I got a very nice congratulatory letter from the present Duke of Antrim, who is the descendent of this man, Sorely Boy. He asked me to come over and spend some time at his estate and go on a nautical journey with him around the British Isles in a 16th century ship replica. He was very appreciative that somebody had finally written a biography of his illustrious ancestor that nobody knew about except his family, so it was a lot of fun.
I really would like to shop the story around to somebody who maybe could turn it into a movie. I think it would make just a fascinating movie. I mean, the guy lived to be nearly 90 years old, and the only thing that stopped him from fighting at that advanced age was that he was losing his eyesight. But he was still a major force right up until the day he died.
The League of The South, as I recall, formed a kind of alliance with the Italian Northern League, who also claim a Celtic lineage. What about other similar groups, The Scottish Nationalists, for instance, or The Basques?
We try to keep in touch with some of the other devolutionist or secessionist organizations around the world, particularly in Europe and in Canada. We haven’t had regular, close contact with any of those groups, but we have had sporadic contact with them. Usually about every six months or every year or year and a half we’ll talk to or correspond with some of the leaders of these groups. For instance, if there’s something we are doing that we want to let them know about, or they’ll let us know what they’re doing and we’ll publicize it here.
But yes, we’re very interested in these groups, and certainly wish them well, though we don’t always share the same worldview. The Scottish National Party, for example, is a good deal more left-leaning than The League of The South is but, hey, you know, that’s their business.
Well, they believe in silly things. Carbon credits, for instance, and banning BB guns, though they don’t seem to think it’s a good thing that foreigners are replacing their indigenous population.
Yeah, we just have to overlook those kinds of things. Actually we have had closer contact with the French-Canadian Parti Quebecois than we have with any other group, though it’s been some time ago, probably 15 years. Two of our other board members and I went up to Canada and spent three or four days with some top-ranking Parti Quebecois people, and let them know what we were about and got to know them.
Regarding Lega Nord, or The League of The North, in Italy, we do have kind of a special relationship with them because of a former member of our board of directors, Dr. Thomas Fleming, who is the editor of Chronicles magazine. Tom travels to Europe quite a bit, and he got to know this guy from The Lega Nord who had worked with Berlusconi. So Tom was our link to The Lega Nord. We had pretty close ties with them. They would send somebody over here to appear at some of our events, and Tom Fleming would go over as a delegate for the League. We would send them Confederate flags and they would send us flags and pins and such from their movement. It was nice to have that kind of personal relationship, but ever since they have changed leadership we have drifted apart a little bit. But we still keep an eye on what they’re doing and try to maintain some contact with them.
We have tried to contact the Basques as well. We were going to try to have an international devolution, or secessionist conference, maybe in Atlanta, where everyone could fly in and meet at one of the airport hotels. We haven’t done it yet, just because we don’t think it’s quite feasible just now. The Basque separatists are on our list of people to invite, but so far we haven’t been able to establish any person-to-person contact with them.
I have followed politics, and how people behave because of politics, since I was a child, and something I’ve always noticed is how there is no liberal quite like a White Southern liberal, particularly a White Southern male. Have you noticed the same thing? What is it with that? Over-compensation, maybe? Speculate, please.
I tend to agree with that. I think that a lot of White Southern males who have aspirations of making it in their field, whether it’s journalism, academia, politics, whatever, believe that they have to be self-denigrating, if not self-hating, Southerners. They almost make a religion of it in front of their northern counter-parts to prove their bona fides and prove themselves worthy of friendship or employment or whatever.
I’m really being generous. I guess I’m saying that many of these people really don’t believe this, they’re just acting it. But on the other hand, some of them act like they really do believe it. A lot of that, I think, has to do with all the guilt that’s been heaped upon them, and they feel like they have to pay a penance. And you’re right, they are over-compensating. It’s disgusting to me, and I don’t see how it’s not disgusting to anybody in his right mind who observes it.
That brings up a good point. People like you and me are in a unique position. We are the only variety of person that it’s perfectly okay to malign and hurl slurs at, and evoke stereotypes of. In fact, attacking white Southern heterosexual males is something of a cottage industry.
And with the possible exception of a full-blooded Aryan German male, we’re the most politically incorrect demographic on the planet. The very fact that we exist is politically incorrect, if not unacceptable. We were born guilty. Just ask Tim Wise. Or, better yet, The Southern Poverty Law Center. I guess you know that The League of The South is on the SPLC “hate watch” list, and you personally are in its “intelligence files”?
Yes, and I have always considered that a great badge of honor.
Well, as the saying goes, you’re nobody till somebody loathes you. But at least you’re in good company. They hate and are watching Gordon Baum and the Council of Conservative Citizens, Peter Brimelow and VDARE.com, William Daniel Johnson and The American Third Position Party, Jared Taylor and American Renaissance, and Kevin MacDonald and The Occidental Observer, to name a few.
Yeah, they do have some good people on that list. But, you know, there’s only so many times somebody like Morris Dees can call you a racist and have it mean anything. Today the word “racist” has been overused so much that it’s virtually meaningless. My daddy used to say to me, “Son, if everybody likes you, you ain’t doing something right.” I’ve always tried to live by that. And they sure as hell don’t like us. You’re right about that. I would be worried if they did.