Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Ron Wilson: Putting the “Con” in Confederate Heritage

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on November 27, 2012

Ron Wilson applauds during the opening ceremonies of the Sons of Confederate Veterans conference on July 22, 2010, at the Civic Center of Anderson, South Carolina. At this point, Wilson was almost a decade into his $57M ponzi scheme. Image via IndependentMail.com.

A couple of weeks ago Ron Wilson, former National Commander-in-Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was sentenced to more than 19 years in the federal penitentiary for running a $57 million ponzi scheme. The sentence of 235 months was at the top of a range recommended by a pre-sentencing report filed with the court.

This story hasn’t made many national headlines, but it should rightly shake the Confederate Heritage™ movement to its foundations. Ron Wilson was one of the hard-liners that came to prominence within the SCV in the early 2000s, bent on a more aggressive, politically-engaged course for the group, which echoes right down to the present. In fact, Wilson led the charge and , once in office, ruled with an iron fist, purging moderate members and even entire camps from the organization. The ascension of Wilson and like-minded partisans led to a split within the organization and the founding of a separate group called Save the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Ponzi schemes invariably rely on personal relationships, shared interests and trust to be successful. That was true of Bernie Madoff, it was true of R. Allen Stanford, and it was true of Ron Wilson. In Wilson’s case, a big part of his personal connections were through Confederate heritage groups. Wilson was so wrapped up in Civil War heritage issues that he made it part of his sale pitch to separate people from their life savings:

[Former South Carolina State Representative Dan] Cooper never invested with Wilson. “I never had any money to invest,” he said. Cooper attended a meeting in Greenville in 1992 at which Wilson pitched people on investing in silver.
 
The pitch changed little in the 20 years between then and Wilson’s last meeting in March, before state officials made public their accusations that his business was a fraud.
 
“He talked about how the value of the dollar was unpredictable, not backed by gold,” Cooper said.
 
Recent investors say they often heard Wilson describe how a $20 gold piece bought a fine suit in the 1860s, just as it would today despite the increase in price of the suit, because of the increase in the value of precious metals.

Wilson made money, too, through the sales of books, including some particularly rancid titles. But he didn’t just sell them; he endorsed them, too:

One controversial book was “Barbarians Inside the Gate” by a discredited 1960s Defense Department official. The book is rife with anti-Semitic language and quotes frequently from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claims to expose a Jewish plot to take over the world.
 
Wilson promoted the book by saying on his website: “The author reveals concealed codes and goals that might be extracted from the Protocols of Zion. I thought long and hard about handling this book. I will not back away from the truth in this book. You MUST READ THIS BOOK for yourself.”

Wilson was a major player in local politics in Anderson County, and donated heavily to other candidates. He didn’t seem too concerned about the particulars of the laws concerning such contributions, so long as he backed a winner:

After the March 31 election, Putnam won a runoff against Hamp Johnson. “Ron was always the kind of guy who gave money to whomever looked like was going to win,” Putnam said. “He came to me. I never met with Ron. He wanted to give $1,000 of his personal money.”
 
For the runoff, Putnam said Wilson offered $4,000.
 
“In election laws, you can only give up to $1,000 per individual,” Putnam said. “We turned that down because we didn’t want to take that much money from one person.”
 
Records with the South Carolina Ethics Commission show that several Anderson County politicians received donations from Ron Wilson as well as businesses he owns. These businesses — Atlantic Bullion & Coin in Easley and International Commerce Corp. in Greenville — both list Ron G. Wilson as the registered agent, according to South Carolina Secretary of State records.

Even so, some South Carolina Republicans couldn’t stand him, one blogger referring to Wilson as being “more fascist than Republican.” (Be sure to check out the comments for threats to the blogger posted by Wilson’s supporters — classy folks.) Wilson remained prominent in local Confederate heritage circles, andapparently hawked his dubious investments among his butternut friends. Wilson has a history of skeevy business dealings dating back to his tenure as a local elected official, some of which involved steering favors to his SCV buddies. As far back as 1996, Wilson had been given a cease-and-desist order by the State of South Carolina to stop dealing in securities. But that order was not made public, so Wilson simply ignored it. He continued operating his precious metals business, albeit more quietly than before. He slipped under the radar of state regulators and the SEC for the next fifteen years.

