The issue with the AC forum comes down to one person, Charles R. Childs. What is ironic, and perhaps misleading, is that he himself is not on there; his main customer base is. In order to understand the negative impact that Childs has had on the growth of talent within the hobby, one really needs trace the confrontations that he has had with competitors, that even precedes the internet.
THE GREAT TROUSER HOAX
1n 1989 Nick Nichols had written a caustic article in his publication, The Cavalry Review, titled "The Great Trouser Hoax", (link to article here) which was trying to state that correct Civil War kersey had yet to be made. While he may have had a point, the unfair part of his article (and all subsequent product reviews) was that he attacked Childs kersey, which was the best available product and left the worst ones untouched. Nichols' rationale at the time was that the worst products were so bad that they didn't merit comment. Nichols really didn't think the whole impact through, because in the public's eye, the ONLY bad kersey was Childs. This caused an initial backlash against Childs, and even by my own perspective, Childs was being unfairly attacked and singled out. However, in short order, the guns were turned around on Nichols himself, who did not produce the kersey that he had been trumpeting. The important, if not sinister part of this whole confrontation would be the emergence of a group of individuals who would now embrace Childs as the last word in knowledge. It would later emerge that the most agressive members of his following would come together to form what they called the Southern Guard.
Nichols began to really feel the squeeze of Childs followers. He showed up at a photoshoot for a Troiani painting in which the models were members of the Southern Guard. When they discovered who he was, there was not only grumbling, according to Nichols, there was the threat of a physical confrontation. Nichols stated that it was Troiani who intervened to defuse the situation.
While Nichols was shaken by the whole incident, it seemed, even by my perspective, that he had stirred up a hornet's nest.
My personal confrontation with these indiviuals in the Southern Guard came as a result of the 1993 Gettysburg reenactment. I had rented a small spot on sutler's row, which my friend, Rick Bilz had graciously attended on my behalf. Also setup on sutler's row was Charles R. Childs. Rick Bilz is a friendly, outgoing individual, who did a tremendous job of showing the products that I had made. The jewel of the presentation was a field grade officers coat that I had made for Rick. It was made of fabric from the long out of business, Warren Corporation, which wove on cast iron 19th century looms. The lining of this coat was silk taffetta, and no detail or expense was spared in the making. Nothing like this coat existed at the time, and you would be hard pressed to find something of similiar quality today as the fabrics that went into that garment are no longer available.
Rick was not at all shy about letting everyone handle this coat, and he stated that the garment was the talk of the event. He was met with compliment after compliment, and he stated that people were completely blown away. It would later become apparent that not everyone was interested in seeing high quality products on sutlers row.
As pure luck (or perhaps his own personal misfortune) would have it, the stall RIGHT NEXT to Childs was occupied by none other than Nick Nichols. As Rick Bilz showed the coat, he overheard a lot of the growing antipathy within Childs tent. Thinking that it was again being directed towads him, he became ashen when he heard the anger expressed toward "Nick".
Completely unaware of the growing hostility, my friend Mark McNierney walked into Childs' tent, innocently expecting a warm and friendly welcome. He later jokingly referred to it as the "Lion's den", noting that it was filled with members of the Southern Guard. He said that Childs sat with his arms folded across his chest, with is lower lip out. Southern Guard member Joel Bohy comforted Childs, stating that "when they get through with Nick, his name will be mud.".
After the event, I spoke to Rick Bilz who was gushing about the event, and about the enthusiastic reaction to the coat he showed. He was not aware of the whole viciousness of Childs and the Southern Guard, but did note that the only person who didn't want to see the coat was Childs, stating that he, "couldn't humble himself to look at another person's work." The second person I spoke to was Mark McNierney, and there was the real bombshell. Mark is a kind person, and had a hard time telling me that these people were going to go after me. "Fuck em", he said, just keep doing what you are doing.
I was very upset by this, and personally called Childs, who stated something I will never forget as long as I live. He said "I won't bad mouth you directly, but I won't stop anyone else from bad mouthing you", and hung up. I tried to call him back, but he wouldn't pick up the phone. Within one week of his threat, members of the Southern Guard began spreading rumors about me, screaming out "Sekela sucks" within the ranks. What is important was that the very people that Childs "wouldn't stop from bad mouthing me" were featured on several pages of his website.At this point, it was very clear that Childs was not a victim of Nichols zeal. Childs is a villian.
