‘White power’ symbol found at civil rights center fire was same one used by Christchurch shooter (updated)

A “white power” symbol was found among the devastation from a fire that broke out at a famous civil rights organization in Tennessee on Friday.

Important historical documents were lost in the office fire at Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, co-directors Ash-Lee Henderson and Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele said in a Facebook video, but it wasn’t the entire archive. No one was hurt.

“We are processing what happened. Our people are safe. Movement, we’ve felt your love, we’ve felt your support. We see you,” Henderson said the video after the fire. 

On Tuesday, the center made another announcement on Facebook, saying that they had found “a symbol connected to the white power movement” spray-painted on the parking lot. “While we do not know the names of the culprits, we know that the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, across this nation, and globally,” the statement read. 

The Highlander Center, founded in the 1930s, served as a key site for labor and community organizing in 11 Southern states. It started as the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, and also fought segregation in the labor movement, according to its website. It also reportedly hosted leaders crucial to the civil rights movement such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook they are investigating the crime “to see if it has any affiliation to any individual or group.” The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.

“Movement is gonna keep rising and we’re gonna keep doing our work,” Woodard Henderson said in the video from Friday. “We’ve weathered many storms and this is just one of them.”

Update 3pm CT, April 3: Henderson told the Daily Dot she found the hate symbol on the day of the fire. “When I got there, I saw what was left of our building, and I saw the spray-paint on the parking lot. It was obviously a very weird thing to be painted and I didn’t immediately recognize the symbol.”

The symbol, according to photos shared by Knox News, shows three horizontal lines crisscrossing three vertical lines; it was reportedly also used by the Christchurch shooter who attacked mosques in New Zealand last month. In the 1930s, the symbol was used in Romania by anti-Semitic movements, according to Knox News.

Henderson said once she realized what the symbol could be potentially linked to, she said their first priority was to make sure the members were safe. She couldn’t comment on whether the sheriff’s office is treating it as a hate crime as the investigation is still ongoing. But Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the “hashtag symbol” to Knox News.

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque