Hate in the Buckeye State

Ohio and surrounding areas are a hotbed for hate groups and white nationalist leaders.

click to enlarge White nationalist leader Matthew Heimbach speaks at a rally last year in Pennsylvania. Heimbach's group has been heavily active in the Cincinnati area. - Paul Weaver
Paul Weaver
White nationalist leader Matthew Heimbach speaks at a rally last year in Pennsylvania. Heimbach's group has been heavily active in the Cincinnati area.

By midday Aug. 12, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had already declared a state of emergency and a large white supremacist rally had dispersed when a silver 2010 Dodge Challenger barreled down the streets of Charlottesville, Va., plowing into a group of anti-racist protesters. Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed and another 19 people injured.    

A 20-year-old named James Alex Fields was quickly arrested and charged with second-degree murder for the act. Fields lived near Maumee, Ohio, a small town close to Toledo, and in recent years had resided just across the river from Cincinnati in Florence, Ky. Social media accounts Fields kept, now deleted, were rife with alt-right memes, and teachers at his high school in Florence say he had an intense fixation with Nazism and radical views about race.

But Fields wasn’t the only Ohio resident at the white supremacist rallies that drew thousands Friday night and Saturday in Charlottesville, nor is he the state’s most prominent purveyor of hate. In fact, the state has birthed or played host to a number of the nation's most influential hate leaders.

Ohio is home to 35 organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as hate groups — the fifth-most in the country behind much more populous states like Texas and California. Kentucky has 23 and Indiana 26, which include six in the immediate Tristate area. A few are what the SPLC calls “black separatist groups,” but most are some variety of white supremacist or neo-Nazi organizations.

Several high-profile national leaders of those groups have lived in or operated from the Buckeye State. They include Traditionalist Workers Party founder Matthew Heimbach, who was also in Charlottesville last weekend, and Andrew Anglin, who founded the nation’s most popular neo-Nazi website.

The SPLC has called 26-year-old Heimbach “the face of a new generation of white nationalists.” He has stated beliefs supporting a separate, entirely white state and would like to expel all immigrants and African-Americans from the United States.

“The ‘freedom’ for other races to move freely into white nations is nonexistent,” Heimbach wrote in a 2013 missive for white nationalist group the Traditionalist Youth Network. “Stay in your own nations, we don’t want you here.”

Heimbach has also spoken to and worked with numerous violent white supremacist groups and was charged with misdemeanor harassment last year for repeatedly pushing a black woman at a campaign rally for Donald Trump in Louisville.

The white nationalist leader came to the Greater Cincinnati area after marrying the daughter of a man who founded the Traditionalist Youth Network. He resides about two-and-a-half hours outside the city in Indiana but also keeps a Cincinnati address in College Hill, court records show. His group has staged a number of protests here.

In 2015, Traditionalist Youth Network ran Tony Hovater for a city council seat in New Carlisle, Ohio. Hovater, who hosted a radio show for the Daily Stormer, has claimed on that show that he “has always been a white nationalist.”

The Daily Stormer has billed itself “the world’s most genocidal Republican website.” It is perhaps the country’s most influential outlet for hateful, neo-Nazi and white supremacist material.

Anglin built the Daily Stormer from an unassuming office building that also houses his father’s Christian counseling service in Worthington, Ohio, launching on July 4, 2013. In just four short years, the site has grown to attract more than 10 million page views and half-a-million visitors a month, riffing on news stories and current events with a youth-centered, meme-heavy approach that is violently racist and anti-semitic in tone.

Earlier this week, internet service companies GoDaddy and Google both denied hosting services to the Daily Stormer after Anglin published an article calling Charlottesville victim Heyer “a drain on society” and making comments about her weight and appearance.

The site, which is reader-supported through donations, was still down as of press time. Anglin grew up in Worthington but his current location is unknown. Over the past two years, federal investigators have concluded he has lived in Germany, and Anglin himself told CNN last month that he was living in Nigeria.

Not all those caught up in white supremacy hailing from Ohio are leaders of the movement. An effort on Twitter to identify attendees at the Charlottesville rallies has linked photos of several marchers to online profiles of Ohio residents.

In one case, online commenters tied a former resident of Mason to video of a man in a hard hat bearing Nazi symbols brutally beating Deandre Harris, a black resident of Charlottesville, during a chaotic confrontation in a parking garage there. At least five men are seen in videos beating Harris with sticks, shields and other weapons as he lay on the ground. He required eight staples to close a gash in his head as a result of the incident.

Charlottesville police have confirmed that Dan Borden, a former resident of Mason, is a person of interest in the beating. He has not been charged, but law enforcement officials are investigating his potential involvement.

A Facebook account bearing Borden's name and likeness has sent virulent, violent messages to other users.

“Go see if those west side niggers will treat you the same as the kids in Mason,” read screenshots of messages Borden allegedly wrote to another Facebook user earlier this year. “If I could round up people to shoot I’d start right in that town. Black don’t do shit but biych and moan and collect welfare." 

Law enforcement officials say they’re working to figure out if he was involved in the assault.

“We are aware of the social media posts and the allegations made against a former Mason resident,” Mason Police Chief Todd Carter told CityBeat. “The city of Mason and the Mason Police Department are cooperating with the City of Charlottesville, Va. and other agencies in response to these allegations.”

It’s unclear why so many active white supremacists come from Ohio and surrounding areas. But it’s likely that more tumult is on the way nationally as those groups plan rallies in Texas, Virginia and elsewhere related to cities removing confederate monuments. As those rallies happen, locals will likely be involved. ©

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