The question now stood, what do I do? Fight or quit? Rick Bilz was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the reaction at Gettysburg, and I will never forget the look on his face when I told him what transpired with Childs. When I told him the threat the Childs made, his face dropped. He said that you have to quit. I had literally JUST rented my shop, and he said that I had to break the lease. He said that you can't fight it.
I was really at a quandry as to what to do in this situation, especially in such a small business as this. Looking back, in terms of documenting this, I made a very good decision, by going to an attorney. As I was never in a situation like this, I was not aware that there are specialties in the legal profession, and getting the wrong lawyer can oftentimes be worse than getting no lawyer at all. I contacted our family attorney, whose specialty was real estate. He intially told me that this business was too small to bother, and I would probably be better off quitting. Thanking him for his advice, I had him send a strongly worded letter to the following individuals:
Charles Childs (who made the threat)
Joel Bohy (who said that my name will be mud when they were done with me) link to letter here
Sam Cathey (who was room mates with Joel Bohy and very active in that aggressive sabotage of my business) link to letter here
Fred Rickard (whose ONLY hapless involvement was being commander of the Southern Guard at the time)
As I really didn't have anything else going on in my life, I stuck it out. I really worked heel to toe, and struggled to keep it going. The first real step forward was when I published my first catalog. Starbuck told me to "dust Childs", and even Rick Bilz mollified his originally grim prognosis, stating that the Childs street gang will most likely snipe from the shadows. He also said, "give people a little credit; they will be able to figure out what is going on".
Starbuck had suggested the possibility of sending products to a fledgling publication called the Watchdog. I had checked it out, and decided to submit several samples. In addition to some glowing reviews, we also got threatening phone calls. One in particular that I will not forget, was a young person's voice, who said "you're nasty" and hung up.
The anonymity of the internet proved to be the perfect weapon for these individuals. Their ability to snipe from the shadows (as Rick Bilz stated) was perfect. One year after several members of the Southern Guard received certified letters, they began to use the internet as a method of sabotage. Their particular feeling of invincibility emboldened their actions.
Postings on Szabo trying to undermine my information
INTERFERENCE WITH CUSTOMERS
I had been telling customers that the Southern Guard had been doing this to me, and one remarked that while he had not seen anything personally, there seemed to be a meanness surrounding any talk about me. I received the following e-mail from Marc Riddell regarding a confrontation with members of the Southern Guard...
My customer, Buddy Zech was the person who was prevented from wearing his frock at an event on Park Service land. They have done some downright vicious things, but this actually crossed the line into unlawful activity, and were doing it on public land. Clearly they felt that they could act with impunity.
In the course of business, one sees an average order size, and when that falls outside of that range, it raises attention. I received an order from a new customer, Neal Thomas Hurst, for ONE two prong buckle for .75 cents. It really didn't raise THAT MUCH attention, as he had paid the $7 shipping charge. It was through Greg Starbuck I later found out that Hurst worked at the tailor shop in Colonial Williamsburg, and CJ Daley was hanging out at the tailor shop. Prior to Starbuck telling me this, and at the suggestion of Bob Werner, I had called the tailor shop, in search of whale bone for fencing bayonets. To say that the conversation was cold, was putting it mildly, and it wasn't until Starbuck told me that the pieces fell into place. Not only were Southern Guard members spreading ill about me, they were getting people to make haraassingly small purchases. (It should also be stated that several members of the Southern Guard made token purchases of items, for no other reason than to create an alabai. Despite the fact that they are actively destructive, they could claim that they "love Nick's stuff, because they actually own some of it") It was after Mr. Hursts' purchase that I saw the game.
Thereafter, when someone made a small purchase such as this, it was not the slap that they intended, but a red flag. In July 2011, when I received an order for one eagle cuff button from Ian McWherter, I was more than ready for him. The order went out the same day, but more importantly, I knew that there was an event in California that very weekend. I had asked several friends to keep an eye on him. No sooner than 8 hours into the event, I received a cell phone call from one of my friends, and McWherter was indeed spreading ill.
THE AC FORUM.
The owner of the forum, Paul Calloway was well aware that the Southern Guard was doing this to me, because I had personally sent him copies of all this information. I called him afterwards, and in retrospect, could see that that this supposedly Christian man, felt that a group of people terrorising and destroying another person's work was funny. If anything, it made an impression on him, as if somehow they had their act together.
Calloway had been begging me to return to the forum and post as much as I could. I had mixed feelings, but posted as much as I could. SUDDENLY and inexplicably, Calloway senselessly banned me very publicly, with the intent of creating damage. Police often say that catching criminals is not a matter of detective work, but a matter of waiting until they make a mistake. While Calloway banned me from the forum, he unwittingly gave me access to the moderator's forum. It was patently clear that he had planned to sabotage me for quite some time, and the opportunity arose during the following posting...
