Cook: The Nazis come to town

Cook: The Nazis come to town

April 8th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

With more than 50 chapters and hundreds of members, the National Socialist Movement is the largest neo-Nazi group in America. They are white supremacists and skinheads who quote Hitler, dress in black fatigues - looking like Storm Troopers or Italian fascists - and march with giant swastika flags while calling for an America populated with only one type of citizen.

"Those of pure White blood," their manifesto reads.

Later this month, the National Socialist Movement is bringing together neo-Nazis and white supremacists from across the nation to celebrate their 40th anniversary with a two-day event.

And they're holding it here, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"Come out and let your voice be heard, and your boots stand in solidarity in the streets of Chattanooga in defense of our nation, our race, and the American way of life," the registration form reads.

It begins on the evening of Friday, April 25, with a meeting and dinner for movement members and other known guests. On Saturday, April 26, there is a rally: "open to all known white patriots," the website reads. No location is given for either event.

That weekend also holds other significance.

"That is Yom HaShoah," said Rabbi Bill Tepper, of Chattanooga's Mizpah Congregation.

Yom HaShoah is the Jewish day of Holocaust Remembrance. Around the world, Jews remember the Holocaust, teach others about it, and work to prevent such evil from happening again.

This means that as Jews around the world begin to commemorate the sufferings of the Holocaust, the nation's largest neo-Nazi group will be gathering here.

"I am alarmed and disturbed by this," said Tepper.

Based in Detroit, the National Socialist Movement has its roots in the American Nazi party. Their leader Jeff Schoep -- they call him Commander -- has been banned from entry into the United Kingdom as a threat to the public good. The NSM membership application requires allegiance to the Aryanism of "a strong free republic without Jewish influence or control."

The group created its own record label and operates a social networking website. Its members question the Holocaust and march alongside the Ku Klux Klan. When asked how many members he expects to travel to Chattanooga, the NSM's public relations coordinator -- who was at work, and not able to talk for more than a moment -- was not sure.

"We usually get between 50 and 100 people in the streets," said Brian Culpepper, a leader within the movement's Tennessee chapter.

Chattanooga officials say the group has not yet applied for a permit to march. (According to city code Sec. 26-14, a group planning any public event at a park involving more than 15 people must file a permit at least 10 days in advance of the event). Several years ago, they marched through a predominantly black neighborhood in Ohio; riots followed. The event made international news.

"They are seasoned provocateurs," said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which estimates there are 33 other white supremacist hate groups in our state. "They have over the years specialized in provoking crowds and creating incidents."

So ... how will we respond?

Do we organize a massive counter-protest? Try and outnumber them? Line the streets and turn our backs to them? Encourage a white-hat-hacker response that shuts down their website? When the movement traveled to Knoxville in 2010, activists calling themselves the Coup Clutz Clowns dressed in clown suits and danced (to Ricky Martin, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported) in loud protest.

Potok, who predicts the National Socialist Movement will wait until the last moment to announce the location of its rally, said the group's strategy is to provoke a response, which it will use for publicity and propaganda. (Schoep blamed the Ohio riots, which made international news, on "the Negro beasts.") They thrive on turning their rally into a shouting-altercation that can easily turn violent.

"Do something," Potok advised. "But don't do it in the same venue."

Potok suggests creating some anti-racist program elsewhere -- same day, same time, with tons of folks -- that counters the Nazi message while also creating an opportunity for something meaningful to emerge among the rest of us. The Nazis may come and go, yet there remains a real and present racism within Chattanooga that doesn't pack its bags and leave after the weekend rally.

"Ultimately, I think we need to spend as much energy fighting back to dismantle racism and anti-Semitism in the first place," said Ash-Lee Henderson, with our city's Concerned Citizens for Justice. "Hopefully, what it does is remind us that bigotry is alive and well but the everyday, systemic, micro-aggressions against communities of color are also just as real."

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.