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White supremacists to gather in East Tennessee | Events

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White supremacists to gather in East Tennessee
Events, News
White supremacists to gather in East Tennessee

By Anita Wadhwani, The Tennessean 

A Caucasian heritage and $75 are the price of entry into next week's international conference for white supremacists in East Tennessee organized by Stormfront, the oldest and best known website devoted to the "white pride, white power" movement.

Like a Facebook for white supremacists, Stormfront is the virtual gathering space for like-minded people to meet, post and respond to messages, tell jokes and offer political commentary in a variety of labeled discussion groups that range from "fighting white genocide" to poetry.

The Tennessee conference represents a rare offline gathering for Stormfront members. The two-day agenda includes a luncheon and workshops on immigration, political organizing and communications by some of the movement's best-known contemporary leaders.

"This will be a national conference, drawing people from around the United States and Canada," said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate groups. But the 150-mile radius surrounding the meeting includes concentrations of active supremacist groups most likely to attend, he said.

And the state's historic ties to the white supremacist movement -- the Ku Klux Klan was started in Pulaski -- may be another reason for locating the conference in Tennessee.

"Tennessee is one of the states that has a strong presence of all of the major white supremacist groups active right now," he said.

Former presidential candidate David Duke will lead "an informal nature walk through the Smokies" on day two of the conference, which begins Sept. 15. Duke is the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and Louisiana lawmaker. The conference is limited to 150 people, but it's unclear how many will attend.

The meeting is one more sign of renewed organizing efforts among white supremacists in recent years, Pitcavage said.

"We're now three and a half years into a resurgence of right-wing extremism in the United States," he said. "Compared to four years ago, the white supremacist movement is more agitated. There aren't more white supremacists than there were four years ago, but the ones who are, are hopping mad."

The fact that Tennessee has strong and active pockets of each main faction of the contemporary white power movement -- there are five, experts say -- may be one reason that the international Stormfront gathering landed here, he said. Unidentified Stormfront members in Tennessee started an online campaign of sorts to host the first gathering, which was last year.

More than 30 white supremacist organizations operate in Tennessee currently, representing the five contemporary strains of white supremacists, according to the Anti-Defamation League. They include neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, "traditional" movements like the Ku Klux Klan, racist prison gangs and "Christian identity" groups that espouse the belief that God favors white people.

The Stormfront gathering is likely to draw from all but the prison groups, Pitcavage said.

Paul Fromm, a Canadian resident who broadcasts his own online radio show from Ontario via the Stormfront site, is coming to the conference to give a presentation about the perils of immigration in North America.

"Basically if the present trends continue, the founding set of people will be a minority in America in 2041," Fromm said this week in an interview with The Tennessean. "Once you change the population, you have a substantially different country. We have never really been consulted about these policies. They've been snuck in over the years by very powerful advocates."

Fromm has spoken at numerous white power events held by neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan groups, according to the Birmingham, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center.

The organization has called Fromm "one of Canada's best-known white supremacists."

But that doesn't mean he embraces the term "white supremacist."

"It's meaningless," Fromm said, responding to a question about whether he describes himself as one. "It's like calling a woman a slut. It's white pride. It's European pride. It's not putting anyone down. It's celebrating what we have to be proud of. The founders of North America are European; the American political system traces back its roots to ancient Greece. It's something we are proud of."

Other speakers at the conference -- including Stormfront's founder, Derek Black, and David Duke -- did not respond to requests for an interview. Contact information for a speaker known as "Horus the Avenger" could not be found. Horus the Avenger's White Rabbit website uses animated videos -- with a white rabbit as symbol for the white race -- and podcasts to teach communications approaches such as "baseline humiliation techniques" in "response to political correctness."

The Stormfront meeting also represents one growing strain of the white supremacist movement, which is interested in crafting more palatable talking points to convey a white pride sensibility without sounding extremist, Pitcavage said.

Instead of "white supremacist," advocates within the movement are urging adherents to talk about "anti-whites" who oppose them, Pitcavage said.

Over the past several weeks, Stormfront members have been getting ready, posting messages about ride shares, hotels and good places to visit in Tennessee.

"Even the hotel maids are white," one poster said of last year's conference, held just outside Gatlinburg. The exact location of this year's conference is kept secret until just before the event, but members have recommended hotels in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

"You will probably see less Negros on an airplane. By the way," another poster, Jukuls, advised poster Lycia, who was weighing whether to fly or take a bus.

"I live in the area. I assure everyone here anti-whites will not be a problem nor would they be tolerated by the locals or the law enforcement," newthoughtnationalism wrote.

Sevier County, where Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are located, is 96.1 percent white, according to the Census Bureau.

Local law enforcement said they were aware of the gathering but did not anticipate any trouble. The gathering was peaceful last year, according to the Knox County sheriff's office.

Tennessee, where the Ku Klux Klan was formed in 1865, continues to play a key role in re-energizing the white supremacist movement.

Pitcavage said a confluence of two factors -- the election of Barack Obama and the down economy -- is driving the white supremacist resurgence, connected to a spike in violent incidents which include a shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in a Milwaukee suburb that left six worshippers dead, including the shooter, Wade Page, a self-identified neo-Nazi.

But it was a foiled terrorist plot in Tennessee that may have lit the first spark, he said.

In 2008, during Obama's first presidential campaign, Bells, Tenn., resident Daniel Cowart, 20, and his friend Paul Schlesselman, 18, from Arkansas -- both self-described white power skinheads -- were caught before they could carry out an assassination attempt against Obama and 88 African-Americans at a school in West Tennessee.

The two met online at the Stormfront site.

The number "88" is often mentioned on the Stormfront site, a symbol of white supremacists that derives from "Heil Hitler," both words starting with the eighth letter in the alphabet.

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