Southern Guard Member Ryan Weddle suggesting banning me.
Clearly by this posting Calloway had absolutely no respect for my work, and as stated above, he felt that what the Southern Guard was doing to me was funny.
While Calloway's shorter objective may have been to cause me personal harm, his greater goal was to endear the Southern Guard to him. Coming from a sales and marketing background, Calloway saw the hobby in terms of demographic. He was looking to reach the young, arrogant, self appointed expert reenactor, and he saw Chris Daley has having that customer base in particular. By helping them sabotage me, they would help him capture that "demographic".
In order to draw them closer to him, Calloway created a separate "sub-forum" for members of the Southern Guard as noted in the following Southern Guard newsletter:
Calloway sets up separate forum.
If you look at the roster of the Southern Guard, you will find a "who's who" of moderators on the AC forum. The hostility exhibited there should come as no surprise, and in point of fact it is a continuation of the same sabotage that has been going on for years. The only difference is that they have found a home.
Southern Guard Roster
THE BOMAR FROCK
For the first time, my comparison of the original to the reproduction offered by Southern Guard member Daley put the Southern Guard on the defensive. It should be noted that none other than Paul Calloway tried to intervene and have my comparison taken down. Approved vendors on the AC forum, and particularly ones with perceived political power are not answerable in his eyes. Not only was there back peddling, and an attempt to distance themselves from Daley, they started to come forward with inside information about the whole scheme behind the Southern Guard.
Member John Sarver simply stated that the whole idea was to create a unit of "rock stars" with unimpeachable credibility. This credibility was not used to publish information, or share things. It was about selling products and dominating the marketplace.
Charles Sprowls was one of the first people to identify members within the Southern Guard, that he referred to as the "Charlie cult". I really had to draw this out of him, and I hope that he reads this and sees the great injustice that they have done, and continue to do. These statements need to be made publicly.
George Hardy, who is probably one of the most decent members of the Guard stated that a lot had transpired, and, in his words "apologies are owed".
Tim Cole had related a story that typifies the mentaility of the Charlie cult. He stated that they were talking about some new great fabric that Ben Tart was producing., when one of them lamented that "it's too bad Charlie doesn't make it!"
In 1999 Jim Kindred gave perhaps the best analysis of the situation ever written.
Great accolades have been heaped upon Childs for his fabrics, when in point of fact, he had very little to do with the product. Childs did not source this mill through conventional methods; Harry Lonsdale was a source that was given to him in the late 1980's. The final product was completely through the skill and experience of Harry Lonsdale, not Childs.
Harry Lonsdale and Churchville
CEDAR CREEK 2010
In response those who claim that these actions were in the distant past, the actions at Cedar Creek devolved into pure harassment. As Daley was set up at the event, it was really headquarters as it were. It ranged from people coming into my tent with a smirk on their face asking directions to Daley's setup, to Southern Guard members James Thomas Miller and Fred Rickard physically blocking the entrance to my tent
As a direct result of this website, Dan Casella posted on my facebook page, making a threat to organize a boycott of my products. This very same group of people are trying to instigate problems, and once again, involving themselves with my customers. They are also placing "spoof" orders, and leaving obscense phone messages. Essentially what they are doing at the current time is screaming "FIRE" in a packed theatre.
While it may be a sad tale of personal tragedy, the important part to consider is the great lengths that I have gone to in order to make reproductions. I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology for patternmaking technology. I served an apprenticeship with Prochilo Custom Tailors. I worked with both Chris Schreiber and Hank Kluin. In 1989, I had amassed a collection of over 120 tailoring manuals dating from 1870 and earlier.
Up to the point that I entered the arena, the only way that one could make reproductions was to visit an original garment, and mimic it. Merely proving that you were in the same room as a garment was all that was needed; there was no higher vantage point which is to say, tying it to a pre-existing classical trade. Subsequent to my entry, everyone has bestowed upon themselves the title of tailor, without serving an apprenticeship or going to tradeschool, following instead, the example of Milli-Vanilli, and relying upon "image". The only way to sustain that "image" was to eliminate me in as many avenues as possible. To quote a line by the character Sean Parker, from the movie A Social network, "they don't want you, they want your idea".
The real danger to the hobby is that if they can do this to me, they can do it anybody.
Childs, the myth and the land of make-believe.
The SAD Sack Coat(s)
The Valentine Museum
(more to follow)