White nationalist groups no longer plan to use a Kentucky State Park in Floyd County for a meeting and training event on April 28, easing concerns about potential confrontations there.
However, the chairman of the Traditionalist Worker Party, Matthew Heimbach, said the groups would instead hold the event on private property in the area.
The groups also still plan to showcase their ideas at a rally for “white working families” in downtown Pikeville on April 29.
Residents opposed to the groups’ ideology have planned a rally at the same time, a few blocks away, for people to “stand up for peace, diversity, and love and to stand AGAINST neo-Nazis,” according to the Facebook page for the event.
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On another front, the advocacy group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is providing education about the groups, including how to counter their message with a positive vision for the state.
The Traditionalist Worker Party announced in February it would hold a conference at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in late April that would include socializing, live music and seminars on a range of issues, including how to march in public events and how to spread the group’s message online.
The TWP espouses a message of economic populism. But the white nationalist group also “advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems,” according to Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
The group is allied with neo-Nazi and other racist organizations, according to the center.
The Traditionalist Worker Party reserved a block of rooms and a meeting facility at Jenny Wiley. That upset some people who didn’t think the groups should be allowed to meet at state-owned facilities, but the state Department of Parks said it could not bar the group from meeting at the park.
A representative of the TWP described the event as a family reunion when making reservations. When the Department of Parks found out that it was actually a public event, the agency asked the group to sign an event agreement.
That prompted the group to pull out of the facility. The contract included high costs, such as requiring the TWP to buy liability insurance for the event and provide security, Heimbach said.
“That goes against the very spirit of what public accommodations should be,” Heimbach said.
The agreement presented to the organization was standard for public events at state parks and the group was not treated differently than any other, according to a spokesperson for the department.
Heimbach said his group has a member in the area who will host events on the 28th and 29th and let people camp. He expects about 100 people to attend.
“Everything is still going ahead,” he said.
Heimbach said he would not disclose the location for security reasons.
An anti-fascist group has targeted the TWP and allies for violence, and there has been talk that members of that group will try to disrupt the events planned in Eastern Kentucky this month, Heimbach said.
When the TWP held a rally at the state capitol in California in June 2016, protesters clashed with the white nationalists and 10 people were hurt in the fighting, the New York Times reported.
Police said 400 protesters confronted about 30 members of the party, according to the story.
Floyd County Judge-Executive Ben Hale said he was glad the white nationalist groups won’t be meeting at the state park.
“These types of groups are not welcome by anybody in Floyd County,” Hale said. “I hope they don’t come east of the Mississippi.”
Other groups scheduled to take part in the Eastern Kentucky events include the League of the South and the National Socialist Movement, Heimbach said.
The National Socialist Movement was the group that applied for and received a $25 permit for a rally on Main Street in Pikeville from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 29.
Donovan Blackburn, Pikeville city manager, said the city’s position is that it honors First Amendment rights, but that any event must be safe and orderly.
The city will have a reasonable police presence to protect public safety, he said.
Blackburn said the city takes no position on the groups’ views, but noted Pikeville is a “progressive and diverse community” and that there has been a tremendous reaction by people not happy that the white nationalists are coming to spread their message.
Residents have organized a “Rally for Equality and American Values” to take place on the University of Pikeville campus at the same time as the other rally.
The event will include music and speeches by elected officials and others. The Facebook page for the event said speakers will include state Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, who called white nationalist groups “racist bigots” in a speech in February, and the county’s state House members.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which has long pursued racial justice, is supporting that event.
Christian Marcum, a student at University of Pikeville’s medical school who helped organize the event, said the white nationalists apparently think they can recruit in the area.
The economy of Eastern Kentucky’s coal counties has been battered by a sharp drop in coal jobs since 2011. The downturn has left thousands out of work, so a message of helping working people might appeal to some.
But Marcum, a Pike County native, said he thinks only the “most desperate of the desperate” would support the white nationalist groups.
“I think 99.9 percent of the people would be against it,” he said.
Marcum said Thursday that nearly 900 people have said they will attend the event at the University of Pikeville.