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A prominent member of the neo-Confederate movement endorsed Corey Stewart in early April.

Stewart defended the endorsement in a statement to CNN's KFile.

CNN  — 

A prominent member of the neo-Confederate movement endorsed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart during a Civil War-era themed ‘Old South Ball’ in early April.

Stewart, a trade attorney and chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, is challenging frontrunner Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s Republican primary for governor. Stewart has made defending Virginia’s history as a Confederate state during the Civil War a visible issue in his campaign and, on his website, has referred to calls to remove statues of prominent Confederate figures as ‘historical vandalism.’

After Stewart concluded a fiery speech defending the Confederate Flag and southern heritage at the event in Danville, Virginia, Richard Hines, the chairman of Save Southern Heritage, joined Stewart and expressed the group’s support for his campaign.

“I’m Richard Hines of Save Southern Heritage, and I want you to know here tonight Save Southern Heritage, we had endorsed Donald Trump in the presidential primaries and we endorse Corey Stewart,” Hines said in a video from the event uploaded on Facebook.

Hines added that Stewart’s opponent Gillespie would take down statues of Robert E. Lee in Virginia. (A spokesperson for Gillespie told the Washington Post that Gillespie doesn’t support the removal of statues but believes it is a local issue.)

“We have a fighting chance to elect Corey Stewart and I suggest we do,” Hines said. Stewart thanked Hines for his remarks.

Hines founded Save Southern Heritage during the 2015 debate over whether to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina state grounds after a white supremacist killed 9 black parishioners at a church in Charleston.

It describes itself on its website as a “a voluntary association of individuals who revere the south, southern history and southern heritage.” The group adds that it “does not condone racism and as such we do not support any group or person that does.”

Hines, 68, has long been a leading figure in what is known as the neo-Confederate movement, which seeks to promote a more sympathetic view of the Confederate states during the Civil War. Scholars of the movement actually point to a reference to Hines in the neo-Confederate magazine Southern Partisan as one of the first uses of the term. Hines himself was a contributor to the magazine for decades and is credited as “assistant editor” in a 1980s masthead. In one article, he defended the historical reputation of Rep. Preston Brooks for the infamous caning of Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner on the Senate floor.

In the 1990s, Hines carried a Confederate flag down a street in Richmond to protest a statue to the late black tennis star Arthur Ashe Jr. being erected among other monuments that honored prominent Confederate figures. Hines is quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “The intent of the placement of the statue was to debunk our heritage.”

More recently, Hines attacked former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for supporting the removal of the Confederate flag from state grounds. In a letter to the editor of the Spartanburg Herald Journal, Hines called Haley “South Carolina’s Sikh-Hindu governor” and he has repeatedly called Haley a traitor in videos and on his website.

“Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s Sikh-Hindu governor, opened a Pandora’s Box of cultural genocide last June against all things Southern,” Hines wrote. “Since her Columbia appearance with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, building, street, and highway names have changed, accompanied by flag bans, monument removals, and efforts to remove Southern names from military bases and high schools.”

Hines did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

Stewart defended Hines’s endorsement in a statement to CNN’s KFile.

“The media’s obsession with vilifying conservatives – whether it’s calling Americans who want immigration controls bigots, slandering those who push for school choice as anti-teacher, or claiming those who seek to block-grant medicaid to the states want to push granny off a cliff – is the very reason we’re not going to apologize for standing up against the oppressive political correctness the leftist media uses in its impotent attempt to silence their political opponents.”