Rising racism: A WAFF 48 News special report - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Rising racism: A WAFF 48 News special report

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FLORENCE, AL (WAFF) -

Many white supremacy groups reached national prominence during the civil rights era, but after the 1960's membership dwindled and several groups fizzled out. Now they're back, gaining acceptance nationwide, and reaching new members.

Leonard Wilson has lived in Alabama most of his life. The 75-year-old spends most of his time now volunteering. He's also still active in the Council of Conservative Citizens. In fact, he's a founding member of the organization that grew out of the White Citizens Council of the 1950's and '60's.

The main thrust of the organization then was to oppose the integration of public schools.

"You can find information on the CCC online in addition to a newsletter, The Citizens Informer, that is put our four times a year," he explained."

The CCC has 15,000 members, including four chapters in Alabama.

Michael Hill is president of the 17-year-old group League of the South. It's based out of Killen. The Southern Poverty Law Centers says the two groups have one thing in common - they're both listed on the SPLC's 2010 study that reported 1,002 hate groups in the U.S.

That's the most hate groups the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center has ever tracked. SPLC research director Heidi Beirich says they're also seeing those groups grow in size with more members.

Wilson says the Council of Conservative Citizens is not about hate and he says the SPLC has it all wrong.

"We're a conservative political organization, that's the most accurate way to put it," he said.

The same goes for the League of the South when it comes to the SPLC's hate group distinction. In fact, Michael Hill says his group is about "love."

"We're a love group. We love the south, we love our traditions, we love our people," he said.

Beirich says the more than 1,000 organizations classified as hate groups are doing more to make themselves appear mainstream.

[Active U.S. hate groups]

"For a large segment of the groups on our hate group list, they are donning suits and using proper English," she said.

These groups are trying to spread their message to as many people as possible online. According to the CCC's website, a state representative spoke to the group during their January meeting.

"His picture is in one of those newsletters. Lynn Greer I believe is his name – the state representative," said Wilson.

We contacted Greer and he says he's never even heard of the CCC. The SPLC says regardless, even the mention of a politician is enough to lend credibility to dangerous organizations.

"We don't want politicians talking to hate groups," said Beirich. "This is the kind of discourse, from our perspective, is too far out of the mainstream for a politician to be catering to."

The SPLC, famous for taking on the Ku Klux Klan and white power groups in court, says making hate mainstream is a dangerous situation they're trying to limit.

But both the Council of Conservative Citizens and League of the South to say the only thing the SPLC is doing is creating the controversy and people have no reason to be afraid.

"Their agenda is to classify anybody as a hate group that does not agree with their agenda," said Wilson.

"I think the Southern Poverty Law Center is being a bit ingenuous here," said Hill. "I think they're the ones that are the real haters."

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