White unity rally

This screenshot from a website details a planned rally Sept. 25 in Longview.

An organization calling itself the Aryan Freedom Network claims it is planning a white supremacy rally Sept. 25 in Longview; however, city and county officials said Friday they are unaware of any such rally on public property.

Mayor Andy Mack declined to comment, saying he was unaware of such an event but that the city would “take appropriate action as necessary if something were to occur.”

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt also said he was unaware of the event.

However, Longview police spokesman Brandon Thornton said the department is aware of the possible rally.

“We have heard about it, and we are in the process of looking into it,” Thornton said, adding that he was made aware of the event about three days ago. “Even though (the website) says Longview, that doesn’t mean it will be in the city.”

City spokesman Shawn Hara said officials became aware of the rally as they were tagged on social media and were contacted by concerned members of the public.

“The City of Longview recognizes and appreciates the diversity of our community,” Hara said in a statement. “The City of Longview does not condone or support hateful activity, but we also recognize the rights of citizens to free speech and free assembly. However, we also recognize the risk to public safety if gatherings become violent or unruly.”

Hara said the city will monitor the situation and respond as needed.

“Whatever the circumstances, we encourage everyone to utilize their rights to free speech and assembly in a peaceful manner.”

City and county leaders also said Friday that no requests to use public property have been filed by such an organization.

“We do not know at this time if this event is actually occurring or where it is planned to occur, whether inside or outside the city limits,” Hara said. “We do not have any reservations at city facilities for the group or any groups organizing counter activities. Likewise, we have not received any related communication or requests for an outdoor event permit or parade permit.”

Hara said permits are not required for free speech gatherings, such as picketing along a sidewalk, so long as they do not impact roadways, block a sidewalk or block access to either public or private property.

“If permits are requested, they will be evaluated in the same manner as any other event, taking into account considerations of public safety and logistical capabilities,” Hara said.

According to the Aryan Freedom Network, the event is being called “white unity conference.” The events page on the organization’s website as well as posts circulating on social media say the conference will happen Sept. 25 in Longview.

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 — 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.”

When being planned in Paris, the organizing group was listed as the “Church of the KKK,” an organization describing itself as having chapters in several cities in the South and Southeastern part of the United States.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the KKK is one of the oldest hate groups in America. While Black Americans have typically been the group’s primary target, it also has targeted Jews, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The planned event in Paris was going to be held on private property outside of the city limits, according to the resolution passed by the City Council. However, advertisements for the event stated it would be held in Paris.

After the Paris City Council passed the resolution, the group canceled its planned event in that city, changed the name it was advertising under, and new promotional materials show the event is now planned in Longview.

According to the Aryan Freedom Network, rules of the September event in Longview include no infighting, no cell phones, no reporters and no weapons allowed. Guest speakers listed include Billy Roper of Shield Wall Network, Pastor Eli James, and individuals identified as Sister Daisy, Sister Mary and Brother Henry of either Aryan Freedom Network or Shield Wall Network.

According to Southern Poverty Law Center, Roper is described as “the uncensored voice of violent neo-Nazism. Whether he’s admiring the 9/11 attacks or discussing his racial ideals, this one-time schoolteacher isn’t afraid to celebrate genocide and mass murder.”

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.

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.