A white supremacist rally set for Saturday, and the expected left-wing response, has the town of Pikeville, Kentucky, population 7,038, under lockdown in anticipation of violence.
The rally, organized by Neo-Nazi groups National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Workers Party, and the National Front is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Saturday. Left-wing groups from across the South are assembling a militant response.
Both the Far Left and the Far Right have issued calls online to gather in Pikeville and oppose the enemy with force.
Anarchist activist Lacy Macauley told BuzzFeed News that she estimates a large number of militant Leftist activists — who identify as anarchist “antifa,” short for anti-fascists — are heading to Pikeville.
Kentucky is an Open Carry state, which elevates the possibility of lethal violence above that of gun-shy Berkeley, CA, where similar clashes have taken place.
Macauley said that many Leftists are keeping guns in the trunks of their cars (though she is not, she said) because they expect the other side to be doing the same.
“I’m hoping that we all make it. We’re all very worried,” she said. “If I owned a bulletproof vest, I’d be wearing it. I’ve got a megaphone and a flag with a sturdy pole.”
Though the Far Right and Far Left have clashed repeatedly in Berkeley, California, and in Washington, the forces coming together in Pikeville signal an expansion of the violent culture wars enflamed by Donald Trump's election beyond universities and liberal towns into deeply conservative counties (Pike county voted 80% for Trump).
The key players are also different than those who clashed in Berkeley or Washington.
The groups that organized the original gathering are old guard white supremacists, more akin to the Ku Klux Klan than the so-called alt-right, the loose online coalition of white nationalists, libertarians, and internet trolls that support Donald Trump. The National Socialist Movement, National Front, and Traditionalist Workers Party openly and collectively campaign for white power. By contrast, many within the alt-right balk at the generalization that everyone within the movement is a white nationalist, though prominent individuals like Richard Spencer are avowedly so.
Similarly, the Leftists converging on Pikeville are different from those in Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay Area, where radical movements have flourished since the 1960s and where the populace at large leans left.
According to Macauley, those in Pikeville are antifa from across the South — liberal enclaves like Asheville, North Carlina, or Atlanta, and from rural areas — where there are noticeably fewer people on the Far Left than in Berkeley.
Macauley herself drove to Pikeville from Washington, DC. She said that groups she's affiliated with saw a spike in membership after the election and the inauguration because more people than ever before “felt the call to rise up against this tide of white supremacy that’s been rising in this country.”
To Macauley and to a number of her antifa comrades, the protest in Pikeville is symbolic because it will be one of the first major confrontations in the South, a place where extremist groups like the KKK have long held sway and where the majority of people voted for Donald Trump. The KKK and other hate groups have been emboldened by Trump's election in some places in the South.
Pikeville is scrambling to adjust to its newfound place in the culture wars and prevent violence on Saturday.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the city has banned masks for the day, likely to counteract Black Bloc protesting tactics. Businesses downtown are closing for the day. An event organized to counter the white supremacist rally, the Rally for Equality for American Values, has been canceled over fears of violence. The Kentucky State Police will be there to reinforce local law enforcement, and the Kentucky National Guard has been briefed about the possible clash as well, according to the newspaper.
The University of Pikeville is also shutting down for the day to keep students safe. The school's president has told students to leave town. He opened a warning letter by saying, “Usually, Pikeville is a quiet and safe town in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. This weekend could be different. Very different.” A state senator representing the area has also advised his constituents to avoid downtown, the Courier-Journal reported.
Even the neighboring town of Coal Run, less than five miles away, has advised citizens to avoid their own downtown. Many Coal Run businesses will be closed Saturday. “There's certainly anxiety in the air,” Coal Run Mayor Andrew H. Scott told BuzzFeed News. “It's gonna be a long day.
In a last ditch effort to maintain calm, the Twitter account Pikeville Project, @MMPikeville, sent out several desperate messages on Friday imploring residents, ralliers, and protesters to keep the peace, using the hashtag #PrayersForPikeville