White nationalist conference in Tennessee will feature old-school racists and a few new international guests

The 2018 Joint Conference of the American Freedom Party (AFP) and the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) takes place this weekend outside of Nashville, Tennessee. 

For the most part, the meeting – which brings together two white nationalist hate group mainstays – is just going to be a reunion of old-school racists.

But this year’s event will host a few interesting guests: representatives of foreign far-right movements. American hate groups and their leaders are redoubling their longstanding efforts to create an international network of far-right extremists amid a surge in right-wing populism in Europe and elsewhere around the world. This weekend’s conference, featuring groups from Europe and Japan, is just one example of that effort.

AFP is a white nationalist, racist political party founded in 2009 by a group of skinheads called Freedom 14. Formerly called American Third Position, the party’s leaders are racist and antisemitic. Five of them are slated to speak at the joint conference.

AFP’s chairman, William Daniel Johnson, is a corporate lawyer who has been an active white supremacist since at least 1985, when he proposed a constitutional amendment to strip U.S. citizenship from and deport anyone with an “ascertainable trace of Negro blood” or more than one-eighth “Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood.” Since that time, he’s endured a series of political failures and maintained a persistent presence on the white nationalist scene.

Joining him as an AFP director and conference speaker is notorious antisemite and pseudoscientist Kevin MacDonald, who is most well-known for his trilogy of books arguing that Jews are genetically compelled to undermine Western society for personal gain. White nationalists often cite one book in the series, The Culture of Critique, as the original source of their antisemitism. MacDonald also praised Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik as a “serious political thinker with a great many insights and some good practical ideas on strategy.”

Rounding out the AFP speaker lineup are white nationalist AM radio host James Edwards, prolific conspiracy book author Adrian Krieg and Tomislav Sunic, a former Croatian diplomat and white supremacist lecturer who has spoken at meetings of neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and Klansmen. Also affiliated with AFP is proud “ethnic separatist” and Vanderbilt professor emeritus Virginia Abernethy, who ran on the failed American Third Position ticket in 2012 as the vice presidential candidate.

CCC president Earl Holt is also addressing the conference. The CCC began in 1985 as a successor organization to the pro-segregationist White Citizens Councils of the Civil Rights Era. In its first two decades the group courted politicians and cultivated real political power through a veneer of legitimacy, but scandals in the late 90s put an end to that charade. By 2000 their website openly featured ugly bigoted screeds against “race mixing” and calling black people a “retrograde species of humanity.” Dylann Storm Roof, who murdered nine African Americans in a Charleston church in 2015, cites the CCC website as an early inspiration for his ideas on race.

Also set to speak this weekend is Michael Hill, leader of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South. And finally, never one to turn down an invitation to talk, neo-Nazi, Klansman and world-famous racist attention-seeker David Duke will also be joining the hate parade.

That’s it for the usual suspects. While the meeting is billed as a “joint conference,” it’s worth noting that the individuals in these two groups share so much membership the “joint” descriptor is hardly necessary. The event should not be mistaken as two standalone, individually relevant and formidable white supremacist groups coming together to maximize their impact. It’s better understood as a reunion of longtime associates.

But this weekend’s event does have one interesting twist – the presence of representatives from three international far-right groups. The first is Dominic Lüthard, chairman of the far-right Swiss Nationalist Party (PNOS). PNOS’ platform denounces “the multicultural society” as “a perversion of natural coexistence” and advocates what functionally amounts to an end to immigration and naturalization for “non-cultural foreigners” in Switzerland. Back in February, Sunic and Johnson spoke at the party’s congress. They filmed a roundtable discussion where Johnson delighted in the fact that white high schoolers were invoking the name and slogans of Donald Trump to bully children of color at sporting events. During the discussion, Johnson also said, “We are the least racist people in the entire world” without the barest hint of irony, going on to explain that people of color are the real racists because they are jealous of Johnson and other whites. “They look at us and they think, ‘Oh, I want to move into their area, I want to live with them, I want to marry their children, I want to be like the white people.’”

The Japan First Party (the name is a reference to one of Trump’s presidential campaign slogans) will also be making an appearance. The party is perhaps the most visible manifestation of a larger, growing far-right movement in Japan. According to the Anti-Racism Information Center (ARIC), an advocacy group in Japan working to combat hate, party head Makoto Sakurai has repeatedly disparaged the Korean, Chinese and other minority populations of Japan with ethnic slurs in his public remarks, and argued in favor of eroding their civil rights. Representatives from ARIC told the Southern Poverty Law Center in a Skype interview that Sakurai is trying to take advantage of this growing international network of far-right groups to establish legitimacy for his movement in his home country.

The final foreign visitor is Knights Templar International (KTI), the most peculiar of the three groups. Based in Europe, the organization is a recent venture of British far-right extremist Jim Dowson, formerly a leader in the fascist British National Party. KTI seeks to recreate a modern Order of the Knights Templar, the Catholic military unit that fought in the Crusades in the Middle Ages. The group sells “regalia” replicating some of the old historical costumes and promises applicants if they make the cut they may become a full “Sir Knight” or “Chevalier” in “the battle against Islam.”

“We are not a secret society, simply discrete,” reads their public website, where they also explain to wannabe Crusaders that membership is a “lifelong commitment.” In May, an investigation by the BBC and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network revealed Dowson had been training Serbian far-right groups to win an “online war.” In November 2017, KTI equipped a Serbian pro-monarchy group in Northern Kosovo with tactical vests and drones.

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