'Klanbly Friendly' Tennessee: State Becomes Hate Tourist Mecca
In early November, around a hundred leaders and supporters of one of the largest Ku Klux Klan groups in the United States held a secretive “summit” in what is called “all White east Tennessee." The white supremacists ranted about minorities and Jewish conspiracies and raised more than $10,000 in donations and “registration fees” from the event. But they didn’t have to meet in the woods. The Klan gathering was held at a comfortable, taxpayer-funded Tennessee state park resort facility with an armed park ranger on duty to provide security.
On Nov. 8, this cathedral-paneled pavilion at Norris Dam State Park in Lake City, Tenn., hosted a “summit” of close to a hundred high-profile Klansmen, neo-Nazis and white separatists.
After a catered dinner of “organic vegetables and grass-fed beef” the lights were dimmed, as attendees followed the Power Point slideshow and listened to the keynote address, titled “Death to America.”
It seems unlikely that Islamic Jihad or ISIS supporters would have been permitted to hold a “summit” meeting on Tennessee state property to discuss strategy or raise thousands of dollars, though their Power Point would have probably been similar.
Advertised for months on the racist Website, Stormfront, it remains unclear if anyone in Tennessee state government knew about the nature of the event, although it should have been obvious to Norris Dam State Park officials that this was no ordinary “family reunion.”
The summit was organized and attended by some of America’s most notorious professional racists, including David Duke, Thomas Robb and Stephen Don Black, all current or former leaders of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK).
According to Tennessee’s official Norris Dam State Park Website, the spacious indoor pavilion where the Klan gathering was held seats 100 and is “a popular venue for weddings ceremonies [sic] and receptions, company dinners and catered events.” The park’s “Tea Room” facility was rented for $878 for the weekend of Nov. 8th, 2014. State Park officials declined to comment on the record about the event and at first refused to disclose the name of the person or organization that rented the facility.
Although the Norris Dam State Park brochure recommends several close-by tourist attractions, no mention is made of the historical significance of the nearby town of Clinton, Tenn., as the first city in the South to allow African-American children to attend an all white school. A monument to the “Clinton 12,” a dozen bronze statues of the first black students to attend Clinton High School in 1956, is at a cultural center downtown.
Mention of the town was made at the Klan meeting, however. Elderly racist chiropractor, Edward Reed Fields, 82, regaled the crowd with his recollections of coming to Clinton in 1956 to organize white supremacist resistance to the desegregation of its schools. His stories about trying to keep Tennessee schools all white earned him a standing ovation.
History doesn’t celebrate it the same way. In July 1958, Fields and Jesse “J.B.” Stoner launched a violent, neo-Nazi domestic terrorist group called the National States Rights Party (NSRP) in nearby Knoxville, Tenn. Three months later, on Oct. 5, 1958, Clinton High School was almost destroyed in a dynamite blast. Damage was estimated at more than $300,000. The suspected bombers were never prosecuted.
For more than a decade, Fields’ NSRP engaged in a racist terror campaign, bombing black churches and assassinating civil rights workers, including Willie Brewster, shot and killed in July 1965. Stoner was eventually convicted for a bombing attempt at a Birmingham, Ala., church. Fields went on to produce pro-segregation, deeply racist and anti-Semitic propaganda for the next fifty years. His crude tabloid, The Thunderbolt, was a Klan favorite. It ceased publication in 2008.
“A King without a Throne”
Among the more notable observations by attendees at the secretive gathering, called the “Smoky Mountain Summit,” was the declining health of Stephen Don Black, the aging former Klansman and founder of Stormfront, the largest and most lucrative hate site in the world.
Described as hollow-eyed and frail, Black, 62, walked with a cane and claimed his back problems prevented him from sitting comfortably in one of the “awful” chairs event attendees were charged $85 to sit in to hear speeches by so-called “movement celebrities.” Praised as a “legendary WN” [White Nationalist] on his own website, Black demonstrated what a former staffer jokingly called his legendary initiative while solving his uncomfortable chair problem at the conference. “One of the womenfolk in my party managed to bring me a chair from our cabin, carrying it up two flights of stairs,” he wrote.
Like Black, Stormfront is in declining health, having lost more than 60 percent of its audience since April when the SPLC published a report on the group, "White Homicide Worldwide."
