On March 2-3, the Civitas Institute -- a conservative think tank largely funded by Art Pope's foundation - is hosting Battleground North Carolina, a conference designed to rally state conservatives for the 2012 elections. The website shows one featured speaker -- a right-wing talk show host who openly encourages states to secede from the country.

Billed as a "Conservative Leadership Conference," Battleground North Carolina is being held in partnership with well-known groups in the national conservative network: the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation, all of which receive Pope Foundation money.

The choice of Jason Lewis as a lead speaker is a curious one. A right-wing talk radio host in Minneapolis, Lewis is perhaps best known for his controversial support of a new constitutional amendment that would make it easier for states to secede from the U.S.A.

Secession is a leading focus of Lewis' 2011 book, "Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States' Rights." In the first chapter (pdf), Lewis cuts to the heart of the secession debate, arguing that the Civil War wasn't necessary, wasn't about slavery and -- perhaps worst of all, in Lewis' eyes -- besmirched the idea of states' rights:

[T]he North’s determination to go to war, and the South’s reaction to it, helped to diminish the idea of “states’ rights” for at least the next century. The very notion itself became a pejorative one.

Nowhere does Lewis mention that most of the "states' rights" debates in the South have centered around race -- and have been used to preserve racial inequality. In fact, the words "race," "racism" and "civil rights" don't appear once in the entire first chapter of Lewis' book outlining the states' rights history,  a bewildering omission.

Lewis does mention slavery, but only to dismiss it as the real cause of the Civil War (Northern tariffs). This is a view long promoted by neo-Confederate scholars, but largely discredited by historians: tariffs were a factor in North/South tensions, but not the chief cause of the conflict. Indeed, the Confederates themselves were clear on slavery being the key reason behind the war: As Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy's vice president, declared in his famous Cornerstone Address in 1861:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. [...]

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Is this the legacy Pope's groups want to further in North Carolina?

(h/t Blue NC)

For more about Art Pope and his political network, visit ArtPopeExposed.com, a special investigative project of Facing South/Institute for Southern Studies.