Longview District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy and the Rev. LaDarian Brown, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church and president of the Longview Ministerial Alliance.

Black leaders in Longview called upon elected officials Saturday not to be “cowards” and to use their voices to make it known that the city does not condone racist, hateful activity. They also asked the community at large to pray for the city and to show unity before a planned white supremacy rally.

Meanwhile, a group identifying itself as Jewish Antifa announced it is coordinating an armed, counter-protest Sept. 25 in Longview in response to the planned “white unity” rally set for the same day.

“We have to discourage it and we have to be vocal. People in elected positions and all of our leaders — everyone with a voice — needs to speak up and speak against it,” District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy said Saturday. “We have to always push forward and do what is right by all of our citizens.”

Snoddy said whether the rally occurs in Longview or near the city and regardless of whether it is on private property, the community should not want to be associated with it.

An organization calling itself the Aryan Freedom Network is claiming to be planning the white supremacy event. While a location was not provided, it is likely the rally would occur on private property.

Longview police said Friday the department had heard of the possible event three days prior; however, Mayor Andy Mack and Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said Friday they were unaware of such a possible event. Mack declined Friday to provide a further statement, saying he could not comment on something about which he was unaware. He also said that the validity of the event could not be verified and that he was considering it to be “hearsay” at the time.

City and county officials each said there have been no requests filed to use public property for such an event. In a statement, city spokesman Shawn Hara said the city of Longview recognizes the rights to free speech and assembly.

“However, we also recognize the risk to public safety if gatherings become violent or unruly. We will monitor the situation and be prepared to respond as needed,” the statement from Hara said. “Whatever the circumstances, we encourage everyone to utilize their rights to free speech and assembly in a peaceful manner.”

The idea of such a planned rally has caused alarm for some.

“This notification that we have received is a clear sign that the city needs evangelizing and continuation of sincere prayer,” said the Rev. LaDarian Brown, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church and president of the Longview Ministerial Alliance. “For them to even call for a white supremacy conference in Longview bothers me because that tells me that they feel comfortable. That tells me that they feel Longview has an atmosphere that is conducive to such a gathering. That is worrisome. That is almost more disturbing, to me, than the event itself.”

Snoddy said it “saddens” her that a white supremacy group like the Aryan Freedom Network feels “we have an open door and welcome mat to come on in.”

“We need to do our very best to change that image,” she said. “It’s very concerning.”

A representative of Jewish Antifa told the News-Journal that the organization is planning an “armed” counter-protest Sept. 25 on the Gregg County Courthouse lawn next to the Confederate monument.

Jewish Antifa is known in Hebrew as “Hayalim Almonim,” meaning “anonymous soldiers,” and seeks to uncover hate groups. The anti-fascist organization is based in Israel with members in the U.S. and Europe, as well.

The individual who spoke to the News-Journal would identify himself only by a moniker he uses called “JewAnon.” He said he has worked to provide information about the planned white supremacy event to local authorities.

“JewAnon” argued Gregg County’s Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn is a sign to hate groups that they will be ”tolerated” in the community.

“By having that monument there, you are playing into that,” he said. “They feel welcome here.”

‘Not afraid of them’

In August 2020, Pct. 4 Gregg County Commissioner Shannon Brown — the only Black commissioner on the court — made a motion for the county to remove the Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn. No other member of the Commissioners Court seconded the motion, and it died. The court included Pct. 1 Commissioner Ronnie McKinney, Pct. 2 Commissioner Darryl Primo and then-Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd. Boyd has since retired from office.

“Gregg County is not a racist county,” Stoudt said following the August 2020 meeting. He said he believed the issue boiled down to preserving historical markers and monuments.

In speaking to the News-Journal, “JewAnon” said the placement of the monument by the courthouse combined with certain aspects of Longview’s history makes the white supremacist group feel safe in the area.

Jewish Antifa has invited other groups, including those supporting people of color, to join them Sept. 25 for the counter-protest.

“We will let them know that Jewish people and Black people are not afraid of them and we will not stand for this in the community,” he said.

LaDarian Brown, as a community member and on behalf of the Longview Ministerial Alliance, said he hopes the City Council and the mayor will “represent everybody within Longview with the decisions they make and when it comes down to doing something about this.”

