Donors Deny Link To Charlottesville Hate Group

Posted at 4:14 PM, Aug 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-18 16:27:53-04

Some prominent Nashville businessmen are distancing themselves from a foundation that's supported one of the hate groups involved in the Charlottesville protest.

Those donors include a well-known Nashville developer and a former federal judge.

Among the white supremacists that descended upon Charlottesville this past weekend were members of the League of the South, a hate group that uses the emblem of the cross as its shield.

Its members include a former Tennessee man who went to prison for stealing military weaponry to be used in a race war.

And video captured by VICE News appears to show League of the South president Michael Hill, from Alabama, struggling with counter-protesters in Charlottesville.

In YouTube video discovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Hill openly talks of war.

"There is a war against you, white man and white woman, in the streets of our cities and towns,"he declares, drawing applause from his followers.

Earlier this year, the League announced a plan to form a so-called Southern Defense Force.

Nashville developer Steve Hewlett told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that he and his friends knew none of that.

"Our knowledge of that began when you called me yesterday morning," he insisted.

Hewlett, a lifelong Democrat, gave money to the Mary Noel Kershaw Foundation, a non-profit whose tax return lists gifts to the League of the South for self-defense training.

Its other contributors include former federal judge Robert Echols.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Hewlett, "You thought you were supporting Christian education?"

"Absolutely," he answered. "That's what we all thought."

They gave their money to David O. Jones, a man whom they got to know in a weekly Bible study group that has met inside a Nashville Shoney's for more than a decade.

Jones heads a Christian school known as the Heritage Covenant School that, it says, serves families across the Midstate.

He's also a past state chairman for the League of the South.

"When I see something going beyond legitimate Christian values, I have to pull away from it," Jones said.

Because the League seemed to be getting more extreme, Jones said he broke away two years ago.

But he continued to work with Hill to use the Kershaw Foundation as a vehicle for individuals to make tax-deductible donations to his school.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Jones, "What did these gentlemen think they were giving to?"

"There is no think about it," he said. "They were giving to the school and that's exactly where the money ended up."

Hewlett said it was all about the education of children.

"None of us had any thought of anything other than teachers with children who could have Bible study and prayer -- and that's what we thought we were supporting."

Late Wednesday, Echols released this statement:

"When I was informed by news media that an organization affiliated with hate groups listed me as a donor, I was horrified. When I made the contributions, at the request of my Bible study leader, I believed that I was making donations to a Christian school and that my financial support would help families. 

"My past service as a United States District Judge and experience dealing with civil and criminal legal cases is a tangible expression of my dedication to upholding the law.  I would never support any organization that promotes violence, hatred or racism. With other Americans, I am horrified by the actions of hate groups in Charlottesville, including the League of the South.

"I am very sorry that my philanthropy has been associated in a negative context.  I have a long history of supporting education, my community and my profession, and will continue to give to organizations that make the world a better place."

But listen to what Jones says he believes.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "The fact is, you are a secessionist."

"Yeah," he acknowledged with a smile.

In fact, our NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that Jones serves as chairman of the Southern National Congress, which calls for an independent Southern republic.

And his school lists a required course in Southern history that teaches "the facts about slavery and race relations in the South have been skewed to the advantage of the Northeast."

We asked, "Are you saying that slavery is not as bad as we think it was?"

"I think slavery was not as bad as what has been taught," Jones answered.

"Why is it necessary for children to be taught 'slavery really wasn't as bad as you've been told?'"

Jones was dismissive. "It's only high schoolers for one semester, and slavery is one lecture out of 16."

Hewlett insisted none of the donors knew that.

But when we asked Jones if the donors know of his secessionist beliefs, he suggested they did.

"I think the majority of them probably do," he said. "It comes up in conversation, private conversation, every once in a while. The Bible study has nothing to do with that, obviously."

Hewlett denied those claims.

"David has never expressed any of those types of hatred ideas in his reading of the Scriptures, in our conversations."

In fact, when it comes to Charlottesville, Hewlett says he supports taking down Confederate monuments -- and thinks many of the people in his Bible study would, as well.

As for the man who got his money, we asked the Nashville developer: "Do you think you've been hoodwinked?"

"Choice of words and being pejorative about it," he said, "we certainly were not probably informed. We should have been told."

Hewlett later called Jones' statements about slavery "disgusting and sickening."

As for David Jones, he said that -- as a result of these questions -- he has now resigned from the Kershaw Foundation.

Echols' current employer -- prominent Nashville law firm Bass, Berry and Sims -- released a statement, saying that they have now opened an internal investigation.

The statement read: 

"Our firm believes the views espoused by hate groups such as this one are deeply offensive and abhorrent. We condemn any organization that promotes hate and racism. We expect everyone affiliated with our firm to conduct themselves according to our values, which are rooted in integrity, fairness, inclusion and respect. That is why, as soon as we learned about this news story, we launched our own internal investigation. We are taking all necessary steps to address this issue."