Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Confederate Monuments and “Motivated Reasoning”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 11, 2016

“Confederate Memorial of the Wind” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in Orange, Texas. Photo by Flickr user Patrick Feller, used under Creative Commons license.


One of my regular readers pointed out this article at Politico Magazine, about the SCV monument currently under construction in Orange, Texas close to the Louisiana border. It’s not a very long article, and well worth your time. It does a good job of pointing out both Confederate Heritage™ advocates’ direct refusal to acknowledge relevant historical evidence, and the way their views of the past are inextricably intertwines with their own, present-day politics (my emphasis):


[Historian Kevin] Levin pointed to the words of Confederates themselves, particularly Texas’ Ordinance of Secession. The document, which officially separated Texas from the Union in 1861, declared that African-Americans were “rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race.” It says that Texas seceded because non-slave-holding states “demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the Confederacy.” The document does not mention tariffs or any state right other than the right to own black people.

[SCV camp adjutant Jim] Toungate waved it off the document when I show it to him later. “People have a distorted view of the Confederacy because liberal Northern historians wrote the history books,” he insists. But these are primary sources, I noted, the words of the Confederates themselves. Toungate went silent for a beat, and then changed the subject. “I’m sick of the federal government wasting money,” he said, and “people living off welfare.”


There’s also a good bit of projection going on, to justify his own heritage activities:


 “I had five grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy, and they were religious people who didn’t treat black people badly,” Toungate said, earnestly, his Southern drawl growing thicker as he spoke. “They were fighting for states’ rights, not slavery.”


I wonder how he thinks he knows that, since it’s extremely unlikely that he ever actually met a Civil War veteran, his own ancestors or any other.The author, John Savage, goes on to look at the bigger picture, how heritage folks willingly put themselves in a near-impenetrable bubble of ideology:


The SCV’s rejection of unequivocal historical fact, can, in part, be attributed to what psychologists call “motivated reasoning,” says Sander van der Linden, a Princeton University psychologist and director of the school’s Social and Environmental Decision-Making Lab. When people are emotionally invested in a belief, says van der Linden, they are inclined to accept information that confirms pre-existing beliefs and to dismiss conflicting evidence. It helps explain climate change denial, creationism, the anti-vaccine movement, and the belief that Obama is a closet Muslim (which, incidentally, Toungate also believes).

Neo-Confederate adamancy is as much about reactionary politics and identity as it is about history. It’s a declaration of values, a way of seeing the world, and its prevalence divides along political lines. Polls show that Democrats tend to view Confederate symbols, such as the battle flag, as emblems of racism, while Republicans more often see them as representations of Southern heritage.


Go read the whole thing, y’all.




37 Responses

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  1. Cotton Boll Conspiracy said, on August 11, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Ultimately, the war remains a complicated issue – like most wars. Folks who try to boil it down to its simplest form, i.e., it had nothing to do with slavery; it was fought to free the slaves, etc., tend to fail to comprehend the many major societal conflicts that were at work from the early 1830s onward across the nation.

    Part of the problem is that no high school-level textbook/teacher could possibly explain this 30-year period with any hope of getting across to 11th graders in detail what was going on in the short time allotted to the study of 1830-60 and too few people either go on to college or, if in college, take courses which delve in depth into the issues facing the nation prior to the war.

    So, instead, we’re largely left with a nation which is either disinterested in war in general or has a superficial grasp of the conflict and its causes. The latter is often wrong but adamant in its opinion.

  2. Leo said, on August 11, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed that Politico article and learned something about “motivated reasoning” and “cognitive dissonance”. It helped me understand the willful blindness to historical fact exhibited by so many in the heritage movement. This also explains why there is really no point in discussing the facts surrounding the Civil War with these people because the documented facts conflict with their isolated world view.

    Speaking of motivated reasoning, there’s plenty on display in the comments section to this article.

  3. Mike Musick said, on August 11, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    The meaning of the “…of the Wind” part eludes me. Is this as in “Gone With the…?”

