Terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah don’t gain popular legitimacy simply by bombing civilians — rather, they also step in to offer key public services to areas that are struggling economically.
A new report from the Lexington Herald-Leader shows that white supremacist organizations in the United States are following this exact playbook to win over poor white people who live in Appalachia, in the hopes that they will help them form a regional base of political power.
Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party, tells the Herald-Leader that he is explicitly modeling his community outreach plans on the ones successfully used in the past by terrorist organizations to win over populations that might otherwise be wary of extremist groups.
“Hamas, Hezbollah, [and] the Irish Republican movement,” Heimbach said when asked about his influences.
Instead of going into a community and preaching white power, Heimbach and his group plan to go in and set up health clinics, food banks, and small business funds to improve the lives of an area that is struggling with addiction, food insecurity, and a poor economy.
“When the system is unable or unwilling to fulfill the needs of the community, the nationalists step up,” he said.
The Traditionalist Worker Party will also try to not pitch itself in explicitly racial terms in future elections, as the group’s effort to fund a candidate whose slogan was “Make America White Again” crashed and burned by only receiving two percent of the vote last year. Rather, future campaigns will emphasize “securing a future for our children,” “advocating for the silent majority” or taking care of “those left behind by globalism.”
Marilyn Mayo, who tracks the activities of Heimbach and other hate groups on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, tells the Herald-Leader that while she is a bit concerned about his plans, she doubted that he has the kind of funding needed to pull off such an ambitious project. Even if he secured a neo-Nazi sugar daddy to fund the operation, she said, she said it would still be a tough slog for it to be successful.
“He has this idea that disaffected whites are so angry or so needy that they would really accept the help of anyone who comes in,” she said. “I think that people are aware of when people are trying to use them to promote some kind of ideology.”