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Neo-Nazis Rally in Nashville for the ‘Great White South’

Content warning: This article contains graphic language, including racist slurs, antisemitic language and suggestions of sexual violence. Reader discretion is advised.

About two dozen neo-Nazis marched through downtown Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday in an event the group billed as a celebration to “the great white South,” according to flyers the group’s leader Christopher Alan Pohlhaus posted to the social media app Telegram.

Pohlhaus, who uses the moniker “The Hammer” in white power spaces online, heads the neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe and led the group in antisemitic and racist chants as they marched through downtown Nashville. Dressed in matching red shirts, black pants and black face coverings to conceal their identities, members of the Blood Tribe and associated neo-Nazi groups brandished black-and-white swastika flags, paraded through crowded streets in the afternoon, and then listened to Pohlhaus and another speaker talk about Tennessee historical figures and migrants using antisemitic dog whistles outside the state Capitol, according to video Pohlhaus posted to Telegram.

Previous reporting from Hatewatch has identified Tennessee as a hotspot for hate group activity. Blood Tribe is part of an increasingly hostile and aggressive far right that has appeared in public in communities across the U.S. Emboldened by GOP-led policies that curtail access to healthcare for women and trans communities, as well as efforts to ban LGBTQ+ communities from public life and prohibit accurate teaching on racism in the U.S., Blood Tribe – like other far right groups – uses rallies to intimidate marginalized groups in cities across the country. On Feb. 14, three days before the Blood Tribe march, lawmakers in a Tennessee House committee approved a bill that would effectively ban Pride flags from public schools, but it is less clear whether the proposed bill would protect flags like the Nazi swastika. According to news reports from The Tennessean, an attorney for the committee debating the bill suggested that a court would need to decide which flags would be prohibited from public schools. The bill will advance to a vote before the full House.

“The climate in Tennessee has helped embolden their presence and their public activities,” said Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, speaking about the presence of neo-Nazis in the state in a phone interview. “The content of the legislation over the last few years has certainly encouraged these kinds of movements. When Nazis are openly showing up, protesting at drag events, protesting gender affirming care, and on our streets during Black History Month talking about immigrants, I think you have to look at what’s been going on in terms of public policy in the state.”

‘We are Nazis’

Since 2023, Pohlhaus has led the swastika-toting group in at least five other rallies: in Wadsworth, Ohio, on March 11, 2023; in Columbus, Ohio, on April 29, 2023; in Toledo, Ohio, on July 15, 2023; in Orlando, Florida, on Sept. 2, 2023; and, in Madison, Wisconsin, on Nov. 18, 2023.

The rally in Nashville was the sixth Pohlhaus has led as the head of Blood Tribe. Pohlhaus first shared flyers announcing a Blood Tribe rally somewhere in the South on Telegram, a social media app popular with the white power movement, on Jan. 14. Hate groups typically do not reveal the precise location of a planned rally to avoid scrutiny from law enforcement and journalists. Pohlhaus shared a message from the Blood Tribe Upper Midwest Telegram channel on Jan. 19 that promoted the rally as “Coming soon to Dixie America.” In the Jan. 19 post, the author writes: “We are Nazis. We are white supremacists. We are white ethno nationalists. We despise Jews. We despise [n-word]s and all non-whites. And nobody is having more fun...Get involved.” The post included a link for supporters to get vetted to join the rally.

Previous reporting from Hatewatch identified the location of Pohlhaus’ planned headquarters near Springfield, Maine. After spending a year and a half clearing the land and preparing to build structures, Pohlhaus decided to sell the property after the Hatewatch investigation into Blood Tribe and inquiries from local Maine press brought the group and property under increased public scrutiny. Pohlhaus had the sale documents for the property in Maine notarized in Gallatin County, Montana. This month, antifascist activists in Montana identified a gym Pohlhaus was using in Bozeman, Montana, which Hatewatch verified. Though he was ultimately banned from the gym, Pohlhaus claimed the ban was not important to him because he was getting ready to leave the area.

Pohlhaus founded Blood Tribe in fall 2021 as an organization that favors explicit appeals to white supremacy, Hitler worship and violence. In a Jan. 19 Telegram post, Pohlhaus wrote that one of the goals of using explicit racist messaging at rallies is to drive non-white migrants out of public life, writing: “When I get to the point where I have a thousand guys marching under the swastika every quarter (because I will get to that point), it will cause brown immigrants to think twice about coming here. A big piece of displaying strength and racism is signaling to them that they are not welcome.”

Migrants from the global south are among a host of other groups that receive Pohlhaus’ rage at public rallies. Speaking on a far-right podcast on May 6, 2023, about why Blood Tribe rallied outside two drag shows in Ohio, Pohlhaus said, “We go to the enemy, scream at them, give them PTSD and leave.” In 2023, Pohlhaus posted an audio message to Telegram where he advocated for assaulting and raping women. Pohlhaus said: “It’s still true that people will take war brides in the end of days, and it’s just gonna happen, okay. ... Honestly, I don’t find that liberal white women have the right to decide about how their reproductive system is going to be used. If the world crumbles because of them, and I’m standing by that, I do find them to be enemies to us.”