    • Andy Hall said, on August 11, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      I really don’t know. Today was the first time I recall seeing that name, although it’s apparently been the formal designation for a few years.

  4. Shoshana Bee said, on August 12, 2016 at 1:40 am

    Really glad I took your advice and read the whole article, Andy. It served as a superb (I am boycotting the word “Great” for now) tutorial on the who-what-where-why-when of the Cult of the L ost Cause, as it relates to yesterday and today. The lazy side of me nods and says: These Olde Dudes gonna die off soon enough, and take their nutty Neo-Confederate-cum-White Supremacy with them. That was before Matthew Heimbach sent his road show goons to my town and spilled blood on the park I walk through. Heimbach is all of around 25. The flaggers may act like hags, but I don’t think they will be pushing up daisies anytime soon, either.What keeps fueling this charade of Confederate Heritage and the chicanery that its more *scholarly* individuals use to promote its legitimacy? (I don’t dare call this ilk ‘historians’, as I care not to incur the wrath of legitimate historians) I refuse to pile it all on “bad” history teachers & textbooks either, because the passion displayed by these people does not jive with the indifference that one usually encounters with inadequately educated individuals. At least ten more “why” questions come to mind, but the sort of critical thinking required to unravel this mess finds no resource in the Scientific Method, thus, I am adrift.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 12, 2016 at 8:12 am

      Heimbach is well-known ’round here.

      • Shoshana Bee said, on August 12, 2016 at 1:00 pm

        Thank you for the additional information. I am very appreciative of the leg up that the blogs have given me on the current cast of characters in the White Supremacy movement. After this riot , I became the local go-to for conversations on Heimbach, as none of the townies knew anything of him or his activities (I work walking distance to the capital). I liken him to the next David D(P)uke.

    • Jimmy Dick said, on August 12, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Matt Heimbach is a Nazi SS wannabe. He thrives off division and exploits it for his personal gain. He may have cut back on the Nazi shtick but he embraces racism and bigotry. He’s just another tick getting fat on the blood of humanity.

      • Leo said, on August 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

        “He’s just another tick getting fat on the blood of humanity.”

        I have to remember that one!

  5. Leo said, on August 12, 2016 at 8:43 am

    I’m fascinated by “motivated reasoning” and “cognitive dissonance” after reading this article. I’ve noticed this behavior in my dealing with heritage types over the years but never knew what to call it or understood the motivation until now. It’s like finally getting a diagnosis of schizophrenia for a family member after years of dealing with the behavior.

    Not to get political, but I also see a connection to politics and identity in this as well. They seek out political views that reinforce opinions they already hold and selectively overlook inconvenient facts that may contradict their belief structure. We see this in the heritage crowd in relation to Donald Trump. Trump is on record saying the confederate flag belongs in a museum and has had it removed from his political rallies on at least two occasions I can recall. Despite this undeniable fact, Trump gets a pass on the “heritage violation” and is heralded as their candidate of choice.

    We have the perfect example of this disconnect in a story out of Trump rally in Florida.

    KISSIMMEE, Fla. — About an hour before Donald J. Trump was set to address a large crowd here on Thursday, Brandon Partin, a Trump supporter, draped a Confederate flag over the front rail just to the right of the stage.

    But the flag didn’t remain up for long. As Sharon Day, a co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, delivered her introductory remarks, a campaign staff member and the local police moved to remove the flag.

    Three police officers stood on the floor tugging gently at the flag, indicating that it had to come down. Mr. Partin, 27, grew irritated that he had to remove it. He had just purchased the flag outside the event, and “Trump 2016” was printed on it.

    As he bundled up the flag, he said that if the man who had asked him to take it down was from the campaign, “then that might have just changed my vote.”

    But in a brief interview afterward, Mr. Partin acknowledged that he said that in “the heat of the moment” and that he would still support Mr. Trump.

    “It kind of upsets me a little bit,” he said, adding that he didn’t think Mr. Trump himself would have asked him to remove the flag.

