On April 29th two far-right, Neo-Nazi groups convened in Pikeville, KY to hold a rally. The Traditional Workers’ Party (TWP) lead by Matthew Heimbach organized the rally, describing it on their page as a “weekend [that] will include fellowship, a public charity event, and a conference series of workshops on political ideology, activist tactics, and much more”. Together with the National Socialist Movement (NSM), lead by Jeff Schoep, the two groups planned to organize Pikeville, a small town in Appalachia, and attract the local working class to their racist ideology. On this point, they did not succeed. When asked about their feelings beforehand, the majority of Pikeville residents were upset that hate groups would come to their town to spew violence. They were also confused as to why the TWP and NSM thought that Pikeville would welcome such ignorance.
In the days leading up to the demonstration, local moderate liberal groups were intimidated out of their own counter-protest by threats of violence from the Neo-Nazis,. Also, a temporary city ordinance was passed that banned masks and hoods – often worn by the anti-racist, anti-fascist groups opposing the Nazis in order to protect their identities. Still, on Saturday the 29th both sides, the fascists and the anti-fascists, came to the center of town. They were fenced off with metal police pens. Only the cops and the media were allowed in the middle of the fences. The Nazis shouted racial slurs and chanted the names of their leaders across the fences, but there was no physical altercation. At 5:00 p.m., when the fascist groups’ permit for their demonstration ended, they all posed for their cameras in one last unified Nazi salute as riot cops attempted to surround the counter-protest. According to the city manager of Pikeville, Donovan Blackburn, there were three arrests of counter-protesters, though not much more is known. While the white nationalists were counting the day as a success, they were interrupted on their way out by the court summons of Matthew Heimbach who was charged for a previous offence in which he attacked a Black woman at a Trump rally (now he is suing Trump, saying that he was only responding to the President’s order to “get them out of there”). As both sides walked back to their cars, fascists waved guns aimed at counter-demonstrators, and threw a concussion grenade into a crowd of antifascists.
What does this mean for Lansing? The National Socialist Movement is based in Detroit and has a visible presence in our city, most notably seen in the 2006 rally that they held on the steps of the Capitol. At least one of the Nazis present at the rally has been seen in our Lansing. Groups such as these are working to normalize their message of hate and mass violence, and they are actively recruiting in what they perceive to be vulnerable areas. Part of their strategy is rebranding: we see it in the mission statement on the TWP website of “Faith Family and Folk”, and we see it in the changing of the NSM logo from the swastika to a symbol known as the “ordal” upon the election of Trump. In order to counter the organizing efforts of these fascists, we must continue to build our community in solidarity with one another and resist those who come to divide us.
This article originally appeared in Lansing’s Solidarity & Defense newsletter, No More Illusions. You can read more about this journal here.