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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/20/19

"White Power" Fascists Burn Down Tennessee Social Justice Center

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On Friday, March 29, the main building of the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee, was burned down in an arson fire. The center describes itself as a "catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South" that works "with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability." After the fire, the center said in a news release that they "found a symbol connected to the white-power movement spray-painted on the parking lot connected to the main office." It appears the fascist white-supremacist symbol was put there by the perpetrators of the arson.

Highlander Center fire, March 29, 2019
Highlander Center fire, March 29, 2019
(Image by New Market District Volunteer Fire Department)
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No one was killed or hurt in the Highlander arson, but the center said the fire destroyed "decades of historic documents, speeches, artifacts and memorabilia from movements of all kinds, including the civil-rights movement." The center has a long connection with the civil-rights movement, including training Rosa Parks before she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, sparking the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott that brought the fight against Jim Crow into national focus.

The sign found spray-painted on the center's premises was a symbol that looks like a hashtag with three vertical and three horizontal lines, which was first used by the Iron Guard, a fascist movement in Romania in the 1930s and '40s. More recently, this symbol has been used by some fascist "white power" forces in various parts of the world. Notably, the internet-white-supremacist fascist who invaded two mosques in New Zealand this March and murdered 50 people--livestreaming it on Facebook with the aim of inciting other fascists and racists--had the same symbol painted on one of the guns he used in the massacre. The Iron Guard symbol has also been used by fascists in the U.S., including some involved in the 2017 "Unite the Right" march of neo-Nazi white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which protester Heather Heyer was murdered by one of the fascists--and after which Trump said there were "very fine people" among the fascist-KKK goons.

This attack in Tennessee--and other attacks on black and other oppressed people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and women--are happening in the context of undisguised white supremacy coming from the highest levels of the U.S. ruling class. There is a president in the White House now who said after the mass murders at the mosques in New Zealand, when asked if if he thinks that "white nationalism" (that is, white- supremacist fascism) is a significant problem, said, "I don't really"; who paints all immigrants as "criminals"; and who attacks protesters against Confederate monuments for "trying to take away our heritage." This is whipping up an intensifying fascist, racist wave in the South and elsewhere around the country.1

Here are just a few recent examples:

  • Just two days after the Highlander arson fire, a memorial dedicated to slaves and black workers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was vandalized with urine and racist graffiti written in permanent marker. University officials said one of the people allegedly involved has ties to a group called Heirs to the Confederacy.
  • In October of last year, a white man cold-bloodedly shot and killed an older black man and woman in a supermarket parking lot near Louisville, Kentucky. Not all the circumstances around the killings are clear or known publicly, and the alleged shooter's motives are not known. But before murdering the two black people, the shooter had tried and failed to get into a black church, and a man who confronted the alleged killer reported that the gunman said, "Don't shoot me. I won't shoot you. Whites don't shoot whites."
  • The Kentucky murders took place in the same week as two other major developments: pipe bombs were sent to the homes and offices of top Democratic leaders, particularly prominent black figures, as well as wealthy liberals of Jewish descent and CNN. And a white-supremacist gunman murdered 11 Jewish people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh as he shouted, "All Jews must die."
  • In November of last year, a white male gunman shot and killed two women at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, before killing himself. The man was a self-proclaimed misogynist (hater of women) who posted videos and songs online proclaiming and advocating hatred and violence against women, black people, gays, and Muslims.
  • Around the time of the Highlander Center arson, three black churches in the rural St. Landry Parish in Louisiana were hit by arson. On April 10, a young white man, son of a deputy sheriff, was arrested and charged with the arson of the churches. At this point, there have been no reported statements from the man himself and his motives are not clear or made public. But the burning down of black churches cannot be separated from the current overall climate of rising white supremacist threats and violence, and the NAACP has called the arson of the Louisiana churches "hate crimes."

For decades, there has been a growing fascist section in this country, including at top levels of power. To them, America was "great" when it was unmistakably white, Christian, and male-dominated, and the USA had unrivaled dominance over the world--but it's gone to hell since. They find even the partial concessions that black and other oppressed people won in recent decades to be intolerable, and this hatred-along with the same hatred directed at gains won by women and blatant "USA #1" madness--is a big part of what fuels this fascist movement.

The Republican Party is the main vehicle of this fascism. But the Democratic opponents of Trump have no real answers either. In fact they, too, support white supremacy, in a less blatant form. Just look at how Bill Clinton opened his run for presidency by making a special trip to witness the execution of a brain-damaged black prisoner and then posing in front of a chain gang of black prisoners at Stone Mountain, Georgia (a monument to the Confederacy), as a signal to racist whites that he would keep black people in their "place"--and then, as a major part of his presidency, oversaw and pushed through repressive laws and policies that greatly expanded mass incarceration, particularly of black and other oppressed people.2 Or look at how Obama constantly put the blame for the whole oppressive situation blacks and Latinos face on the people themselves, preaching that the problem was youths with saggy pants, "absentee fathers," and so on--and how he attacked youths who rose up in Baltimore against the police murder of Freddie Gray as "thugs," while his In-justice Department never prosecuted a single murdering pig.3 The Democratic Party must uphold this white supremacy because the system they uphold and serve--capitalism-imperialism--has had white supremacy so tightly interwoven into its every fiber that you cannot get rid of the one without totally uprooting the other.

The arson of the Highlander Center and other incidents involving fascist white supremacists are the crest of what is objectively shaping up in society. On one side are those like the NRA and various other neo-Nazi, KKK-type groups openly threatening civil war against anything positive in society--while at the very top, Trump openly agitates for violence by his fascist followers and minions (like exhorting his crowds to chant "Lock Them Up!"), and moves to ratchet up repression by the state against immigrants and others. On the other side are the Democrat leaders trying to corral the opposition into "acceptable channels," even as they are one of the targets of the fascist forces.

Whether people are now cowed by or instead stand up to these fascist white-supremacist attacks--and how this struggle is fought politically--has urgent implications for where the world is headed. There are real stakes in countering the storm troopers, and their leaders and representatives, in every sphere in society, doing so as part of a broader movement to drive out the fascist regime--and, in terms of the future of humanity, as part of advancing the 3 Prepares: Prepare the Ground, Prepare the People, and Prepare the Vanguard--Get Ready for the Time When Millions Can Be Led to Go for Revolution, All-Out, With a Real Chance to Win.


1. According to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies: Between 2007 and 2011, the number of [violent right-wing] attacks was five or less per year. They then rose to 14 in 2012; continued at a similar level between 2012 and 2016, with a mean of 11 attacks and a median of 13 attacks; and then jumped to 31 in 2017.

2. For more on the crimes against the people by Clinton and other Democrats, see "The Most Recent Heinous Crimes Carried Out by Democratic Presidents or Congress: A Chart."

3. For more, see "Nostalgic for the Obama Years? Find Out How Much Harm Barack and Michelle Actually Did to Black People and Think Again."

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