    “But because of the dishonest media, which he talks about, because of that, it forces them and ties their hands to do certain things,” Mr. Partin said, “so that the media doesn’t take something and spin it and turns it into something that it’s not.”

    Minutes after the flag had been removed, an American flag was hung in its place.

    • bob carey said, on August 12, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      There’s conviction for you. The man rails against “political correctness” but insists on it at his
      rallies. The con man from Manhattan has these poor ignorant people duped.

  6. bob carey said, on August 12, 2016 at 9:08 am

    I might be missing something here, but how can anyone have 5 grandfathers?
    As you have said numerous times, this is about todays’ political agendas and not about honoring the Confederate Soldier. The SCV,Flaggers,KKK, and the LoS etc. are all strips of the same cloth. These folks never accepted equal rights for all Americans. They insist that people have rights under the 2nd amendment but they don’t have rights under the 1st,14th, and 15th.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 12, 2016 at 9:28 am

      I presume he meant some combination of “greats” in there.

    • woodrowfan said, on August 13, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      Indeed, the usual joke about these folks is that their family tree lacks branches, not has too many…

      • Louis Clifton said, on August 22, 2016 at 8:31 am

        What ever do you mean? What folks are you referring to?

        • Andy Hall said, on August 22, 2016 at 11:55 am

          I suspect you understand it perfectly well, Mr. Clifton. It’s a hoary old joke, after all. Your objection is noted.

          Thanks for commenting.

  7. Kenneth Smith said, on August 12, 2016 at 10:47 am

    In 1860 sub-Saharan West Africans were not citizens. Those that were in chattel slavery, and not all of them were, were under the care of their legal masters as part of the legally sanctioned form of labor. Abolitionists were indeed demanding their emancipation, without compensation to their owners, a formula to evoke outrage and war, which was not how the rest of the world which formerly had chattel slavery transitioned away from that form of labor: compensation to slave owners. The British did it; as did the Brazilians and Spanish in Cuba. In 1859 John Brown raided the Harper’s Ferry Garrison in Virginia with the stated purpose of instigating a region wide slave insurrection after the model of the genocide which occurred in Haiti between 1798 to 1802, in which the white, French population of Haiti was overpowered and annhilated. John Brown had significant financial backing, some of the individuals having ties to the founding members of the Republican party. During Brown’s trial, the state of Massachusetts refused to extradite to Virginia one of those financial backers of Brown, collectively known as “The Secret Six”, the remainder having fled to Canada.

    Brown’s raid, and its attempt to provoke genocide throughout the South, is the background of statements such as this one from Texas. The dissonance we in the South have is explainable by the forced implementation of the 14th amendment, which was not legally ratified according to constitutional provisions of ratification, which stipulated the former slave population as US citizens, by Congressional decree, unconstitutionally usurping a power of a state to decide upon its citizenry. And that the Republican party did this, not out of a spirit of humanity and magnanimity, but merely to insure its future existence as a national party by using the former slave population as its party base in the South once the Southern Democratic population became enfranchised to vote again, many Southern citizens having been disenfranchised, as Democrats, by that very constitutional amendment. Yet former slaves are citizens now, and that despite the 14th Amendment’s outrageous illegality and unconstitutional standing, it is a fait accompli, by force, and by tradition since that time. Looking back, it is easy to misunderstand this dissonance which not a few share.

    I may infer that the intended accusation of this column is to highlight this dissonance between our eras: in the present day we have former slaves as citizens, even though Lincoln stated his refusal to include them as jurors or accord them complete equality, and the mid 19th century in which the South had a sizeable population of workers who were not citizens, and were not breaking any state or federal law in utilizing their labor. And after the war one of the political parties sought to utilize that non-citizen worker population as a source of votes! Some things stay the same, regardless of the era!

    Those stating the words included on the monument stated a sentiment felt throughout the South, that the source of our objections under this government were the abolitionists and their goal of genocide.

    • bob carey said, on August 14, 2016 at 7:56 pm

      By definition, the 14th amendment (or any amendment for that matter) cannot be unconstitutional. That’s why they’re called amendments.

