Months before the recent violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalists and their opposition -- counterprotesters, including those who call themselves anti-fascist or antifa, and local residents -- had a showdown during an "alt-right" rally in the small town of Pikeville, Kentucky.
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One difference between that event and the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally is that no one died at the Pikeville rally.
The Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) hosted a “Take A Stand for White Working Families” rally in Pikeville on April 29. White nationalist Matthew Heimbach, a delivery driver and father of two, is the leader of the TWP and he had chosen Pikeville as the site for the rally.
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Eighty percent of the votes in Pike County, which includes Pikeville, cast for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Heimbach said he saw Pikeville, the town known for the famous family feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, as fertile ground to recruit new members to his cause -- creating a whites-only homeland
“I want to be a community organizer and the white working class is my community,” Heimbach told ABC News’ “20/20.” “I just want to be able to give my people a voice so they’re not disenfranchised.”
Heimbach first made headlines in 2013 for his attempts to form all-white student groups at college campuses, starting with his alma mater, Towson University in Maryland.
“The Traditionalist Worker Party is a nationalist, socialist, secessionist political party, working to be able to fight for an independent national socialist white homeland,” Heimbach said.
Heimbach uses social media to help encourage new recruits and says his movement’s strongest area of membership is in Appalachia and in the Rust Belt.
“This is an area where people have just been left behind by the economy, where white folks feel that they don't have an advocate. This is where we're able to be there to speak for the forgotten Americans,” he said.
On the morning of the Pikeville rally, Heimbach and other members of his group camped out several miles away in the mountains, preparing for the day. Since Kentucky law allows open carry of weapons, many in the group had guns in their possession.
“We’re prepared to defend ourselves,” an attendee named Ken told “20/20.” “As you can see, many of us are armed, and we're ready.”
Some members at the event asked to remain anonymous, with one man telling “20/20,” “I’m a Baptist preacher, so I [have] got to maintain a low profile.”
The morning began with a lesson on how to wear gas masks and training exercises on how to stand in formation and march. In addition to weapons, the group also had shields.
“We’re carrying shields to be able to defend ourselves against their attacks,” said Heimbach, referring to the protesters they were expecting to show up at their rally.
“We want to be like ants. We’re a colony and we just go and destroy everything in our way,” a member of Vanguard America named Dylan told “20/20.”
As Heimbach’s group practiced in the woods, Pikeville city manager Donovan Blackburn was also getting prepared for the day.
“We have spoken with Homeland Security, and they’re aware and have made us aware also of a lot of chatter on social media,” Blackburn told “20/20.” “The counterprotesters and the antifa are the groups that I’m concerned about.” Among those counterprotesters were local residents not affiliated with antifa.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, an antifa researcher and founder of One People’s Project, and Lacy MacAuley, a prominent antifa movement organizer, both helped bring people together in Pikeville to counterprotest TWP’s rally. Jenkins’ organization monitors and publishes information about alleged racist and supremacist groups, individuals and activities.
“I’m not trying to shut them up. I’m trying to shut them down. I think that’s the goal,” Jenkins, who helped get the word out to antifa supporters about the counterprotest, told “20/20.” “They have their freedom of speech. What is a problem is that they don’t want you to have yours.”
MacAuley got organized for the day with a megaphone, extra batteries and a black bandana.
“The universal anti-fascist symbol [is] three arrows pointing down,” MacAuley told “20/20.”
Heimbach’s group was more than an hour late to the rally after its convoy got lost on the way down from the mountains. But once they arrived in Pikeville, they marched straight into a cacophony of noise and chants led by MacAuley on her bullhorn.
Heimbach, whose group had a permit to rally in the town, warned his followers to keep their emotions in check. “These people are not worth your time, your energy, the words coming out of your mouth,” he told them.
Both sides were armed: Some antifa members carried clubs, and some white nationalists had guns.
Police kept each side restricted to fenced-in pens on opposite sides of a Pikeville downtown square. A line of officers used their bodies to physically keep them apart.
At one point, demonstrators on each side jumped the fences, and police rushed to push each side back behind their barriers, trying to keep them separated.
Police later brought in re-enforcements to help keep the peace, including deploying the state police riot team to assist in creating a barricade between the two groups.
As time ran out on the permit, members of Heimbach’s group headed back to their cars, with demonstrators following and taunting them. Nervous as they drove away past antifa in downtown Pikeville, Heimbach pulled his gun onto his lap.
“When you’ve got a lot of people that want to kill you, you’ve got to work fast and do your best to not get killed,” Heimbach said, laughing.
After a loud but ultimately safe day, Heimbach and his group headed out of Pikeville. He next helped organize the “Unite the Right” rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12.
There, it was a very different scene, which resulted in three people dead and a 20-year-old man, who participated in the white nationalist rally, facing murder charges.