The story spread quickly on social media then to state and local newspapers: white nationalist groups planned to hold a conference at Jenny Wiley State Park, just outside of Prestonsburg, Kentucky in April of 2017. A flyer announcing the event read “Take a Stand for White Working Families” while its organizers claimed “Pike County is nearly all white and 80% voted for Trump” and therefore local people in Eastern Kentucky were the perfect demographic for their cause. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Organizers of the “Take a Stand” rally are well-known white nationalist groups who don’t try to hide their affinity for Nazism. The website for one of the groups includes “88” in the web address, which is known to law enforcement organizations as a code for extremist groups who are pro-Nazi, since H is the eighth letter of the alphabet “88” stands for “HH” which in turn means “Heil Hitler.” What these groups didn’t know was that the people of Eastern Kentucky, including those who voted for Donald Trump, have nothing but disgust for pro-Nazi groups.
Local resident Jamie Morgan, a strong conservative who voted for Donald Trump, put it plainly “Idiots like these need to be embarrassed and thrown out of our city. I’m a conservative but groups like these do not have the same ideas and absolutely do not speak for anyone that I know. We do not want their anti-Semitic, racist, un-American ideas and they are not welcome.”
Ariana Velasquez of nearby Pikeville, Kentucky agreed. She organized a counter rally called the Rally for Equality and American Values which is planned to be held in Pikeville on the same day as the white nationalist event. Details for the Rally for Equality and American Values can be found on the site’s Facebook page. Ms. Velasquez, a Democrat, emphasized the equality rally is a bipartisan event, and that so far people from all political persuasions have signed up to attend. Republicans like Jamie Morgan have agreed and plan to attend the equality rally in April, which will be a peaceful protest against the white nationalist events.
President Trump swept Kentucky in the 2016 elections, defeating rival Hillary Clinton by a nearly two to one margin across the state. Mr. Trump is particularly popular in Eastern Kentucky where his promises to bring back coal jobs resonated well. But Trump supporters here flatly rejected any affinity for white nationalist or pro-Nazi groups, and their instant opposition to the “Take a Stand” proves they have no support for these groups or the ideas they represent.
In a cruel irony, the white nationalists chose Jenny Wiley State Park for their event, which is named after Jenny Wiley, a well-known historical figure in Eastern Kentucky who suffered terrible losses during her life in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Her younger brother and five of her own children were murdered right in front of her, an ordeal that would have been sadly familiar to victims of the Holocaust. Jenny Wiley State Park is today a leading center of culture for Eastern Kentucky, home to a renowned theater with a sterling reputation for top quality productions. The choice of location just added to the local outcry.
The message is unmistakable: white nationalists and advocates of national-socialism are not welcome in Eastern Kentucky. As a region we have our share of economic challenges and political divisions, but liberals and conservatives, religious and non-religious, rich and poor here are united on this issue. We may not agree on a lot, but we agree pro-Nazi groups can get lost.