      • Andy Hall said, on August 14, 2016 at 7:58 pm

        Smith’s gone.

        The heritage folks convince themselves of all sorts of things being illegal and/or unconstitutional. I saw a meme the other day that claimed the 16th Amendment had never been ratified (it was, on February 3, 1913), and therefore income taxes were unconstitutional. There is much foolishness out there.

  8. Leo said, on August 12, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Word seems to be getting around.

    Ya think they’d have more common sense than to place in on MLK Blvd just to avoid the negative publicity if nothing else.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 14, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      “Ya think they’d have more common sense than to place in on MLK Blvd just to avoid the negative publicity if nothing else.”

      You’d think so, but common sense often seems to be lacking in these cases. There is a distinct inability to see one’s own actions as others inevitably would.

  9. Kenneth Smith said, on August 12, 2016 at 11:33 am

    This is the accusation of the article: “Who wants to admit that their family members fought to preserve it?”

    And that is the obfuscation. Southerners did not secede to preserve slavery because it was not under attack in the US legal system, except by abolitionists in the public arena and not legally. Slavery was contested, as a national issue, only in the territories received from Mexico. It was not at issue in the South as a national problem or an institution which should be removed. Nothing would be entered threatening slavery’s constitutional standing until 1864 during the presidential campaign. Lincoln himself had gone to great effort to assure the major slave owners of the border states, such as Missouri and especially Kentucky, that remaining in the union would not put their ownership of slaves at risk. And when General Fremont freed the slaves by decree, Lincoln rescinded that order, ordered all slaves returned to their masters, and transferred Fremont to the Shenandoah Valley to face General T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

    Northerners were not fighting to extinguish slavery. They were fighting to keep the union together as they knew it. Southerners were not fighting to preserve slavery. The legality and institutional sanction which the South gave slavery was the same as in the US Constitution. What they were fighting for was not slavery’s preservation, but their independence. And according to the US Declaration of Independence, the consent of the governed may be removed by them when they deem their government to be injurious to them.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 14, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      Mr. Smith:

      Thanks for your comment. I apologize for not replying sooner, but I was traveling over the weekend. You wrote:

      Southerners did not secede to preserve slavery because it was not under attack in the US legal system, except by abolitionists in the public arena and not legally. Slavery was contested, as a national issue, only in the territories received from Mexico. It was not at issue in the South as a national problem or an institution which should be removed.

      I’m sorry, but that dog won’t hunt. Maybe some folks will believe this, but most of my regular readers have seen the original documents from 1860-61 that lay out the secessionists’ reasons for splitting off from the United States, and make it quite clear that the fundamental and immediate cause was a perceived, existential threat to the institution of chattel bondage. They said so in justifying their action to their fellow southerners, and we should believe them.

      I must say, as well, that I’m surprised to hear that argument from someone such as yourself. I thought you League of the South folks took a lot of pride in telling it like it was, and making no excuses for their ancestors and the Confederate cause.

      Oh, and one last thing — you’re done commenting here.

  10. Patrick Joseph Young said, on August 12, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    A lot of the guys who claim that their Confederate ancestors weren’t racists appear to be among the most racist of contemporary Americans.

  11. Leo said, on August 16, 2016 at 8:18 am

    You might want to dissect this in a separate post, but there’s plenty of “Motivated Reasoning” in the story.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 16, 2016 at 9:03 am

      I saw that, and commented on it on another blog.

      What’s interest is, this past weekend I was in Jefferson, in northeast Texas, for their annual Civil War symposium. Jefferson is am old, antebellum steamboat town, that now lives on tourism of the Old South variety — moonlight and magnolias. Romanticizing the South, and the Confederacy, is the norm there. But the presentations there were solid and professional, and pulled no punches — Mark Christ’s discussion of the Camden Campaign in Arkansas quoted soldiers’ letters in detail about racial atrocities committed on the battlefield by soldiers on both sides (retribution and reprisal), and Vicki Betts’ read from letters where a Confederate officer’s wife had an enslaved woman whipped for misbehavior when she was estimated to be 8 months pregnant. There was no happy Lost Cause narrative there.