“Night of the Long Faces”
At a pre-event gathering on Friday, Nov. 7, held in a back room at Harrison’s Grill and Bar in Clinton, around 120 racists listened to David Duke give a rundown of the security protocols for Saturday’s meeting. The conference location was to remain a secret, Duke said. Registered attendees were instructed to meet at 8:30 AM the following morning in front of his hotel, the Comfort Inn and Suites, where they would “convoy” over to the meeting place. Duke further claimed that there were “decoy” locations being leaked out to confuse spies and counter-demonstrators.
David Duke’s secret plan went awry when he apparently confused about a quarter of the registered, pre-paid attendees who never made it to Norris Dam State Park the following morning.
Tennessee's new "white power" couple: William Williams and his Russian wife, Svetlana, with David Duke near Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Among them was William White Williams, 67, the self-proclaimed chairman of the National Alliance (NA), Tennessee’s newest hate group.
During the Friday night pre-meeting, Williams worked the room attempting to convince Stormfront administrators to prohibit forum members from criticizing his organization. Williams was particularly vocal in his complaints about an outspoken Stromfront donor with the username “Glacier,” who has been harshly critical of Williams’ choice of making convicted sex-offender, Kevin Alfred Strom, the NA’s new “media director.”
Although Stormfront’s Chief of Staff, James W. Baker, 61, (AKA “Jackboot,”) was reasonably sympathetic, after Williams was gone, it was decided at the Saturday meeting that since he pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, Kevin Strom was poison to the racist movement. Don Black agreed Strom would not get any support or promotion on Stormfront.
Arguments about allowing a convicted pedophile to return to the ranks were fairly tame when compared to the acrimonious debate that ensued between the current KKKK leader, Thomas Robb, 68, and young upstart Matthew Heimbach, 24, whose “Death to America” speech was not well-received by the elderly Klansmen or Christian evangelicals in the room. Don Black had to step in and close the debate.
Despite the unexpected arguments and a quarter of the pre-paid registered guests getting lost, overall, the secret Smoky Mountain Summit probably produced the desired results for the organizers. Their decades-long suit-and-tie rebranding of the Klan seems to be finally working, at least in Tennessee. And at $85 a seat (payable by credit card in advance), Stormfront collected around $10,000, just in registration fees.
Most of the “take” went right in the racists’ pockets. The rental fee for the Tennessee park facility was reportedly paid for by a local man and other local racists are said to have provided the meal that was served. Not a bad weekend for a hate group that claims it needs $90,000 a year just to maintain a simple web forum and an Internet “radio” show.
Tennessee Welcomes Racists
Don Black’s summit is only one of four racist events held in Tennessee over the last year. Three times in the past three months, racist groups have made use of Tennessee state and city park facilities and town squares for fundraising events or gatherings.
In October, the KKKK held its’ annual “Heritage Festival” in Pulaski, Tenn. Known as the city where the Klan was founded in 1865, racist skinheads, neo-Nazi’s and Klansmen have flocked to Pulaski for decades. And every Fall, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan seem to take over the town. Klansmen and their family members march up and down the street with KKK flags and openly sell racist tracts, pins and Klan robe patches at tables set up on in the middle of Pulaski’s town square.
The infamous "blood drop" Celtic Cross insignia was among the patches offered for sale at the KKKK Heritage Festival. Lower Right, Klansmen and their families marching in Pulaski.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a Tennessee state park is endorsed and recommended on the KKKK’s Website for “lodging” during the event. Ever mindful of his aging Klan demographic, Thom Robb’s “European American Heritage Festival” Website advises older event attendees they can get a 50 percent senior citizen discount ($7 a night) at the David Crocket State Park campground, which offers year-round fishing, bike trails and an Olympic size pool. The Klan site also raves about the food. “The park's restaurant, with a seating capacity of 240, is situated on a hill overlooking scenic Lindsey Lake. Open year-round, it features fine southern cuisine at popular prices.”
Professional racists - those who earn a surprisingly comfortable living convincing people the white race is being targeted for “genocide” - have sought to solve a security and privacy problem by holding their national events in Tennessee. When hate groups rent one of about a dozen state park resort facilities, the press is usually kept out and protesters are kept at bay by armed park rangers.
