Extreme right-wing groups advocating white nationalism and a fascist government have recently announced their plans to hold a conference and rally in Pikeville, Kentucky, on April 28-29, 2017.
The press release for the event from the National Socialist Movement announces that an umbrella organization calling itself the National Front, which includes the Traditionalist Worker Party along with various KKK, neo-Nazi and other Alt-Right groups, will hold a conference at Jenny Wiley State Park near Pikeville, Kentucky, on April 28, followed by a rally at the Pike County Courthouse in Pikeville from 2-5 p.m. on April 29.
Groups have already begun to organize themselves to oppose the gathering. Pikeville locals are planning a counter-rally in a different part of town that is scheduled at the same time as the rally at the courthouse. According to the Facebook page for the event, "this is an event for people to stand up for peace, diversity, and love and to stand AGAINST Neo-Nazis and everything they represent."
Other Pike County residents are taking a more direct approach, stating in their recent announcement on the website It's Going Down their plans "to prevent [the white nationalists] from coming and to disrupt them if they do come."
Local groups aren't the only ones focusing on opposing the event. The website Anti-Fascist News recently posted an article about the event in Pikeville, stating that the rally against the upcoming fascist gathering "is going to need the support of antifascists around the country." And a recent post on It's Going Down from the Louisville, Kentucky, branch of Anti-Racist Action stated, "We stand in solidarity with the residents of Pikeville, and with anyone else who stands up against fascism. We invite you to do the same. The rising tide of white supremacy must be dismantled...We will be there, and we will not be alone."
Groups in Evansville are responding to this call for solidarity in various ways. If you are in the Evansville area and would like to learn more about local opposition to the upcoming white nationalist event in Pikeville or to get involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Confronting White Nationalism in the Tri-State
The upcoming gathering in Kentucky hits close to home for residents of Southern Indiana, where Traditionalist Worker Party leaders Matthew Heimbach and Matthew Parrott live. For the past few years, they, along with others, have been attempting to establish a white separatist colony in Paoli, Indiana, where Parrott owns land.
The Traditionalist Worker Party also has a branch in Madisonville, Kentucky just south of Evansville.
Heimbach believes that Southern Indiana will welcome his racist views. He told Bloomington, Indiana's Harold Times, "Southern Indiana's a natural home for our politics...You have struggling working-class issues; you have the frustration and alienation from Washington insider politics. We need to be where people are being left behind, and I think there are few places that can compete with Kentucky (and) Indiana."
One way to combat white nationalism is to expose it. According to Anti-Fascist News, "the growth of the Alt Right has rested solely on the ability to have a voice while remaining anonymous." They go on to cite numerous examples of Alt-Right leaders being fired from their jobs and disowned by their families after being exposed to the public as white nationalists.
Unintentionally highlighting this vulnerability, Heimbach writes in a recent post on the Traditionalist Youth Network blog, "...we chose Pikeville in part because of (discreet) local support," indicating that there are white nationalist sympathizers in the Pikeville area who would prefer to remain in hiding. Thus far they have been able to do so--safely welcoming other white nationalists to the region as a result.
Since Trump's election, Southern Indiana has seen an increase in attacks by white supremacists who have been able to avoid exposure. Following Trump's election, a church in Bean Bottom, Indiana, was spray-painted with a swastika, and the words "Fag Church" and "Heil Trump." Weeks later, a predominantly black church in Evansville was spray-painted with the words "Kill all Koons."
Recently in Evansville, someone fired a shot through the window of a Jewish temple, an attack that coincided with a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and attacks on Jewish cemeteries across the country. It also came the day after hate crime legislation failed again in Indiana's legislature, making it one of only five states without such laws.
Matthew Heimbach, the Alt-Right and the Nationalist Front
In the midst of this increasing climate of racism and xenophobia, Matthew Heimbach openly advocates fascism and white nationalism as a response to the problems faced by the white working class in America. In an interview with the online news source Imagine 2050, Heimbach stated, "I don't believe in democracy. What we need is a transgression [sic] to a fascist state and ultimately to a monarchy."
In his article, "Why I Hate Freedom," Heimbach writes, "Americans are far too squeamish to admit that sometimes there are some things that just need a good ol' fashioned government boot heel to stomp out. While we tolerate homeschoolers and organic farmers being arrested and harassed by the Federal authorities, people run in fear at the idea of breaking up a homosexual marriage ceremony, torching an abortion clinic, or doing any action that benefits the overall health and culture of their people."
Drawing on examples from European nationalist groups who he has connections to, such as Greece's ultranationalist Golden Dawn, Heimbach is attempting to lead the white nationalist movement in the U.S. toward a political platform that he thinks will be more palatable for disenfranchised American workers.
This newly rebranded version of far-right American conservatism has been labeled the "Alt-Right," short for "Alternative Right."
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the term was coined in 2008 by Richard Spencer, leader of the white nationalist think-tank the National Policy Institute, "to describe a loose set of far-right ideals centered on 'white identity' and the preservation of 'Western civilization.'"
Despite their attempts to rebrand themselves as a more respectable alternative to the traditional swastika-covered neo-Nazi skinhead or the backwoods Klansmen, the Alt-Right is no less a movement that advocates violence toward minority groups and the imposition of a totalitarian, fascist government.
These efforts to bring together white nationalists in the U.S. to form a unified force have recently led to the formation of the Nationalist Front.
According to Anti-Fascist News, "The Nationalist Front is a new confederation of neo-Nazi, KKK and Alt Right groups that is trying to capitalize on a Trump presidency." They go on to state that the Traditionalist Worker Party "and those in the Nationalist Front are known for their street actions, and now that Trump is threatening to lower federal scrutiny on white supremacist organizations in favor of targeting Muslims, they now think they can make a show of strength in the South."
Reuters reported recently that the Trump presidency is planning to focus most or all domestic anti-terrorism efforts on Islamic extremism "and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States."
The Growing Fascist Current
This policy shift by the federal government comes as the country faces a wave of right-wing populism, fueled by harsh anti-immigration and anti-minority sentiment. On the grassroots level, this has led to an upsurge of attacks against religious and ethnic minorities across the country and the proliferation of far right-wing groups, while at the level of government, it has meant the inauguration of a right-wing populist candidate, his appointment of an Alt-Right media executive as his national aide and a string of policies and executive orders that attack minorities and erode freedom.
For many working-class people, tough economic times have combined with an increased sense of alienation from politicians to create an opposition to the established power structures in this country. If this anti-establishment impulse can bring working-class people from various racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds together in efforts that focus on increasing egalitarianism and freedom, it could lead to the creation of a more just and equitable world.
Unfortunately though, disillusionment with the status quo does not always lead to positive change. So often it leads instead to the scapegoating of minority groups, the romanticizing of a supposedly pure past, and the placement of faith in unchecked governmental authority.
In Pikeville, Kentucky, as well as Southern Indiana, opportunists are pushing for oppressive, nationalist dictatorships just like the ones that came to power in economically distressed Germany and Italy in the 1930s. Heimbach surmises in a recent blog post about American soldiers who died in World War II, "if these men could see what their victory would entail, they would have put down their weapons or joined the German side."
For those who did not live through the global spread and defeat of fascism in the '30s and '40s, Nazism and the conditions that gave rise to it can feel very distant from the reality of present day America. Nonetheless, it would be irresponsible to ignore the growing number of indicators that history may be beginning to repeat.