A series of stickers for a white nationalist group showed up around downtown Chattanooga Wednesday evening. They read "American Identity Movement" and were pasted on at least three light poles near the City Hall building, with at least some along M.L. King Boulevard, the same street where five black women were wounded in a shooting by three self- proclaimed Klansmen in 1980.
Photos of the patriotic- themed stickers were posted to the American Identity Movement's Twitter page, where they were shared at least 17 times.
"We're confident that these stickers and the organization they represent are not indicative of how most Chattanoogan's [sic] feel and who we are," Wade Hinton and Alison Lebovitz, co-chairs of the Council Against Hate, said in a statement.
"Chattanooga welcomes people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and cultures to live, work, and thrive in our City."
The stickers had been taken down by Friday.
The American Identity Movement was launched in March by former Identity Evropa leader Patrick Casey. He had been the leader of Identity Evropa, a college-focused white supremacist group, for just over a year when he announced the organization had "been retired," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The SPLC noted the move to rebrand seemed to be designed to "distance Casey and his followers from the public-relations baggage that has burdened IE since the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, 'Unite the Right' rally they helped organize."
Identity Evropa and others involved in the rally are currently facing a federal lawsuit related to their role in the deadly rally.
Casey announced the rebranding on the steps of the Tennessee Capitol building in Nashville on March 10. The banner photo on the group's website is of a large group of members on the steps of the Capitol building holding banners that read, "this land is our land" and "defend America."
A bust of Nathan Bedford Forest, Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader, is housed within the state Capitol.
The American Identity Movement is focused on preserving white nationalism and culture, said Allison Goodman, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Southeast region. They are very antisemetic and anti-immigrant.
"They're well known for doing this type of propaganda," she said, noting it's taken different forms, such as fliers, stickers and banners over interstate overpasses.
"That's significant, because I think that the confidence that they're feeling in their ideology — and that ideology is kind of entering the mainstream and finding comfortable tentacles within mainstream America right now — gives them confidence in putting their proganda in places where they would never have put it before," Goodman said.
Here at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, there were two incidents last year in which white supremacist fliers were distributed around campus, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
In February 2018, a white supremacist group, Vanguard America, distributed white supremacist fliers that featured Adolf Hitler and were placed on top of Black History Month fliers.
The goal is to get attention, Goodman said. Even if it's negative attention. "Any attention is attention," she said.
Tennessee has become a hub for white supremacist activity. In 2018, the state held nearly 20% of all planned white supremacist events in the U.S. That's compared to other states, such as Alabama, which had just 4%, Georgia at 5% and Arkansas at 9%, Goodman said previously.
In the same year, the SPLC has identified 36 active hate groups in Tennessee.
The sticker placements in Chattanooga come less than a week after a gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart where 22 people were killed. The shooter told police "his target were 'Mexicans,'" according to El Paso court records.
As for the men accused of shooting the five black women on Martin Luther King Boulevard in 1980, two of them were acquitted by an all-white jury. The third man was convicted of three counts of assault and battery and one count of simple assault.