Over the last decade, Wilson seems to have been particularly close to the odious Kirk Lyons and his Southern Legal Resource Center. Wilson and Lyons organized a big Confederate flag rally in South Carolina in 2000, and not long afterward Wilson was added to the board of Lyons’ SLRC. Wilson helped Lyons get elected to the SCV board in August 2000, and the next year Lyons hired Wilson’s daughter to work as a case manager at the SLRC. Even after his tenure as Commander-in-Chief, Wilson continued to hold senior positions in the group, including as “Director of Field Operations.” In 2008 he shared the dais with current SCV C-in-C Michael Givens, where they were both received the organization’s Commander-in-Chief ‘s Award (PDF).

Of course, Confederate activist/performance artist/beard H. K. Edgerton (right, with Wilson’s grandkids in 2004, via Lyons’ SLRC website), thinks Wilson is just a fantastic guy. When Wilson was appointed to the South Carolina Board of Education a few years ago and critics pointed out his ties to groups like the the Council of Conservative Citizens and the white nationalist League of the South, Edgerton jumped his defense, saying that “black students and parents do not have a better friend in South Carolina that Rob [sic.] G. Wilson.

Of course, Edgerton has problems of his own when it comes to misrepresenting his business, so maybe his endorsement of Wilson is not so surprising after all.

Investigators found that Wilson’s ponzi scheme began in 2001, the year before he took over the leadership of the SCV; his criminal activity was concurrent with his tenure in that position. And he hurt a lot of people:

Dressed in a suit and tie, [Wilson] walked into the courtroom just before the sentencing hearing. He walked quietly past investors who filled many of the 18 wooden benches and who arrived more than a half hour before the court proceeding.
 
They trickled in one or two at a time, many older and walking slowly. One wore a baseball-style hat that said “Korea Veteran.”
 
Seven investors testified about devastating financial losses that stripped retirement and savings accounts and left them struggling to pay bills. Some said they were trying to go back to work in their 70s.
 
“My future is dimmer than it was,” Roslyn Stoddard told Childs.
 
Jeffrey Cavender, 59, said he convinced his 86-year-old mother to invest with Wilson. He lost his retirement savings and felt “complete emptiness” when Wilson’s business was raided by federal officials, Cavender said. He urged the judge to “put Mr. Wilson away for good.”
 
John Brittain, 76, said more than money was involved for investors.
 
“He stole their hopes. He stole their dreams,” Brittain said of Wilson.

Some people will undoubtedly claim that I’m unfairly criticizing folks like the SCV, Lyons, Edgerton, et al. by simple association. That would be true if (1) Wilson’s bad acts were limited and clearly an aberration from the norm, or (2) the others’ connections to Wilson were limited and superficial. Neither of those things are true.

Wilson’s brother has been quoted as saying that Ron Wilson made a “terrible mistake.” It was terrible, all right, but it wasn’t a mistake. Shoplifting a CD from a store is a mistake. Speeding when you don’t think you’ll get caught is a mistake. Getting so angry that you momentarily lose your composure and clock somebody, that’s a mistake. Cooking the books for ten years is not a mistake. Lying over and over and over to your investors for over a decade is not a mistake. Using the proceeds from your ponzi scheme to build an elegant, private compound out in the country is not a mistake. Wilson’s actions over more than a decade don’t reveal a character flaw, so much as they reveal his actual character.

The folks I’ve mentioned here are not causal acquaintances of Ron Wilson. Up until last March, when the investigation to Wilson became public, these folks were quite happy to be associated with Wilson. They embraced him publicly, personally and professionally. They did favors for him, and got favors in return. This was all concurrent with Wilson running his Ponzi scheme, as well. Until last March, when news of the investigation broke, they were happy — eager, even — to be publicly identified with Wilson.

Since then, of course, not so much. As far as I can tell, none of these folks have said anything about this publicly, and it’s not been mentioned on any of the Southron Heritage™ online discussion boards or forums I’ve seen. That’s unfortunate, because they’ve had eight months now to reflect on their close personal and professional relationships with this crook. The Southron Heritage movement used Wilson to further its goals, and it’s clear that he actively used his own prominence with the SCV and elsewhere to draw in his victims. The Southron Heritage movement was an unwitting accomplice in Wilson’s crime, and now should be doing some serious soul-searching to figure out how such a fraud rose to the pinnacle of their movement.

