But even as the SCV rejects traditional symbols of racism, they provoke debate with their promotion of contentious Civil War leaders like Forrest. "Robert E. Lee has been replaced as the great [Confederate] hero by Nathan Bedford Forrest by these Southern white heritage groups," says Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which investigates extremist groups. Lee owned slaves, Potok says, but "he was very much a statesman, and at the end of the Civil War he encouraged Southerners to rejoin the Union in heart and soul. Forrest was very much not like that. The fact that they want to honor him specifically says a lot about what they stand for."
Chuck Rand, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, calls any assumption that the Mississippi Forrester license plates are racist is a "knee-jerk reaction" by people who don't understand the "real causes" of the Civil War. Or, as he calls it, "The War for Southern Independence." But critics point out that slavery isn't addressed in these commemorations. The group's reenactment of Jefferson Davis' inauguration took place near Martin Luther King's old Montgomery church and the spot where Rose Parks refused to give up her bus seat in 1955. But during the event, no mention of the South's racial history was made.