This article contains updates to include comment from the NSM.
One of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the country is planning events in Chattanooga later this month.
According to its website, the National Socialist Movement will hold a 40th anniversary dinner and rally here on April 25-26. Founded in 1974 and based out of Detroit, Mich., the NSM says it is the largest and most active national socialist party in the country.
“No longer stand on the sidelines. Come out and let your voice be heard, and your boots stand in solidarity in the streets of Chattanooga in defense of our nation, our race and the American way of life,” the registration form states.
The two-day event precedes Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 27.
The organization did not respond to messages requesting comment Tuesday morning.
“You’ve reached the National Socialist Movement. We’re the only political party in America dedicated to white interests and the proud heritage that our nation was founded on,” its voicemail greeting says.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group is notable for its “violent, anti-Jewish rhetoric.” The organization has 55 chapters with several hundred members, said Mark Potak, a senior fellow at the SPLC.
“The NSM have specialized in being provocateurs. They’ve gone into a number of different situations where they have either created a street riot or done their best to do so,” he said.
He referenced a 2005 riot in Toledo, Ohio, in which the group planned to march through a predominantly black neighborhood. According to contemporaneous news reports, police canceled the march before it began because an angry mob began throwing rocks at police officers and vehicles. The city’s mayor declared a state of emergency, sought back-up from highway patrol officers and instituted a citywide curfew.
The NSM’s website does not identify where its events in Chattanooga will take place.
Potak says it’s common for the group to keep event locations secret until the last minute. Often, people will find out where an event or rally is planned and try to prevent it from happening.
“What we’re now going to see is the dance of a thousand steps between the NSM and various anti-racists who would like to find the NSM members and beat them up,” he said.
Attendance at one of its rallies is typically around 40 to 50, he said.
A rally in Kansas City, Mo., late last year drew more protesters than NSM members. Video shows the two camps separated by barriers and police officers. According to The Kansas City Star, police arrested one protester for allegedly throwing something.
Timothy McFarland, public information officer for the Chattanooga Police Department, said the CPD will keep an eye on the upcoming events.
“Occasionally, high profile groups like this will come through. They’ll plan the meetings, and we will have someone overseeing it,” he said. “If something gets out of hand, then we’ll have somebody there, whether that be undercover, patrol response or both.”
Most of the time if a group like this is coming into the city, it’s not planning a riot or something violent, he said. “It’d be like you and me having a meeting.”
McFarland urged caution if the locations of the events become known, however, and said the CPD would advise against people protesting the group. The concern is that a rally might escalate into something larger, he said. “You can imagine the aftermath.”
Updated at 4:24 p.m. on April 9:
A representative of the National Socialist Movement contacted Nooga.com Wednesday afternoon. He identified himself as Mike Schmidt, Tennessee state director, unit contact. He said the term “neo-Nazi” is inflammatory and does not represent the NSM.
“There’s nothing ‘neo’ about us,” he said. “We are a white civil rights political action organization. We are national socialists. It’s very plain, cut and dry, and simple.”
Schmidt said Chattanooga was chosen for these events because of its regional proximity to other states. He noted that the NSM has members all over the country-he declined to say how many-but has a “good sized region down here.”
The group’s rally outside the Hamilton County Courthouse will focus on issues important to its members, like illegal immigration, he said.