An organization labeled as a hate group conducted a practice march in downtown Columbus over the weekend, espousing beliefs that have been condemned by city officials.
About 12 or 15 members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist group that advocates racially pure nations and communities, conducted a practice march down both sides of Washington Street on Saturday night, handing out fliers that sought to end admission of refugees into the United States, an organizer said.
The group, which organizer Jeremy Bowman of Columbus said included about five local residents, wore black armbands and black garments and carried the organization’s flag during the march, which went past several restaurants where people were dining outdoors.
The Columbus Police Department reviewed surveillance video of about a dozen people walking on the sidewalk in the 400 block of Washington St. about 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
From a law-enforcement standpoint, a review of the video showed no illegal activity, said Lt. Matt Harris, spokesman for the department.
People can hold rallies on public sidewalks in Columbus as long as they don’t impede others — foot or car traffic, Harris said. They need permits if planned activities require roads to be closed, however, he said.
Columbus police received no complaints about this activity from the public, he said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and other extremists, describes The Traditionalist Worker Party as an organization that claims to oppose racism, but blames Jews for most of the world’s problems and believes that every race deserves its own land and culture.
“The group is intimately allied with neo-Nazi and other hardline racist organizations that espouse unvarnished white supremacist views,” the center states on its website.
Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying the Traditionalist Worker Party is a small, political white supremacist group founded outside the state.
“While it is no doubt upsetting to know this event took place, it is important to understand that this group has the right to peacefully assemble to exercise its right to free speech,” the mayor’s statement said. “It is equally important to denounce this group: The City of Columbus does not support the racist ideology upon which this group was founded.”
Lienhoop said Columbus welcomes everyone and is proud to be home to people of all faiths, races, ancestry and backgrounds, from different nations, who bring a rich culture and diversity that benefits everyone.
“Those contributions have not only enriched our community, but have allowed our community to flourish economically, enabling us to continue to bring in a dynamic workforce to support local, regional, national and international companies,” the statement said. “Columbus celebrates this diversity.”
Bowman, a self-employed construction worker, leads the Traditionalist Worker Party Group in Columbus, which he said is under the broader leadership of Matthew Heimbach, of Paoli. Heimbach has been identified as a leader in white supremacist groups who helped promote the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to media accounts of the Charlottesville violence.
In an interview, Bowman repeatedly denied that he is a white supremacist, saying he is a white nationalist, fighting for the white race and other races to have their own separate societies based on shared blood, shared history and shared beliefs.
Saturday night’s march was a practice training session for future larger events, Bowman said. The group was practicing marching side by side and in step with the flag, he said. The larger event in the future may or may not be in Columbus, he said.
The group did hand out leaflets, which they call a “flier drop,” to spread their message without talking individually with people, he said.
The fliers distributed Saturday said “No refugees welcome” and included the organization’s website to obtain further information.
Bowman said a tenet of the Traditionalist Worker Party is that the U.S. should not have to take care of individuals coming from any other countries.
The Traditional Worker Party also believes that whites should be given their own nationalist homeland, and people should separate and have their own communities, Bowman said.
“It’s a proven fact that races can’t live together,” Bowman said.
Saturday’s meeting in Columbus was an organizational meeting for the Appalachian region with the end goal of having a chapter of the group in every city in the country, he said.
For more, see Wednesday’s Republic.