Southern discomfort [Editorial]

Supporters of the League of the South can debate all they want whether their organization is truly a neo-Confederate hate group, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified them, but it would be much harder to argue that it isn't an oddball extremist group with some hair-raising ideas. That they support Southern secession and rally behind all things Confederate pretty much defines the Alabama-based league.

These are not just some folks who spend their free hours dressing up in Civil War garb, whistling "Dixie" and recalling the good old days. No, they genuinely want to make the South independent and by their own admission "seek to protect the Anglo-Celtic core population and culture of the historic South." The rest of the nation they see as mostly corrupt and insufficiently Christian.

Given that history, it's a little hard to believe that someone running for the Anne Arundel County Council from a district centered on the affluent Broadneck peninsula running from Severna Park to the foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge would want to be associated with it. Yet when Republican candidate Michael Peroutka got the chance to put a little distance between himself and the League of the South this week, he did just the opposite — complaining instead about those who dared criticize his longtime involvement with the group.

Mr. Peroutka not only declined to repudiate the league, but he singled out this newspaper for allegedly attempting to "smear" him by mentioning its Southern Poverty Law Center hate group designation. Mr. Peroutka also called out Larry Hogan, his party's nominee for governor, for disavowing him last week because of his ties to the League of the South.

Mr. Hogan "never took the time to even ask me if I was a racist or reach out to have a dialogue with me," he complained to reporters.

Actually, Mr. Hogan is probably looking the best of anyone associated with this Anne Arundel oddity. Plenty of Democrats have disavowed Mr. Peroutka, too, but that's a pretty easy call from that side of the political spectrum. Mr. Hogan, who has tried to keep a laser-like focus on matters of taxes and spending in his campaign, obviously saw no reason to be associated with secessionists. Indeed, why does Mr. Peroutka?

Anne Arundel Republicans ought to be running away from the candidate, too, but so far they seem to just be dancing. Del. Steve Schuh, the GOP nominee for county executive, issued a statement Wednesday indicating that he would not support "anyone affiliated with an organization that I believe may be racist and that calls for the dismemberment of the United States." But that was more than one week after Mr. Hogan's actions. Others have remained silent, perhaps because Mr. Peroutka, the 2004 Constitution Party candidate for President of the United States, and his views were not exactly unknown to them given that he has been a frequent contributor to, and volunteer supporter of, local GOP candidates and causes.

How Mr. Peroutka came to be his party's nominee in District 5 is a curiosity. He was helped in no small part by incumbent Councilman Dick Ladd's willingness to follow state and federal law by approving the county's version of the stormwater management fee. That fee — so often derided by Republicans as a "rain tax" — became a centerpiece issue during the campaign, and Mr. Peroutka won the primary by a mere 38 votes in a five-candidate field.

As a result, Republicans have handed Democrats a golden opportunity to make inroads in a county that had been increasingly dominated by firebrand conservatives who rail against government at every level. If Anne Arundel Democrats aren't talking about the League of the South and its views on race relations between now and November, perhaps they'll be quoting Mr. Peroutka's recent lectures on such matters as whether the Maryland General Assembly has "lost its validity" or opposing separation of "God and His law from civil government."

Or maybe they'll just play the video in which Mr. Peroutka asks his League of the South convention audience to stand and join him in the "national anthem" and then proceeds to sing Dixie. He was given a chance to retract that embarrassing 2012 episode, too, when reporters asked him during Wednesday's news conference if he had said that in error. His response? "No, I don't think it was a mistake." Well, somebody made a mistake, and it looks to be the voters of District 5 who get a chance to make amends in November.