A year ago when Black Lives Matter protests were happening in the city with residents peacefully gathering along roadways, many people in Longview were “in an uproar, saying we don’t need that type of stuff in Longview,” Brown recalled.

“Today, everyone is either staying silent or stating they are uninformed about the potential of a white supremacy conference,” he said.

The news about the possibility of such an event in or near Longview is “quite uncomfortable” for many people, Snoddy said.

“I believe there are more people who feel like me but are not willing to speak out about it. It is pretty obvious where I stand, not just because I am a Black woman but because I always try and do what is right by our citizens and the city of Longview,” she said. “If we are going to move forward, we have to be bold and make a statement. Even if we don’t think it will happen, we still have to stand up for all of our citizens.”

Paris to Longview

According to the Aryan Freedom Network, the event is being called “white unity conference.”

An exact location is not provided, but the Aryan Freedom Network says it will be “an indoor event” that will feature “educational lectures, Aryan folk music and Racial Unity amongst different organizations and individuals from all across North America.”

The website also says the event will feature “Christian Bible study,” which Brown said is disturbing to him as a pastor and a Christian.

“I am trying to figure out for the life of me what Bible they are going to use because in the Bible I preach from, Jesus never said that whites were superior, that Blacks were superior, that any group was more superior. He just said that we should love everybody,” Brown said.

The Aryan Freedom Network website — which was designed to feature swastikas, Nazi propaganda, Confederate flags with skulls, pictures of Adolf Hitler and more — says the event is not open to the public but is a private event.

“We welcome all White Patriots from across the movement,” the website states. “If you are a member of a organization that is planning on attending you must contact us for further details. Any individual that is not a member or has not been vetted for a background check by a White Racialist organization must contact the Aryan Freedom Network for further details.”

The event originally was planned to be held Oct. 9 in Paris, Texas; however, the Paris City Council passed a resolution Feb. 8 disapproving of the rally. The City Council unanimously approved the resolution in a 7-0 vote, according to minutes from the meeting. The resolution stated the council condemned the use of the city name in promotional materials for the conference. The resolution also said the council disapproved of the conference itself and does not “condone hate groups or bigotry of any kind.”

The resolution in Paris was not legally binding, and the group still could have used its federally protected right to peacefully assemble there; however, after Paris passed the resolution, the organization began circulating new fliers for the "White Unity Conference" that contained a new date and a new location — in Longview. The organization's website lists no other planned events besides the Longview conference.

‘Don’t have time ... to be cowards’

Snoddy said she would like to see the city of Longview also take a stand on behalf of all of its residents.

“I think it’s important we, as elected officials, take a stand. At least people will know how our city feels,” she said. “It may cause people to second guess whether they should come here to promote that type of hateful activity.”

Brown said he believes many elected officials in Longview and Gregg County have developed a bad habit of “not wanting to touch controversial issues because they feel it will create a problem.”

“When you’re an elected official, you don’t get to pick and choose what’s thrown at you, you just address it as it comes,” Brown said. “Now is not the time for any elected official in Longview or Gregg County to be a coward. We don’t have time for our elected officials to be cowards — and if they are going to be cowards, they need to get out of office or we, as the electorate, need to vote them out of office or not support people they endorse for office.”

Neither Snoddy nor Brown said it is a surprise that the white supremacy ideology continues to exist in East Texas; however, they said it is disappointing and deeply saddening.

Other news agencies reported that the planned Paris rally was linked to George Bois Stout of De Kalb in Bowie County. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are two known hate groups based in East Texas. One group, which the center identified as being called “Church of the Ku Klux Klan” (the same organization listed as organizing the Paris event), is based in De Kalb. The other group, called Patriotic Brigade of the Ku Klux Klan, is listed as being based in Gladewater.

Snoddy and Brown encouraged the community to pray and show unity and love ahead of the upcoming event.

“More than anything we have to remain respectful and we have to speak up and speak out against hate,” Snoddy said. “We must be on one accord and unite as a community when there are things that could harm our city.”

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— News-Journal staff writer Courtney Stern contributed to this report.