S. Carolina Targeted for Christian State

The current leaders of the state say South Carolina has plenty to attract anyone, including the members of ChristianExodus.org, but they would rather the group not bring ideas of splitting from the United States.

"We've got a very unique quality of life here in South Carolina, so it's not surprising that folks would want to come here," said Will Folks, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford. "As for secession, we've tried that before and it didn't work out so well."

If anyone needs reminding of that, Folks said, they only have to look at the state capitol building in Columbia, where the scars from the shelling by Gen. Sherman's Union troops are still visible.

Though Burnell emphasized in an interview with ABCNEWS.com that he only sees secession as a last resort, in a posting on the Web site of the South Carolina League of the South he seems more focused on that goal.

"The only Southern nationalist organization I have found with an ETI [estimated time of independence] is the South Carolina League of the South, which, according to state director Robert Hayes, is determined to be free of the union within 20 years," the posting says. "I think we can move this date closer to the present with a managed emigration."

According to an article in a recent issue of Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center's journal on hate groups, there are higher concentrations of "antigovernment extremists" in parts of South Carolina than anywhere else in the United States, other than parts of the Ozarks and northern Idaho.

In his interview with ABCNEWS.com, though, Burnell said the first option would be to remain within the United States, with a move to secede if Washington interferes with what the new majority of people in South Carolina want.

"Our end goal is we put people in power like Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, who really understand the Constitution," he said, referring to the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who repeatedly came into conflict with federal authorities over a Ten Commandments monument he placed in a court building. "We might be able to achieve that within the Union. I know we have plenty of supporters on the ground there and thousands of supporters in the League of the South."

That connection to the League of the South, a Killen, Ala.-based group trying to revive the values of the antebellum South, has raised questions about whether ChristianExodus.org has any racist intent — a charge Burnell flatly denies, both about his own group and about the League of the South, of which he is also a member.

"ChristianExodus.org is entirely colorblind," he said. "We have no position on race. One of the members of our research committee is of mixed race. There are members of the League of the South who are black."

The League of the South is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors extremist groups, but Burnell said that is based on a misunderstanding of what the heritage of the Confederacy is, and the identification of racism and slavery with the South alone.

"Racism and slavery are American problems," he said. "People want to defend the positive things as well. There are a lot of positive things about the South, like states' rights."

Lumping ChristianExodus.org with racist groups might be guilt by association, though, according to Jack Kay, a professor of communications at Wayne State University who has studied the radical right.

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