This article originally ran in The Real News.
A number of anti-racist groups are expected to show up Saturday in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville Tennessee to protest the “White Lives Matter” rally. The rally was organized by some of the same white supremacist groups who were behind the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August, including Vanguard America, the group with whom James Alex Fields was photographed and whose shield he carried before plowing his car into a crowd of counter protesters.
The white supremacists have said that they chose to hold their rally in Tennessee because they thought they could avoid “violent” antifa protesters. But there’s a growing anti-fascist movement in the South. Redneck Revolt and the John Brown Gun Club, radical leftists, are trying to counter-organize around class in traditionally white spaces such as gun shows and NASCAR races.
As groups like Redneck Revolt were forming, they were inspired by the Young Patriots, which formed in the 1960s in Chicago to organize people who had moved to the city to escape the crushing poverty and police brutality in Appalachia. They found more of the same in Chicago and eventually began to organize. The Young Patriots worked together with the Black Panthers and the Young Lords to found the Rainbow Coalition.
Hy Thurman was one of the founders of the Young Patriots and a few years ago, he brought the group back. “The reason we went underground, and some still are, was because of the oppression, the brutality, the murders, the threats. We had a couple of our members murdered,” he said in an interview with me and Marc Steiner.
But now was the time to bring the group back. “We feel that right now is the right time for the Young Patriots,” he said, adding that, in terms of poverty and racism, not a lot had changed.
And they had already inspired younger people to go and counter-organize among poor and working-class white people. “We share the same philosophy,” Thurman said of Redneck Revolt. “They stated that they modeled themselves and were influenced by what the Young Patriots had done by working in white communities.”
Thurman says he is a member of Redneck Revolt and that some of their other members have started Young Patriots chapters.
“I went up to Phoenix with the John Brown Gun Club and got trained in the latest weaponry,” he said.
Like Redneck Revolt and the John Brown Gun Club today, the Young Patriots refused to cede the white working class to the right. They specifically used the rebel flag, which they wore as a way to start political conversations.
“We would go into bars and other meetings, we would have the flag but also have a ‘Free Huey’ [Black Panther] button or some other type of button and we would talk to people about what it actually meant,” he said. “We talked to people about the meaning of that flag and how it was a symbol of the slavocracy and it was a symbol of the plantation owners and that people’s lives were nothing more than a piece of property to be sold or be killed. But we would also talk to them about their needs and their problems.”
Though he is still trying to do the same kind of organizing, Thurman says he wouldn’t wear that flag now.
“That’s served its purpose and we have no need to wear that anymore because the people who are identifying with it now are the white supremacists and everywhere we go they’re wearing it,” he said.
The people with the confederate flags are the ones people like Thurman and Redneck Revolt will be confronting in Tennessee.
“I hope it doesn’t turn out to be Charlottesville, but if it does, it is what it is,” he said. “But we can no longer let Trump spew the hatred and divide the country the way he’s doing it. So that’s the reason we’re there to stop fascism. And it is fascism. Trump and others would like to see a fascist state. That what we’re fighting against and that’s what we fought against 50 years ago and people before us.”
An audio version of the entire conversation can be heard here.