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White nationalists seek recruits in Ky. with limited success

By ERIC MOUNT

Contributing columnist

We should have gotten the message from the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 11-12. In case we did not, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have spelled it out and even mapped it out for us in no uncertain terms in their respective annual reports.

2017 was a growth year for white supremacist groups and neo-Nazi groups, and for hate groups on the other extreme. And what is even worse, our area is target territory for future growth.

The first of the two reports to appear was “Intelligence Report: The Year in Hate and Extremism” from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The regular spring SPLC Report called 2017 “a year in which reinvigorated white supremacists staged their largest rally in years — the demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left an anti-racist counterprotester and two law enforcement officers dead.”  It also calls the “alt-right” “the latest incarnation of white supremacy.”

Intelligence Report identifies 954 hate groups, 600 of which adhere to some form of white supremacist ideology. Within the white supremacist movement, neo-Nazi groups saw the greatest growth in 2017 — from 99 groups to 121. On the other hand, the Ku Klux Klan dropped from 130 groups to 72.

The SPLC also sees the Charlottesville rally “breaking through the firewall that long kept overt racists out of the political and media mainstream.” A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that approximately twenty-two million Americans now believe that it is acceptable to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views. The SPLC points out that the resurgence of white supremacy has brought a hate group backlash on the other extreme, among the Nation of Islam and fringe black nationalist groups. The chapters of these hate groups grew from 193 to 233.

The report from the New York-based Anti-Defamation League cites a 57-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 (from 1,267 incidents to 1,986). This number constitutes the highest total since 1994 and the largest single-year increase since the group started collecting data in 1979.  

As with SPLC, Charlottesville is a prime exhibit. Remember the chants: “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil.” The report indicates that anti-Semitic incidents “spiked during and immediately after the Charlottesville rally and counterprotest Aug. 11-12.” That was not, however, an aberration. There was also a 67-percent increase in assaults, vandalism and attacks on Jewish institutions in the previous year.  

These reports on 2017 are, of course, talking about the first year of the Trump presidency; and the SPLC Report headline reads: “Trump thrills white supremacists in 2017.”  Many of Trump’s staunchest supporters will not agree, but David Duke, former KKK grand wizard, has this to say about the Charlottesville rally: “It’s the fulfillment of President Donald Trump’s vision for America.” (Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides.”)

Whatever opinion one has about Charlottesville or President Trump’s racial record, some surveys do show six in 10 Americans think that his election has led to the worsening of race relations.  

There is one more headline to flag. The big print on the front page of the Courier Journal on March 26 reads: “Neo-Nazis eager to set up in region.” The paper’s investigation finds that neo-Nazis are organizing in Ohio and surrounding states with the goal of establishing a whites-only state. Prominent in this effort is the Traditionalist Worker Party, which was among the white nationalist groups that marched in Charlottesville.  

This party is listed among the 100 neo-Nazi hate groups in the U.S.A. by SPLC. (There are 14 neo-Nazi groups and nine chapters of the KKK in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana alone, but the SPLC Report finds only one KKK group and two neo-Nazi groups in Kentucky at present.)

TWP leaders reject the hate label, saying that as white nationalists, they are merely trying to help out white people. They are conducting coat, canned goods and school supply drives with future plans for free medical clinics. They are, nevertheless, anti-Semitic and anti-diversity; and they do not want to live with anyone but white people.

They are a national group, but they are concentrated in America’s middle — Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. (Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee are around 80-percent white, and Kentucky is 85-percent.)  These “middle” states were not as strongly abolitionist as some of their northern neighbors, but they were not part of the Confederacy either. The civil rights movement was quieter there.

TWP claims to have 2,000 members, although they could only get 20 recently to a protest against the Women’s March in Knoxville. They are targeting Appalachia, where they see poor white people losing hope and neglected by government. And they are targeting young people, especially young white men, and the addicted and their families (see the opioid crisis). Ohio is their center, and Trump carried Ohio by 8 percent. (Remember that Kentucky went for President Trump by a 30-percent margin.)

So far, huge growth in Kentucky is not apparent.  According to SPLC, we have 11 active hate groups in the commonwealth, compared to 31 in Ohio, 30 in Indiana and 37 in Tennessee. Still, we should be concerned.  

What, if anything, can we learn from the TWP’s strategy and targeting? What should the larger community be doing with and for people that such groups see as ripe to recruit, as well as with and for the groups that hate groups are targeting?

Perhaps the local Hope Network gives us a clue as it addresses the opioid crisis in a targeted group. Perhaps the Bevin plan to cut Medicaid gives us a clue about what not to do, since many of those affected by addiction badly need access to health care to get healthy enough to be candidates for employment.

The best clue may have been provided by the local observance of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 15. Outpourings of interracial goodwill such as that can surely serve as antidotes to any hate group poison that might seep into our area.