      The times, they are a changin’.

      • Leo said, on August 16, 2016 at 9:12 am

        I must admit to being somewhat hopeful when I started reading this story and saw the comments by Rev. Dwayne Tutt, but that was all dashed when I saw Teresa Roane and HK Edgerton were involved.

        I honestly don’t care if someone wants to honor their confederate ancestors but at least do it honestly and take the bad with the good. This make-believe narrative of an intergraded confederacy is just pure bunk and an insult to people who love history. If anyone is guilty of “PC” behavior, it’s the SCV.

        • Andy Hall said, on August 16, 2016 at 9:19 am

          Roane uses her background as an archivist to underscore her qualifications as an authority on the subject, but AFAIK she’s never put her work forward in an actual professional venue. She confines herself to posting snippets to Facebook and speaking to heritage groups; none of what she does, that I’ve seen, actually draws on the unique resources of the MoC of the UDC archives, which is the basis of her cred.

      • Shoshana Bee said, on August 16, 2016 at 11:45 am

        There is a monument in Rome called Altare della Patria (finished in 1925), which is considered a “come lately” to the monument scene there, and widely maligned by the locals as “the Wedding Cake”. It’s a tolerated monstrosity that we loved to show off (I lived there) for all of its obnoxious overkill. I am wondering how the locals and Texans in general will perceive this new Confederate monument: Are they perplexed by it? Or is the town where it is located much like how you describe Jefferson: Old antebellum town that clings to its Old South identity?

        In a world with quickly shifting demographics, it seems so oddly out of step to be erecting a new monument to a dying cause (viewing the monument as representing more than just a memorial to the past).

        • Andy Hall said, on August 16, 2016 at 8:26 pm

          Orange and Jefferson both go back before the CW, and both owe their establishment to the river trade,Jefferson to the Red River, and Orange to the Sabine. Both had some fraught and violent racial troubles in the 19th century and during Reconstruction. But while Jefferson declined and faded after the river fell and the steamboat trade faded as the railroads expanded, Orange grew in the 20th century with the oil boom and shipbuilding. So today, they’re very different sorts of communities — Jefferson rural with a sort of faded gentility, and Orange, blue-collar industrial.

          My personal joke about Orange is, “how many McDonalds employees does it take to give directions to the public library? No one knows, because you run out of employees before finding one who knows where the library is.”

          There’s a lot of opposition to the “Memorial of the Wind” (?) monument in Orange, but it seems to have moved steadily, if very slowly, forward. The Old South shtick in Jefferson is inextricably bound up in tourism which, honestly, is the main thing the town has going, not unlike Natchez. It’s their livelihood.

          • Shoshana Bee said, on August 16, 2016 at 8:54 pm

            Thank you for taking the time for filling in the blanks on the locales.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 21, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      Christ Almighty. I hadn’t heard about that.

      One of the pictures shows a woman holding a sign that reads “14 words.” That is white supremacist code for “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” a standard mantra for that movement. They are who we thought they are.

  12. Leo said, on August 22, 2016 at 11:18 am

    The Virginia Flagger are very busy posting and “up voting” on the Ole Miss dixie story. I noticed Susan encouraging members to write to the Ole Miss Athletic Director and admonishing members to not threaten. You know you have an unstable group when you have to tell them not to send threatening letters and emails.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 22, 2016 at 11:44 am

      “You know you have an unstable group when you have to tell them not to send threatening letters and emails.”

      More self-aware people might have noticed that. “Why do we have to tell them this, again?”

    • Andy Hall said, on August 22, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      What’s amusing to me is that the Facebook posting above, while pretty ridiculous in its assertions about shadowy forces on the left, nonetheless underscores why online polls and “likes” are easily manipulated and basically useless as measures of public opinion. But that’s an argument that’s lost on them so long as they can sway the voting in their favor.

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