CROSSVILLE, Tenn. — White supremacists from Stormfront, an online forum with more than 330,000 members, traveled here this weekend for a conference replacing what had been billed earlier as their annual Great Smoky Mountains Summit.
Don Black of West Palm Beach, Fla., a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and the forum’s founder, announced the Sept. 30 weekend event in July.
In the time since the forum’s domain hosts removed the site from the Internet, Black became ill and withdrew from its planning, according to Billy Roper, another prominent white supremacist who took over the conference.
Saturday also is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the holiest on the religion’s calendar. Roper, whose ideology is neo-Nazi according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the date of the conference was a coincidence.
Stormfront’s Web domain was released Friday, and the website is up and running again.
Roper waived the registration fees and began giving out the location to interested people who emailed him. Based on the emails, Roper insists this Stormfront summit may be the largest ever.
“I keep getting more and more e-mails and (instant messages) from more people who are coming to the replacement conference.”
Billy Roper, Russellville, Ark.
“I keep getting more and more e-mails and (instant messages) from more people who are coming to the replacement conference next weekend,” Roper wrote in the forum. “Especially now that they know that it’s free and if they’ve prepaid they won’t be using up their ‘credit’ paid to Mr. Black by attending!”
Though Black first advertised the event as taking place in the Smoky Mountains near Knoxville, Tenn., it has since been moved further west to Crossville.
And it’s not the only gathering of a far-right group this weekend. The Gulf Coast Patriot Network, which says on its Facebook page that it is a collection of Southern anti-government militia and Patriot groups, will be rallying 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Saturday and Sunday in support of a 1906 Confederate monument in Shreveport, La., that has been recommended for removal.
Though a KKK-affiliated group expressed an interest in attending, organizer Rex Dukes of Keithville, La., said a friend told Klan members that they were not welcome because they could bring clashes with far-left groups. The Louisiana Patriot Militia, made up of armed, private citizens, will provide security for the rally.
Stormfront planned to start its Tennessee meeting Friday night at the Beef & Barrel Restaurant and Lounge in Crossville. A hostess at the restaurant said earlier in the day that she had “absolutely no comment” on the event and would not specify the number planning to attend based on the reservation.
Bruce Cannon, the eatery’s owner, wrote an explanation on the restaurant’s Facebook page:
We serve the public at our will and we do not discriminate against anyone’s religious racial or sexual preferences. We do not ask nor are we allowed to ask and discriminate service based on any of these our policy is to serve our guests regardless as long as they respect our fellow customers, staff and business.
However, Knoxville lawyer Chris Irwin, who went to the restaurant to protest the Stormfront gathering, said Friday on Facebook that the owner decided to cancel the reservation when he found out he would be serving members of a hate group.
Stormfront members are expected to convene Saturday morning at Cumberland Mountain State Park in Crossville, according to an invitation Roper sent to an online activist.
A Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office spokesman confirmed they are expecting the supremacist group to gather there. The sheriff’s office said Crossville police are handling security, but deputies have designated officers in reserve in case they become necessary.
The Ku Klux Klan’s national director, Thomas Robb of Harrison, Ark.; Rachel Pendergraft of Sugar Orchard Creek, Ark., his daughter and spokeswoman for the Knights Party, another name for the KKK; and Michael Hill of Killen, Ala., founder of the neo-Confederate League of the South, will attend, Roper said.
Matthew Heimbach, a Traditionalist Worker Party leader who reportedly ordered his followers to push down police barricades in Charlottesville, will also be there. Fliers for the Traditionalist Workers Party were removed Thursday from the Humanities and Social Sciences Building at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Roper said he hopes the Stormfront conference attracts college-aged attendees.
“We wanted to actually make this more of an activist-oriented conference and get a younger audience,” Roper said. The conference is to feature lectures on activism, running for local office and using the Internet to dig up personal details about “adversaries and allies.”
The group has met in Crossville before, Mayor James Mayberry said.
“Last year the rumor was David Duke would be here, and of course, he wasn’t,” Mayberry said of the longtime Klan leader and former Louisiana politician. “There were rumors it was going to be kind of a big deal and then it wasn’t.”
Last year’s gathering was probably about two dozen people, and they met at a nearby state park, he said.
State parks seem to be the venue of choice for these meetings, particularly in Tennessee.
Previous Stormfront gatherings have been held in Norris Dam State Park in Lake City and at a park in Sevierville. Other recent white supremacist events have taken place at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer, Davey Crockett State Park in Limestone and Montgomery Bell State Park in Burns.
Eric Ward, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said parks do not ask the reason for a reservation when an application is made.
His department had not confirmed Friday whether the Stormfront event was taking place despite talking with local law enforcement agencies. He said no one had applied for a demonstration permit that state park rules require.
Elsewhere in East Tennessee, white supremacist groups have become more vocal.
League of the South members protested Aug. 26 in Knoxville at a rally that another white supremacist group had planned. The group was supporting a 1914 monument honoring Confederate veterans in the downtown Knoxville neighborhood of Fort Sanders.
More than 3,000 counter-protesters met the supremacist groups, urging them to leave town. Irwin, the Knoxville lawyer who coordinated counter-protests at the Fort Sanders monument, said he has begun planning a counter-protest Saturday at Cumberland Mountain State Park.