Though no one at any of the state parks contacted was “authorized” to talk about these gatherings or who arranged them, they cannot be kept hidden from public view. Conducting any kind of business with the state of Tennessee generates a paper trail. And most of that paper is public information. Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center successfully challenged the state’s refusal to identify the organizers and cabin guests at Norris Dam State Park under the Tennessee Open Records Act, which makes just about every government document public information.
On Tuesday officials relented and began providing the requested documents. The Tea Room pavilion was reserved and paid for on Feb. 21, 2014, for a “seminar” by C. Richard Pumphrey, an insurance salesman in nearby Knoxville. The records also show a “Stephen Black” from West Palm Beach, Fla., had a cabin rented and paid for on his behalf two days later. The invoices for these two transactions suggest they were paid for by credit card, possibly by the same person.
When contacted by phone on Wednesday, Pumphrey did not reply to repeated voice mails.
Though no one in Tennessee state government wanted to be quoted for this story, it was generally stated that hate groups have a Constitutional right to assemble and make use of state parks or any other public accommodations. But admitting publicly who these hate groups are and acknowledging the scope of taxpayer subsidized services the state is providing to them seems to be something no one in Tennessee government wants to go on the record about.
The state may not be legally compelled to identify its state park customers much longer. In February, Tennessee began the process of privatizing eleven major park resorts, soliciting information from hospitality and hotel firms, nationwide. This may be due to budget shortfalls. Maintaining these facilities, when there are fewer tourist dollars coming in, can result in millions of dollars in losses for an already relatively poor, mostly rural, southern state.
The Inn at Montgomery Bell State Park, for example, had only a 37% occupancy rate between 2010 and 2012. When 150 suit-and-tie racists from American Renaissance meet to call for a “White Homeland” at the Montgomery Bell facility for the weekend, the state gets some much needed cash.
A neo-Confederate hate group, the Southern National Congress (SNC), has rented Montgomery Bell State Park facilities three times in the past four years. To encourage their continued business, the park offers SNC members a discount on lodging.
Some in state government have gone further than just accepting the money from hosting hate groups. Local activists complained last November that Tennessee state elected officials were attending and scheduled to speak at another SNC gathering at the Fall Creek Falls State Park in Pikeville, Tenn. The event, held over the Nov. 1 weekend, included a speech by Tennessee State Senator Frank Nicely, who talked about changing the way U.S. Senators are elected.
Prominent young racists pose at the historical site where MLK, Jr., was murdered. From left, Tom Pierce, Unknown, Matthew Heimbach and William Flowers.
As if these optics weren’t bad enough for the state where the Ku Klu Klan was born and Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered, Tennessee has also become an increasingly popular tourist destination for young professional racists who visit historical places to pose in and post sarcastic images on social networks playing up the Klan legacy or mocking the Civil Rights monuments of the region.
League of the South leaders have recently posted family photos and racist flag-waving selfies from a city park in Memphis where visitors can find a monument and gravesite dedicated to the Ku Klux Klan’s first Grand Wizard, Nathan Bedford Forest. While visiting Memphis, racists also posted cruel and crude comments along with pictures of themselves smiling in front of the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated.
In October, Matthew Heimbach, who gave the keynote “Death to America” speech at the Klan conference, posed like a gangster making a hand gesture as though he was pointing a gun at the front of the National Civil Rights Museum, which also owns the Lorraine Motel.
Also in October, racist Memphis radio talk show host, James Edwards, hosted a ten year anniversary event for his program “The Political Cesspool.” Edwards posted photos of several dozen attendees holding an impromptu gathering in Memphis’ Nathan Bedford Forrest Park the following day. In one image, Edwards, along with racist lawyer Sam Dixon and another man, pose in the park holding up a Confederate battle flag with the name of his radio show embroidered between the Confederate stars and bars, along with the words, “No Surrender. No Apologies. No Retreat.”
There is some criticism in neo-Nazi circles about the futility of organizing large gatherings of racists because they usually devolve into an “eat, meet and retreat” scenario, where everyone argues and nothing really gets done. While that generally seems to be true in this contrarian subculture of misfits, criminals, charlatans and dupes, at least in Tennessee, professional racists are welcome to inexpensively eat and meet at any number of state-run retreats.
And the photo-ops abound.