Our Search For A Secret White Supremacist Meeting In A Tennessee Forest

(Photo: Emily Molli/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo: Emily Molli/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON ― Prominent neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Klansmen are gathering in East Tennessee this weekend ― over Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar ― for a conference associated with Stormfront, the infamous neo-Nazi internet forum. The topic at hand is protest tactics, according to an attendee.

The attendees would prefer that you not know their whereabouts this weekend, but we think we found a few locations where they may be meeting: a local restaurant in Crossville, Tennessee, on Friday night, and in Cumberland Mountain State Park on Saturday afternoon. (If you’re a local with information, tip us: scoops@huffingtonpost.com.)

When white supremacists meet to strategize about the future of “the movement,” they try to do it as privately as possible. Unless they are engaged in public shows of force, like last month’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, neo-Nazis and white supremacists are careful to cover their tracks, not wanting to attract the attention of antifa and other counterprotesters. Members send out decoy flares and obscure the nature of their meetings when reserving space.

The Stormfront conference this weekend is no different. Stormfront founder Don Black said last month that the event would take place in the “still beautiful part of nearly all-White east Tennessee outside Knoxville,” but declined to disclose the location. The Nazi waxed poetic: “This will be the height of the beautiful ‘color change,’ but this is about leaves in the deciduous forest,” he wrote, his white supremacy outstripping his dendrology.

White supremacists have gathered in public parks before, sometimes posing as a family reunion group.

On Thursday, Billy Roper, a white nationalist who says his father and grandfathers were Klansmen, mentioned to us that he was heading to the Stormfront conference in Tennessee. He said there were going to be a “couple hundred people” ― a claim we could not verify ― and said they would be conducting “training on how to do real world activism, protests, demonstrations and rallies.” (His website elaborated that there would be workshops about “‘Agitation Propaganda’ techniques” and “pro-White flash mobs.”)

Roper said he planned to meet Southern secessionist Michael Hill, neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach, prominent Klansman Thomas Robb and white supremacist Francis John Gilroy. (Most of the people he listed did not respond to requests for comment, though Heimbach said he was going.) We asked Roper if journalists could come. He said no.

Later that night, a source tipped us off to a pre-conference neo-Nazi “meet and greet” happening Friday evening at the Beef and Barrel Restaurant & Lounge in Crossville. An employee who answered the phone said there was a reservation for 35 people at 7 p.m., but said he did not know who’d made the reservation. Bruce Cannon, the restaurant’s owner, said he was not aware of a planned Stormfront gathering, adding that the restaurant does not ask for the affiliation of groups when taking reservations.

Cannon said he is not a supporter of Stormfront, but said it’s not up to him to decide who comes to his restaurant. “It would be like me not allowing a black person into the restaurant because they’re black, or a liberal into the restaurant because they’re liberal,” he said. Denying Stormfront service could result in a lawsuit, Cannon claimed, pointing to litigation involving a Colorado baker who declined to bake a cake for an LGBTQ couple and a New Mexico photographer who refused to work a same-sex wedding.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins, who runs the One People’s Project, an antifascist organization that monitors far-right groups, told us he called the Beef and Barrel and spoke to an employee who confirmed the white supremacists were meeting there. Jenkins provided us with an audio recording of the call. When we spoke with this employee later, she refused to comment and hung up on us.

Cumberland Mountain State Park is six miles from the Beef and Barrel. We called the park, but an employee told us there were no obvious signs of white supremacists trying to organize there. Employees at Fall Creek Falls State Park and Norris Dam State Park ― where Stormfront has gathered in the past ― said the same thing.

On Friday, we learned that the Homestead Harvest Restaurant at Cumberland Mountain State Park has a reservation for Saturday for 40-50 people listed under “Richard Pumphrey.” This appears to be short for “C. Richard Pumphrey,” the name of a Tennessee resident who has previously reserved space in local state parks for white nationalist meetings. The restaurant confirmed the reservation under Pumphrey’s name.

There is also a recreation center in the park that hosts events where Stormfront could hold their conference.

A woman who identified herself as Pumphrey’s wife told HuffPost that there was one meeting “that was supposed to happen,” but that her husband passed away earlier this month, and she personally canceled a reservation. “If there’s anybody coming here or going to Knoxville, to Norris or something like that, that’s out of their own doing,” she said.

A Facebook page called Antifa Tennessee has named the Beef and Barrel and Cumberland Mountain State Park as the likely locations for the Stormfront gathering, and urged activists to attend.

White supremacists who are attending the conference would not confirm whether they are meeting at Cumberland Mountain State Park.

Dubbed the “murder capital of the Internet,” Stormfront was once the most popular neo-Nazi site in the world. Stormfront’s members committed nearly 100 murders between 2009 and 2014, including 77 carried out by the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.

Nevertheless, the website remained online for about 20 years. But after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, where a man rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman, Stormfront’s domain registrar terminated its registration. Since then, members have shared workarounds for accessing the site, which we did not confirm are effective.

The National Park Service has no policy that would prevent Stormfront from gathering in one of its public, taxpayer-funded parks. NPS allows people to use park land for “public assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, religious activities and other public expressions of views protected under the First Amendment,” NPS spokeswoman Kathy Kupper said in a statement, without specifically commenting on Stormfront. Tennessee State Parks did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether its policies differ from those of NPS.

HuffPost is seeking more information about this event. If you’re a local tipster, get in touch: scoops@huffingtonpost.com.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.