Matthew Heimbach, in happier white supremacist times. Photo by Scott Olson/ Getty
In case you've stopped noticing today's GOP leans so far right they're damn near toppling off the planet, this from Tennessee: A GOP-controlled House subcommittee just shot down even discussing a resolution to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis, now proliferating so fast the state hosts at least 37 active hate groups. Resolution 583 by Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) asked the House to “strongly denounce and oppose the totalitarian impulses, violent terrorism, xenophobic biases and bigoted ideologies that are promoted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis.” It also urged law enforcement to recognize these groups as domestic terrorist organizations and "pursue (their) criminal elements... in the same manner and with the same fervor used to protect the United States from other manifestations of terrorism."
Clemmons filed the resolution after last summer's violent, tiki-torch-themed "Unite The Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va., where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed. With hate groups sprouting like toxic mushrooms around the country, says Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, "Tennessee is, like, the place now" - though thanks to broad opposition, including by the state's Republican governor, many of their gatherings have been driven out of private venues to relocate at state parks open to the public. Despite such inconveniences, in the last seven years the state has hosted over 14 white supremacist rallies by groups like Stormfront - "Blood and Soil" - White Lives Matter - "Time to start the deportations!” and the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP), which advocates for a white ethnostate and argues against supporting the Constitution "because it enshrines egalitarianism."
Wednesday's vote on Clemmons' bill suggesting these guys do not make stellar neighbors for most residents of Tennessee came a few days after the most recent gathering: A conference and flash mob by the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, which touts its "European roots.” Amidst such rhetoric, Clemmons presented his motion to the House State Government Subcommittee, with a motion by Nashville Democrat Rep. Darren Jernigan to hear the proposal. It was met with silence: None of the four GOP members, who all evidently think Nazis are at heart fine people, offered a second, and the GOP chair killed the bill. “I’m in utter disbelief about what just happened,” Clemmons said afterwards, echoing many of us every time we read the news. "I didn’t think there was anything controversial about this resolution.”
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Finally, a surreal, somehow soothing coda. The day before the vote, Matthew Heimbach - hateful leader of the TWP and once dubbed "the face of a new generation of white nationalists" - was released from jail in Indiana after being caught in what even one perpetrator called "a white-trash circus." According to police, Heimbach was arrested after a scuffle in a trailer during which he attacked his wife and choked his father-in-law/TWP co-founder David "Matt" Parrott after they confronted him about sleeping for months with Jessica Parrott, who is Matt's wife and Heimbach's mother-in-law. Did you get that? The tawdry fallout: Heimbach is charged with battery, intimidation, strangulation, and domestic battery in the presence of a child. Parrot says that "due to the events that transpired, people have lost faith in the party on every level," he has taken down the TWP website, and he is "out of the game." Having spectacularly self-destructed, though, let it be said: These Nazi country cousins stick to their guns. When asked, the police noted that all those involved listed their occupations as "white nationalist."
Marching for hate in Tennessee. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Reuters