Blood Tribe, for Pohlhaus, is the voice of disaffected white men who rage against what they perceive to be a Jewish-controlled system. He has encouraged his audience to “cut out every single race mixer from your life, even immediate family members ... and fearlessly raise the swastika over your head in pride.” At the rally in Madison, Wisconsin, Pohlhaus and his group reportedly chanted, “There will be blood.”

In between public appearances, Pohlhaus and the Blood Tribe fantasize about violence online and strategize the best ways to harm perceived enemies. Pohlhaus polled his Telegram followers in a private chat room on July 10, 2023, and asked which of two music festivals “to carpet bomb.” In the chatroom, Pohlhaus responded to commenters on his poll, writing, “I wish I could carpet bomb them both, but I only have 1 carpet bomb.” There’s no such thing as a “carpet bomb” – carpet bombing, also known as saturation bombing, is a tactic that inflicts maximum damage to selected areas using a heavy bombardment of explosives, typically dropped from planes.

Blood Tribe members appear to have engaged in physical confrontations with counterprotesters during marches and demonstrations, according to content that Hatewatch reviewed. In Nashville, Blood Tribe members were seen with large hunting knives holstered to their pants, which is allowed under Tennessee law. According to video posted to Pohlhaus’ Telegram channel, several members of Blood Tribe appear to escalate a confrontation with a heckler and can be observed tackling him to the ground and putting him into a chokehold. During Blood Tribe’s first public rally, which occurred outside a drag show in Wadsworth, Ohio, on March 11, 2023, associates of Blood Tribe were observed shoving supporters of the event and attempting to block their access to the event space.

White power organizing in Tennessee

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project tracked 33 hate and antigovernment extremist groups in Tennessee in 2022. Many of the groups in the state train together and use public rallies to network and build relationships. For example, the Blood Tribe march in Nashville included at least one member of Vinland Rebels. The Blood Tribe march in Orlando was a joint effort with the antisemitic Goyim Defense League.

Blood Tribe shares its preference for explicit appeals to violence and its veneration of Nazi Germany with local neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups in Tennessee. A Hatewatch investigation previously identified Lewis Country Store in Nashville, then owned by Brad Lewis, as a central meeting place for local hate groups. Lewis used his private gym above the store to host white nationalist fight club events and network with at least seven SPLC-designated hate groups. Lewis, who reportedly sold the store in December 2023, is a self-proclaimed “actual literal Nazi” and member of Vinland Rebels, according to Telegram posts. Lewis has not hidden his appearance at previous hate group rallies and was not observed participating in the Nashville rally, according to video footage of the event posted to social media.

Lewis is a close associate of Sean Kauffmann, the leader of the Tennessee Active Club. Previous reporting from Hatewatch revealed Kauffmann uses Tennessee Active Club to menace participants at LGBTQ+-inclusive events in Tennessee. He also attempts to intimidate local journalists into favorably covering his group’s racist activities. In his latest act of intimidation, Kauffmann led a small group of neo-Nazis on Feb. 10 to protest outside the home of Jordan Green, a reporter for Raw Story. Kauffmann does not typically hide his identity at public rallies and does not appear to have attended the march in Nashville. A Hatewatch investigation also found the location of the national headquarters for the Asatru Folk Assembly in Jackson County, Tennessee. According to the investigation, AFA purchased 80 acres and refers to the land as AFA’s “capital.” They plan to build a hof (temple) and a school for children. Adherents to AFA promote neo-Völkisch ideology, which is a type of racist spirituality that worships descendants of Europe and seeks to protect what they claim are dead or dying cultures. AFA adherents latch onto issues amplified by the broader conservative movement, including attacking diversity and inclusion programs at public schools and circulating conspiracies about the COVID vaccine. Kauffmann and Pohlhaus publicly embrace Norse pagan spirituality and are followers of smaller groups that have broken away from AFA due to infighting.

The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) is working to change the political climate and make the state less welcoming to neo-Nazis. In an interview, the leader of TEP, Chris Sanders said: “We don’t look at voting as an entry point, but as an endpoint. We need to keep talking to legislators. People can meet with their legislators any time of the year whether they are in session or not. They can attend some of their events when they do a town hall and get to know them. They can write letters about what issues they’re concerned about and people can get their friends and neighbors to do the same thing. People sometimes forget that they can do those easy things that can make a difference.”

Editor's note: This article was updated after publication to reflect that SPLC tracked 33 hate and antigovernment extremist groups in Tennessee in 2022, not 2023 as originally stated. 

Photo illustration by SPLC

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