Two Tennessee legislators are on the program for a southern secessionist group's weekend meeting at Fall Creek Falls, although a representative for one claims he's spent a month trying to get out of it.
Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, and Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, will talk about their proposed legislation to the sixth session of the Southern National Congress, the group's website says, giving members a chance to write model legislation.
But critics are concerned about the Southern National Congress' secessionist philosophy and ties to the League of the South, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its desire to create a white-led nation. Rev. David O. Jones is Lobelville, Tenn.-based chairman of the Southern National Congress and the Tennessee chapter of the League of the South. He also runs a home-education support company.
Jones said Matheny has called and emailed trying to get off the program, but only because he's now traveling out of town and unavailable to speak.
"I've got more important things to do than take a name off a former press release. We don't have him listed in any agenda or anything like that," Jones said. "I've met with Mr. Matheny a couple of times in his office, spent an hour over breakfast visiting with him, and I don't know why now he's considered us unsuitable to talk with.
"The idea we're the wrong kind of freedom group came up today. We represent the same concepts and values he's been representing at the legislature."
A representative for Matheny confirmed he's tried to get off the congress's website and said she's reaching out to Matheny with an interview request.
Niceley dismissed his critics' allegations that speaking at the event indicates he's racist and said he believes South could be forced to secede at some point. He said the colonies were independent nations at one time.
"They delegated a little power to central government. When that fails, we go back to being independent nations," he said. "We could team up with New Jersey and Oregon if we wanted to."
He said the congress wants to hear about his 17th amendment proposal, which is set for debate in March. It would end party primaries in Tennessee for U.S. Senate seats, allowing state legislators to pick the nominees.
The Tennessee Anti-Racist Network drew attention to the event after seeing it advertised online. The same group recently staged a counter-rally against the League of the South in Murfreesboro.
"Ultimately, we don't want elected officials to speak at extremist hate events," said member Darlene Neal. "Really? We have to say this out loud? It's unbelievable, but we believe it because we're living it."