The truth is, though, that I find it very hard to feel like a peacemaker these days. I find it hard to understand what it means to make peace during these times of war. And I do feel that we are at war right now—we are at war over ideas, values, and meaning. And maybe we always have been. A few years ago, Ai-Jen Poo, of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said that “we are in the fight of our lives for the soul of this country.” I believed that then and I believe it even more strongly today.
In my work with AKIN, I wake up every day and bear witness to this war. Not as someone directly affected, because I am one of the privileged few who through no fault or doing of my own happened to be born in the United States. No, I bear witness as a bystander to the chaos of our immigration system, to its indifference to pain and suffering, and to the injustices of a global system built on vulnerability, exploitation, and racism.
In February 2018, the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) kicked off a multi-state campus tour, entitled “National Socialism or Death,” at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Thus, Tennessee’s flagship campus became the latest in a long line of universities recently targeted by white nationalist and white supremacist groups. These organizations want to recruit and build a following on campuses across the United States. They also seek to undermine the credibility of institutions of higher education. This article outlines TWP’s recent incursion into Knoxville and the community’s responses.
The Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), co-founded by Matthew Heimbach, is a white nationalist organization. It advocates for the creation of an independent whites-only nation-state. Core to white nationalist belief is the notion that the United States was built by and for white people. Notably, this idea has purchase even in academic circles, albeit thinly veiled under the guise of Western European culture and values. TWP also believes that white people—defined as “the descendants of indigenous Europeans”—should dominate the nation’s political, economic, and social spheres.