I’m sitting alone in a booth at an empty Pizza Hut just south of the Paoli town square. It’s 1:30 p.m. The “Nazis” are 30 minutes late.
The ones I’m waiting on, the members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a nascent political organization trying to take root in the seat of Orange County, are indeed nationalists—white nationalists, in fact. They are also proud socialists. And yet I’ll come to learn that these National Socialists feel it is unfair and inaccurate to lump them in with history’s greatest villains. “We’re not trying to rehash the Germany of the 1930s,” TWP leader Matthew Heimbach later explains. “We are National Socialists in our own time, with our own symbols, with our own ideology, and our own solutions to the current problem.”
Words clearly matter with these guys, but if Heimbach’s terminology—solutions—sends a shiver down your spine, you’re not alone. While his group has only 500 dues-paying members worldwide—16 of them in and around Orange County—the 25-year-old’s rhetoric has cast a considerable shadow and earned him bans from social media and the United Kingdom. In 2015, Al Jazeera America profiled Heimbach under the title “The Little Führer.” The Washington Post has pointed out comparisons to former KKK leader David Duke. PBS NewsHour, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post have all described the mysterious base camp where party members live and commune as a “white ethnostate,” supposedly a model for what Heimbach and company envision as an autonomous white nation—right here, in the heart of Southern Indiana—already largely bereft of the multiculturalism that they claim is polluting white America.
I’ll be getting a tour of the compound today, despite the group’s desire to keep secret the location of the white-ethnostate-within-a-white-ethnostate. Heimbach says the party has been receiving an unusually high number of anonymous 3 a.m. calls and online threats of violence to him, his wife, and even his child in the wake of the increased media exposure. Before the tour, we are to have a meeting over pan-crust pizza and Pepsi.
They arrive around 1:35 p.m., three young men clad in black from military cap to boot. Heimbach apologizes again, blaming winter weather for their delay, as the men slide into the semicircular booth. No sooner do they pick up their menus than Heimbach spots Fox News on the flat-screen across the room. The report is from Chicago, where four young African Americans have allegedly kidnapped a mentally disabled white man and livestreamed video of themselves beating the bound-and-gagged victim and assaulting him with a knife, all while yelling, “Fuck Donald Trump!” and “Fuck white people!”
“If four white guys did that to a black youth, cities would be on fire. There would literally be riots right now,” says Heimbach, a burly man in a black overcoat, black beard masking a youthful face. “And you know what? To a certain extent, justifiably so.”
From across the table, Matt Parrott chimes in that one couldn’t find four white men stupid enough to participate in something like this. (Please pause to consider that sentence.) But African Americans? “Trash is gonna be trash,” says Parrott, 34, in a black hoodie and black T-shirt bearing a pitchfork encircled by an industrial gear—the logo of the TWP, which he cofounded with Heimbach, who is also his son-in-law. “We can argue about which community might have more people of this caliber—we could have that conversation.” But instead, Parrott would rather talk about coverage of the incident and media conspiracy theories.
The same conversation could be going on in front of this same Fox News broadcast in any small-town restaurant, bar, or home in Red America, especially in a time of conservative backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread distrust of mainstream media. The waitress brings out a couple of pizzas and some wings and tops off our sodas as the conversation drifts into issues like immigration (against it), Donald Trump (for him), Mel Gibson (brilliant director), and how Paoli’s Pizza Hut is somehow superior to other locations. About an hour into the discussion, perhaps sensing that I’m either getting bored or not getting the salacious material I might have expected, Parrott addresses the phantom swastika in the room and makes a prediction about this story.
“This will end up in the final copy: Mein Kampf is a good book that makes some good points,” he says. Then, what I think is intended as a joke: “I was so disappointed. I read the whole book and there was no plan to kill 6 million Jews in it. I was like, ‘Did they take that part out?’”
No one laughs.
Read the rest at indianapolismonthly.com