They won’t, of course, because they’re not interested in rooting out reprehensible characters like Wilson in the their movement. Indeed, they embrace them, and give them prestigious awards (PDF). Sure, they’ll scream bloody murder about black Confederate “deniers,” and supposedly Marxist professors, and fluff each other into a resentful outrage because someone, somewhere, sometime, torched a paper flag, but when crooks in their own ranks leading their organization like Ron Wilson are found out by others, the noble Defenders of Southron Honour™ remain as silent as the grave.

Wilson plead guilty back in July, so barring some unexpected development, there will be no appeal. Wilson can look forward to to getting out of jail sometime in 2029 or thereabouts, when he will be around 82 years old. He’ll still owe restitution then, of course, so maybe he’ll get a greeter job at the Walmart Supercenter there in Easley. No doubt some of his very elderly former investors will be his co-workers there. I’m sure they’ll have lots to talk about.

___________

29 Responses

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  1. Bummer said, on November 28, 2012 at 8:39 am

    Andy,

    Bummer is not surprised by Ron Wilson’s intimate relationship with the SVC, hucksters use this type of fraternal bonding to lure their victims regularly. Spending a lifetime in Southern California, a hot bed of unregulated investment scams, Bummer learned to recognize the M.O. of these bottom feeders. Enforcement is difficult, many folks are humiliated at having been duped and are hesitant to initiate prosecution. In addition, the cease and desist, is a joke to professional con men, they just close up shop and open tomorrow under a different name or company.

    Bummer

    • Andy Hall said, on November 28, 2012 at 9:19 am

      “Con man,” of course, being short for “confidence man,” who commits his crime by taking advantage of the trust and good faith of others.

  2. Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on November 28, 2012 at 11:10 am

    A very thorough summary of the entire sordid affair, Andy. I’ve sometimes wondered why the SCV is unable to attract more of the well-educated, knowledge sorts who enjoy studying Southern history and are interested in the activities of their ancestors. Then I stumble across a character like Wilson, who I happened to hear in person on more than one occasion, and understand.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 28, 2012 at 11:51 am

      The Confederate heritage movement is increasingly an internal conversation, carried on (consciously or not) to reinforce and affirm what its members already believe. (On Facebook, for example, heritage group members have been repeatedly warned not to visit blogs like mine.) Theirs is not an open-ended pursuit of history, which has a way of making everyone in the past look bad in one way or another. The SCV (among others) is not a big Civil War Round Table with a drawl; it’s now largely an ideological movement, closely aligned with modern day politics and the culture wars, that uses the conflict of 1861-65 mainly as an inspirational proxy. You can thank Ron Wilson, Kirk Lyons and their allies for that. That’s what they set out to do in the late 1990s, and they were extraordinarily successful at it.

      These are not folks who are inclined to real introspection, or for that matter, having any real understanding of how they’re perceived by others. As Brendan Wolfe said this morning on another blog, in connection with their obsessive embrace of the Confederate Battle Flag, they’re not interested in understanding and acknowledging the whole history of that symbol in the Civil Rights era — “All that’s meaningful is their grievance.”

      • Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on November 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm

        Yup, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. I used to wonder why more intellectual types who had an obvous interest in Southern history and who had ancestors involved in the war didn’t get involved with the SCV. Then I happened to hear Wilson (and on more than one occasion) give a talk in person, and was able to answer my own question.

        • Andy Hall said, on November 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm

          I should also say, in fairness, that I know a number of SCV members and have visited camps as a guest, that don’t put across that vibe. But the leadership of that group continues to march quick-step on a path that’s taking them further and further off into the margins.

  3. Michael Rodgers said, on November 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Andy,
    Wow, just wow. Thank you for this.
    Regards,
    Mike

    • Andy Hall said, on November 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks, Michael. The Defenders of Southron Honour seem to be way more upset about some fool burning a homemade paper flag than they are about Ron Wilson, or their own unwitting roles in facilitating his crime, by advancing his reputation and prominence in the community, factors that are central to the success of a scheme like his. The guy didn’t hold up a liquor store; he stole from people by convincing them to trust him and believe in his integrity, which for the last decade or more has been completely bound up in his Confederate heritage activities.

