(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, September 14, 2009)
By SKEETER SANDERS
Until last week, Joe Wilson was virtually unknown outside of his South Carolina congressional district. Now, the entire country is learning who he is.
The conservative Republican stunned and outraged many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and was loudly booed when he shouted "You lie!" at President Obama as he was delivering an address to a joint session of Congress on health-care reform.
Wilson accused the president of lying about a promise he made that his health-care reform proposals would not provide coverage for the nation’s estimated 13 million illegal immigrants. The congressman apologized to the president within an hour after his speech and Obama accepted Wilson’s apology.
Two days after his apology, however, Wilson recorded a YouTube video defending his opposition to Obama’s health care plan – as well as requesting donations to the congressman’s re-election campaign. As of late Sunday, Wilson raised $1 million.
Wilson’s outburst against the president may have been motivated by more than annoyance over illegal immigrants.
It turns out that Wilson is, according to a candidate biography on the nonpartisan Web site OurCampaigns.com, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a longtime Southern-heritage organization that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been taken over in the past decade by radical white supremacists, who advocate secession from the Union and defend slavery as a "benign institution."
Nor is the nation’s first African-American president the first person Wilson has publicly called a liar. The congressman did the same thing to the biracial daughter of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, to whom Wilson was a former congressional page.
Wilson called Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a retired teacher, a liar when she came forward in 2003 that she is the eldest daughter of Thurmond and a black woman who worked for Thurmond’s family as a maid in the 1920s — despite the fact that the Thurmond family acknowledged her as a long-hidden relative.
DEFIANT WILSON WON’T APOLOGIZE TO CONGRESS, FACES REPRIMAND
Meanwhile, Wilson, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said emphatically Sunday that he won’t apologize to his colleagues in Congress for his outburst — increasing the likelihood that the House will reprimand him as early as today (Monday).
Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Wilson made it clear that he would not bow to House Democrats’ demands that he stand on the floor and issue an apology to his fellow lawmakers. "I’m not going to apologize again," a defiant Wilson Fox News’ Chris Wallace. "I believe the American people know I’m a civil person. I respect the institution of the House. I have apologized to the president. I believe that should be enough."
Wilson took an even harder line after his TV appearance, issuing a statement declaring, "The American people are fed up with the political games in Washington. I refuse to participate in an effort to divert our attention away from the task at hand of reforming health insurance and creating new jobs.
"Having apologized on Wednesday to the White House, we agreed that we must move forward in a civil manner to do the work the American people have sent us here to do," the Wilson statement continued.
Wilson denied a suggestion by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that his outburst against the president was racially motivated. In a column published Sunday, Dowd wrote that what she heard Wilson shout in the House chamber was, "You lie, boy!" — a highly racially-charged epithet that is deeply offensive to African-Americans.
"Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t," Dowd wrote. "But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!
"Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber," Dowd wrote.
Asked by Wallace whether race underlay his outburst, Wilson responded, "No, no, I respect the president." the 62-year-old Wilson added that his ancestors lived near those of first lady Michelle Obama in Georgetown County, South Carolina.
WILSON’S REPUTED MEMBERSHIP IN RACIST-CONTROLLED GROUP RAISES QUESTIONS
But revelations of Wilson’s reputed membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans are likely to raise more questions about the motive for his outburst against the president.
The 113-year-old SCV, according to a 2006 SPLC report, had undergone a purge of its longtime moderate members — including several present and former U.S. senators — who were replaced by "racial extremists." That, in turn, led to a bitter severing of relations between the SCV and other Southern heritage groups, including the Military Order of Stars & Bars and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The report noted that some 300 moderate SCV members were expelled, accused by the radical racialists of disloyalty for criticizing racism in the organization.
And in a 2008 expose, The St. Petersburg Times revealed that since the 1990s, clusters of SCV members "have aligned themselves with ‘heritage groups’ like the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens" — both considered racist hate groups by the SPLC, with the CCC essentially a revival of the white citizens’ councils that sprung up in the 1950s and 1960s to resist the civil rights movement.
The question arises: If it turns out that Wilson is indeed a member of the SCV, how credible then, in the face of its takeover by white supremacists, are his denials of Obama’s race being a factor in motivating his outburst against the president?
WILSON ATTACKED OUT-OF-WEDLOCK BIRACIAL DAUGHTER OF STROM THURMOND
In 2003, Wilson called Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a retired teacher, a liar when she came forward in 2003 that she is the the out-of-wedlock, biracial daughter of the late Senator Strom Thurmond and a black woman who worked for Thurmond’s family as a maid in the 1920s — only to apologize after the Thurmond family acknowledged her as their long-hidden relative.
Thurmond, a former arch-segregationist who became notorious for his fierce opposition to civil rights legislation — leading the longest filibuster in Senate history against the civil rights bill of 1957 — had a sexual liaison with the then-16-year-old Carrie Butler in 1925. Thurmond was 22 at the time.
Within days after Washington-Williams’ revelation, Wilson told The State newspaper of Charleston, South Carolina that he didn’t believe Williams. He deemed the revelation "unseemly" and "a smear on the image that [Thurmond] has as a person of high integrity who has been so loyal to the people of South Carolina."
But after the Thurmond family acknowledged that Washington-Williams was indeed the late senator’s eldest daughter born out of wedlock, Wilson apologized but insisted that Washington-Williams should have kept the fact that Thurmond was her father private.
Washington-Williams, who now lives in Los Angeles and will turn 85 on October 12, did not learn of Thurmond being her father until she turned 16 and met the senator in person for the first time in 1941.
WILSON A RECIPIENT OF ‘GOVERNMENT-RUN’ HEALTH CARE HE OPPOSES FOR OTHERS
Wilson’s strident opposition to what he sees as "government-run heath care" in the president’s reform package is inconsistent with his being a recipient of government-run health care. Wilson is a retired colonel of the Army National Guard. As such, he receives full health-care coverage under the military’s TRICARE program and will retain such coverage for the rest of his life, according to Newsweek magazine.
In fact, Wilson’s family — he has four sons now serving in the military — has been a beneficiary of such "government-run health care" for several generations, according to the magazine.
Yet Wilson voted 11 times against expanding health-care coverage for veterans, according to the liberal-leaning South Carolina political site IndigoJournal.com, citing a blistering campaign ad by Rob Miller, Wilson’s Democratic opponent in last year’s election.
Miller, an Iraq War veteran and former Marine Corps captain who lost to Wilson by eight percentage points last year, is running against Wilson again in 2010 — and has raised more than $1 million in the days since Wilson’s outburst.
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Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.