A series of emails sent between Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials over the past few months reveals law-enforcement was focused on counter-protesters at several recent events organized by the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker’s Party (TWP), rather than the neo-Nazis themselves.
The emails were obtained through a public records request by the media collective Unicorn Riot and center on planning and logistics associated with a TWP event at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) on February 17. The emails also address rumors that TWP members were, at the time, planning another protest on March 17, in response to a UTK panel meant to address racism.
In one particular email, dated March 13, Tennessee Office of Homeland Security Intelligence Analyst Misty Phillips addresses concerns about neo-Nazi protesters attending the panel, writing that “TWP is typically not the issue, but rather opposing groups.”
Phillips also writes that “TWP is very good about communicating with the venue in which they plan to attend,” despite the fact that, according to the university, the earlier February 17 rally was booked under the name of a local church rather than “TWP.”
The cops’ focus on counterprotestors appears to have emboldened the neo-Nazi group. Matthew Heimbach, former leader of the TWP, posted on a group chat days before the event that he had “talked to the cops” ahead of the rally and been reassured that they would “avoid any security issues.”
“So basically I think if the Reds act up, they are gonna get billy clubbed…so, can’t complain,” he added.
TWP has a history of violent behavior and advocates for a whites-only ethnostate. During a TWP rally at Sacramento in 2016, seven people were stabbed and nine others hospitalized during clashes with counter-protesters. TWP also took part in the Charlottesville rally last year and bragged about the death of 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer in internet chatrooms.
In recent months, the TWP suffered a humiliating fall from grace after Heimbach was arrested on multiple counts of battery in a bizarre trailer-park brawl. According to police, Heimbach attacked his wife and then-TWP spokesman Matt Parrott (who is also his father-in-law) after the two confronted him over an alleged affair between Heimbach and his mother-in-law, Jessica Parrott.
After the incident, Parrott announced he was quitting TWP. “I’m done. I’m out,” he told the Southern Poverty Law Center in a letter. “SPLC has won. Matt Parrott is out of the game. Y’all have a nice life.”
While far-right groups like Heimbach’s TWP may be slowly imploding, the way in which law enforcement officials police white nationalist events raises troubling questions — chief among them the level of aggression that should be used against counter-protesters.
During a neo-Nazi rally in Georgia last week, for instance, hundreds of heavily-armed police were called up to protect approximately two-dozen Nazis from counter-protesters. Ironically, police used a law meant combat the Ku Klux Klan to justify arresting the counter-protesters. Video captured for the Huffington Post also showed police pointing AR-15s at unarmed counter-protesters who had their hands up.
“They were trying to find any pretext to shut us down,” counter-protester Daniel Hanley told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The moment we stepped foot there, they intimidated us and strategically tried to target people.”