  4. Alan Bedford said, on November 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I don’t recall the SCV portion of Ron Wilson’s career making it into the Greenville News, which gave the story a fair amount of coverage. It may have made the Anderson Independent-Mail which is closer to the epicenter. But the papers here don’t want to offend the SCV. Or the Daughters of the Confederacy, for that matter.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      It’s all over the Independent Mail. And it continues — Wilson’s buddy Joey Preston is in the SEC’s sights, as well. He is (or was until recently) the adjutant in a new camp specifically created by him and Wilson.

      If you look in the local news archives prior to March 2012, when news of the investigation broke, Ron Wilson stories routinely mention (or are explicitly about) his “heritage” activities. It’s part of his public persona and reputation, as much as the seersucker suits in the summer and the God-awful plaid jackets in the winter. All of these connections and relationships — which lie at the core of any ponzi scheme — are bound up together.

      • Freeman Walker said, on December 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm

        Old style Southern justice would demand flogging.but I say let the punishment fir the crime.
        I say they should tatoo the word racist on his forehead and turn him loose in the general population of violent offenders in the worst prison we can find.
        How you like them apples, Wilson?

        • Andy Hall said, on December 1, 2012 at 9:58 pm

          We don’t need to go overboard on this.

          • Freeman Walker said, on December 2, 2012 at 1:20 am

            I know you’re right, Andy, I do tend to go overboard.
            I was just feeling upset for all those trusting folks who can’t get their money back.
            Miscreants such as this just burn my grits.

            But on a better note;
            Thank you for your historic archives.
            I just came back from a tour of the Antietam battlefield and found the eye-witness account from your “He was a better soldier than me” post to be invaluable. The cornfield is still planted in corn and was standing in spite of the lateness of season.
            Between Gettysburg and Antietam, I found the latter to be more fitting a memorial. Gettysburg Battlefield(s) is overcrowded with too many large monuments, even ones that no one could get to to read. But Antietam was essentially the way it was back then and it was chilling.
            Again, Thank You.

            You don’t have to post this,

            Freeman Walker

            • Andy Hall said, on December 2, 2012 at 6:58 pm

              I’m not generally a lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key sorta guy, but I think Ron Wilson got exactly what was coming to him.

  5. HK Edgerton said, on December 3, 2012 at 8:51 am

    I am deeply grieved about what happened to the Honorable Ron Wilson and to those who were hurt by his actions. And I pray for them and for Ron equally. There are not many men who have not made serious mistakes in their lives. I shall never falter in my love and respect for Mr. Wilson, and shall never see him as a racist, or the other unkind things that take away from the content of his character that shall always deem him to be an Honorable man. If one chooses to make an Honorable man of Abraham Lincoln, then one should choose to seek a Presidential Pardon for Ron, and one for young Candice Yvonna Hardwick that I have already asked him for. And I care less about the unkind words spoken here about me. Christ and General Nathan Bedford Forrest had to endure worst.

    • Andy Hall said, on December 3, 2012 at 9:00 am

      Thanks for taking time to comment, Mr. Edgerton.

      Does Southern Heritage 411 have legal non-profit status, and are contributions to it tax-deductible for donors, as your website claims?

      If the answer is “yes,” will you provide verification of that by public documents?

      • M.D. Blough said, on December 19, 2012 at 8:16 pm

        I have friends and acquaintances who used to be active in the North Carolina branch of the SCV. Used to be is the operative phrase. North Carolina SCV members were among the leaders of the resistance to the brutal and ugly Wilson/Lyons takeover of the SCV and all that it included. They ended up either being purged or leaving before they could be purged.

        • Andy Hall said, on December 19, 2012 at 8:21 pm

          It’s long been a cause of frustration and regret that Kirk Lyons and I bear a superficial physical resemblance to each other, particularly when he wears a goatee. He’s a big man, in physical stature, and how he’s successfully managed all these years to skate on thin ice is really quite beyond my ability to fathom.

