National Socialists recruiting in Ohio and Kentucky; drop swastika to go mainstream

CINCINNATI -- When the National Socialist Movement wanted to modernize and go mainstream last year, the organization dropped one of the most obvious signs of its Nazi heritage.

Gone is the off-putting and obvious swastika, replaced with a lesser-known Odal rune. But the beliefs are the same: citizenship for "pure blood" whites only, adulation of Adolf Hitler and an authoritarian government.

The Southern Poverty Law Center labels the National Socialists an extremist hate group.

Handouts on the party's website still bear the swastika; they target white farmers, white women and white youth. The party uses videos, radio broadcasts and social media to spread its message.

And it recruits in Ohio and Kentucky, holding rallies this year in Pikeville and Frankfort.

 

National Socialists attended Saturday's gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, believed to be the largest group of white supremacists to come together in a decade. Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, said other white power groups were there, including members of neo-Nazi organizations, racist skinheads and KKK factions. The white supremacist organizations Vanguard America and Identity Evropa; the Southern nationalist League of the South; the Traditionalist Workers Party; and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights were on hand, he said.

While the National Socialists didn't organize the rally, party spokesman Brian Culpepper told the I-Team it's gotten a flood of attention from international media and potential members.

"I thought it was a very defining moment," Culpepper said, "and a rallying cry for whites in America."

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old white woman, was killed near the rally when a driver rammed his car into a group of counter-demonstrators. Nineteen more were hurt in the attack, and several other protesters reported injuries throughout the day.

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The city's mayor and members of President Donald Trump's administration have labeled it an act of terror. Culpepper insisted the National Socialists do not condone violence and had nothing to do with the attack.

The suspected driver, though, also embraced Nazi ideology, his high school teacher and classmates said. James Alex Fields Jr. is being held without bail on a count of second-degree murder and other charges.

 

"It was kind of white supremacy -- big, kind of like students that I would call Naziphiles or Germanphiles, because they usually start off like really into the military history angle, and I've seen a few of them really get into the ideology, too, and James was a spot-on example," history teacher Derek Weimer said.

It's not clear if Fields was an active member of any group. A photo appears to show him standing with Vanguard America not long before he's accused of ramming his car into the crowd. The organization denied he was a member.

Charlottesville has been caught in the middle of the nation's culture wars since it decided earlier this year to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, enshrined in bronze on horseback in the city's Emancipation Park.

Chris Miller, manager of Program Initiatives at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, said the events in Charlottesville show the need for meaningful discussions about race -- and the proper place for Confederate monuments.

"If it's in a museum or another private place where it's used to educate, it can be a powerful tool," Miller said.

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After Saturday's violence and death, the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, announced he was taking the steps to remove two Confederate-era statues from the lawn of a former courthouse that was the site of slave auctions before the Civil War.

"It's just not right that we would continue to honor these Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery on the same ground as men, women and even children were once sold into a life of slavery," Gray said in a YouTube video Sunday. "Relocating these statues and explaining them is the right thing to do."

He proposed moving the statues to a veterans' park, and wants to add two Union memorials there -- to symbolize Kentucky's divided allegiance during the Civil War.

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