On Saturday, April 29 a coalition of white supremacists calling themselves the Nationalist Front held a small rally in front of the old courthouse in downtown Pikeville.
The rally was the public component of a gathering where various established white nationalist/neo-Nazi organizations had gathered to hold workshops on private land in the area. The days leading up to the event were tense as anti-racist organizers had vowed to confront any white nationalists who came to Pikeville. Unicorn Riot was live to cover the confrontation. Both sides as well as many observers expected a violent clash along the lines of recent events in Berkeley, CA on April 19.
The city of Pikeville passed an emergency ordinance days before the scheduled rally banning the wearing of all masks and hoods. A sign was posted up in the center of the planned rally space.
Local residents of Pike County and visitors from out of state started assembling in various points downtown. A woman who identified herself as a mother against racism in Appalachia wanted to make a statement to the press, but didn’t want to show her face on camera because of fear of being targeted by the hate groups converging that day.
These Nazis said they put a call out to white families. I’m a white mother in Appalachia and I’m here to say Nazis are not welcome in Appalachia. These people say they’re for family. They’re scum. They’re idiots. They’re not for family, they’re for hate and fear. They want to hear from family? I am a mother. And I’m telling them go home, get over it, get over your silly race war fantasy. Your mothers are probably ashamed of you. If you were actually for family then I would not be giving interviews under an assumed name or afraid to show my face on camera. Because we’ve seen that Nazis stand for fear and violence and they are certainly not for family. There is a history of resistance to Nazi propaganda and Nazis in Appalachia and I’m glad to say that people in Appalachia are standing up for themselves.”
– Mother Against Racism in Appalachia
At around 1 PM several white supremacists, including about a dozen uniformed members of the hate group League of the South, assembled in a fenced off “protest pen” that had been created for them by Pikeville city police. Some of them sported Swastika and SS tattoos, brandished weapons, and exchanged taunts with the several dozen antifascist/antiracist protesters who had assembled on the other side of Main street. Police and sheriff’s deputies from Pikeville, Pike County, and the state of Kentucky stood in a line with their backs to the white supremacists, facing the antifascist crowd. (When additional neo-nazi groups arrived, the line of officers adjusted their position to be facing both sides.)
Around 1:30 PM a group of over one hundred antifascists marched in formation to join the other anti-Nazi demonstrators on the west side of Main street. As they arrived they chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” and marched behind a banner reading “Antifascists Worldwide United.”
Other antifa chants heard throughout the day included “Every nation, every race, punch a nazi in the face” and “from the Midwest to the south, punch a nazi in the mouth.”
One person attending the counter demonstration brought a “your face here” poster so others could commemorate themselves in the ongoing meme of Richard Spencer being punched in the face on Trump’s Inauguration day in Washington, DC on January 20.
While the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) and the National Socialist Movement (NSM) had called for the rally to begin at 2 PM, their caravan did not arrive until about an hour later.
Unicorn Riot later received information that this was due to TWP and NSM organizers getting lost and being unable to navigate to Pikeville from their campsite, reportedly stopping their caravan of dozens of vehicles on the side of the road several times.
A convoy of TWP and NSM members and supporters, all white and almost entirely male, arrived around 3 PM. TWP leader Matthew Heimbach herded the small crowd of racists, some of whom held shields, into a line formation. They then promptly marched into the fenced-off space the police had created for their safety.
After he arrived, we were able to ask Matthew Heimbach some questions about his views on race and his national socialist ideology.
As the Nazi rally wore on, we spoke with some residents of Pikeville who told us why they came out to oppose white supremacists rallying and attempting to recruit in their city:
We didn’t really plan on coming down here, we were watching it from afar, and we just started thinking about it, but we can’t just stand by and not go, that would be just as bad as them. So we came down here…It’s unbelievable how much hate…it’s very surreal…they thought they were welcome here and they’re not. -Pikeville resident
I bartend a local business and manage a local business, and we had to close down today. They’re saying that they want the working class, well, we’re the working class and we had to shut down because of them…. This is not gonna happen here. Not while we’re here. – Pikeville resident
Later, we were able to ask Matt Heimbach about his group’s arrival leading to local businesses closing, despite his claim to advocate for working class people in Pikeville. He blamed “left wing violence.” When we asked him to clarify, he walked away.
As the group of neo-Nazis started to return to their cars, counter-protesters mocked them as they left.
As Matthew Heimbach was leaving, police served him with a court summons stemming from his assault of a black woman who was protesting at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Kentucky in March 2016.
2 antifascist/antiracist protesters were arrested immediately after the demonstration and were released on bond early the next day.
As the Nazis started to get their cars to leave, a large, previously unseen formation of Kentucky State Police showed up to guard their exit route.
While Heimbach claimed the event in Pikeville represented a victory for white nationalists, a commenter on the /pol/ section of 4chan, widely considered a hub of racist organizing, called the event a failure and an embarrassment. They refer to the attendees as “shills and stormlarpers” and also comments that presentations of national socialism need to be “cryptic and more vague.”
We were able to speak with Daryle Lamont Jenkins of the One People’s Project earlier in the day and he had this to say about the neo-Nazi groups attempting to soften their image:
It’s all a part of re-branding, in many respects, in basically making themselves look palatable to the general public. And so long as they do not get hit with the buzzwords and the trappings that the Klan provides, they’re able to advance. I mean that’s what we see when we hear people are calling themselves the alt right. And truth be told they’re neo-fascists. And whenever you hear Richard Spencer or Nathan Damigo out there calling themselves everything but white supremacists or even fascists for that matter that’s them trying to appeal to a public that they know will reject it if they recognize them for who they are. So I always try to tell people ignore all of that. Recognize them for who they are. And keep them from going any further with that nonsense.”
– Daryle Lamont Jenkins (One People’s Project)
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