          • M.D. Blough said, on December 19, 2012 at 11:59 pm

            It never seemed to bother his supporters that his wedding venue was the Aryan Nations’ compound and that his wedding, to the daughter of the Aryan Nation’s second-in-command, was conducted by the then head of the group and his best man was an old friend who was also an Aryan Nations representative and a former Klan leader.

            • Andy Hall said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:01 am

              Lyons’ personal and professional affiliations with odious people span decades. He keeps Edgerton around so he can say, “my best friend is black!

              • M.D. Blough said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm

                I certainly think the day is long gone when a SCV camp would not only back a movement to honor James Longstreet but get the support of the national organization (which is what happened with the Longstreet Memorial Fund and the Longstreet statue in Gettysburg completing a project begun by Helen Longstreet and survivors of the First Corps that was cut short by WW II). I can’t imagine Lyons and Wilson supporting anything honoring a former Confederate general who received a favorable mention in W.E.B. DuBois’s “Black Reconstruction”. (Longstreet didn’t turn into William Lloyd Garrison in grey. He still wanted white people in charge but he was willing to accept blacks playing a role in the political life of the South. I’m sure the Boston Brahmins and New York elite never thought the Irish and Italian ward heelers would ever work their way to the top but they did. The critical thing was getting into the political process. I keep wondering how much better life would have been for both races if the Longstreet viewpoint of we tried our hardest, the Yankees won, let’s accept the new realities and get on with life had gained acceptance instead of the Lost Cause.)

  6. Donald R. Shaffer said, on December 3, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Good luck, Mr. Edgerton. Obama supposedly has been pretty stingy with pardons thus far. Your best bet would be to wait four years, let some of the furor of his victims die down, and then try to get a pardon when Obama is leaving office. But don’t hold you breath. Financial crimes leave a lot of angry victims with long memories.

  7. Jeffry Burden said, on December 19, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    What an awful excuse for a human being.

  8. John C. Hall, Jr. CPA said, on March 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    You say not visit your blog…..you won’t even allow comments from those who disagree with you…..For that you are a coward….

    • Andy Hall said, on March 27, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks for taking time to comment. I’m sorry y’all had a low SCV turnout for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade there in Dublin, but mighty oaks from small acorns grow, right?

      To be clear, I’ve never said for anyone not to visit this blog. You may be confusing me with John Stones, who (falsely) claims that I derive some sort of income from clicks here. He’s even made that policy over at SHPG, so if you feel the need justify your visits here to anyone, you should explain it to him.

      You’ve claimed, several times, that I’ve blocked you from commenting on this blog. That’s not true; you’ve never been blocked here. The one time you commented previously, under the username “fortpillow,” after having posted on other blogs all sorts of ugly foolishness about other commenters’ assumed ethnicity, your family’s “seed upon the land,” and so on, I told you that you could only continue commenting here if you behaved yourself, and did so under your real name.

      Those rules still apply, by the way.

      I’m sure you’d like others to believe you’ve been banned from commenting here, but it’s just not true, and you really shouldn’t go around saying so, no matter how much of a bold truth-teller it makes you seem in front of your buddies.

      Anyway, thanks for taking time to comment today. I know this must be a very, very busy time for you and your business. As a CPA, I’m sure a lot of your work (especially this time of year) revolves around helping your clients comply with the tax code, and get their income taxes paid fully and on time. I know the IRS appreciates folks like you, because they couldn’t do their job without y’all.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 27, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      Hey, John, now that you’re here — and being a CPA, after all — what are the potential penalties, civil and/or criminal, under the U.S. Tax Code for soliciting contributions with claims that one’s for-profit business is a non-profit, or falsely claiming such donations are tax-deductible for the contributors?

      That’s a purely hypothetical example, of course. I’m guessing that the IRS would not take kindly to those sorts of activities at all, but I’m sure you can speak more authoritatively on that issue.

  9. Jeff Massey said, on April 2, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Excellent points. We tried to warn them years ago…..

    • Andy Hall said, on April 2, 2013 at 6:26 pm

      Wilson, Lyons, et al. really have damaged the credibility of the SCV, even without the Ponzi scheme stuff. Kirk Lyons, really?


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