White-power symbol found after Highlander Center fire, same used by Christchurch shooter

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Days after a fire destroyed the main office building at the Highlander Center, the social justice work and civil rights activism the center is synonymous for continues. 

A white-power symbol spray-painted in a parking lot at the Highlander Center is being probed as part of the investigation into a blaze that destroyed the building that housed its offices.

The symbol was found in the parking lot connected to the main building, the Highlander Research and Education said in a statement.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Coffey, however, said Tuesday morning it is *undetermined* if a white-power symbol was found.

Moving forward

The Highlander Center’s co-director Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson says the fire and the white power movement symbol won’t stop their work. In fact, she says in the days following the fire the center has received an “outpouring of love and support” from all over the world. 

“To love and support each other would be to continue to do your lifesaving work, to be vigilant about safety. This is not disconnected to the reality of a lot of people around this country who do this work,” said Henderson. 

The Highlander Research and Education Center has been a force in the civil rights movement for 87 years. First established in 1932, in Monteagle, Tennessee, the focus was to organize unemployed and working people. Highlander also worked to end segregation in the labor movement. 

The center became an “incubator” for the civil rights movement. From 1961-1971, it was based in Knoxville, and in 1972 it moved to its current location near New Market, Tennessee. 

“We didn’t lose out commitment to continue to do the work to build a better world we’ve always deserved,” said Henderson. 

Henderson says if the act is found to be an attack after the investigation, it wouldn’t be the first the center has endured. Including raids by state officials for breaking segregation laws, to an attack by the KKK. Henderson says those moments only prove their work is needed.

Racist symbol

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Regional Director, Allison Padilla-Goodman more information, through the investigation, will determine if the symbol and the fire are related. 

The symbol, which looks like a 3-by-3 hashtag, has historical connections to right-wing groups in Romania during the 1930s. Specifically, it was associated with the fascist movement known as the “Iron Guard”, also known as the “Legion of St. Michael”. 

Padilla-Goodman says the symbol was most recently found on the gun used in the Christchurch, New Zealand mass shooting.

However, Padilla-Goodman says the symbol is not common in the U.S., with the exception of use by the Traditionalist Worker Party. Although the group has since fallen apart, Padilla-Goodman says those who supported the ideals of the group’s leader, Matthew Heimbach, still recognize the use of the symbol. 

Highlander Center Archives 

It’s still unknown what archives survived the fire, but Henderson says the center’s archives are not completely destroyed. 

The Wisconsin Historical Society keeps some of the center’s archives. A spokesperson telling WATE 6 On Your Side “Even though we have a large number of records at the Wisconsin Historical Society, I want to make sure you are aware that there was still a significant amount of records lost in the fire.”

An overview of the records kept by the WHS can be found online

Henderson says part of the center’s archives can also be found at the University of North Carolina. 

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