Racist Symbol Used in New Zealand Shows Up in Tennessee

Hashtag-like symbol painted near burned building at the Highlander Center
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2019 1:23 PM CDT
First a Fire at Famous Civil Rights Center, Then This
This Friday, March 29, 2019, photo provided by the New Market Fire and Rescue Team shows a fire at the main offices of the Highlander Education and Research Center in New Market, Tenn.   (Sammy Solomon/New Market Fire and Rescue Team via AP)

You may not be familiar with the Highlander Education and Research Center, but you certainly know the names attached to it: The prominent social justice organization hosted the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks decades ago; on Friday, its main office was completely burned in a fire of still-unknown origin that broke out around 6am. On Tuesday came the news that a racist symbol was also discovered Friday at the scene in New Market, Tennessee, about 25 miles from Knoxville: Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Coffey confirmed that what he called "the hashtag symbol" was found spray-painted in the parking lot connected to the destroyed office. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the "white-power" symbol has not two lines intersecting in each direction, but three. A rep for the center tells the AP it "looks like a tic-tac-toe board."

Mark Pitcavage, who manages the Anti-Defamation League's Hate Symbols Database, sources the symbol to the anti-Semitic Iron Guard, which operated in Romania in the '30s. "Right-wing extremists" have used it since, he said, including in the Christchurch, NZ, shooting, where it was painted on one of the shooter's firearms. A new statement from Highlander reads in part:

  • "Because of our history we are not surprised that this space, one where marginalized people working across sectors, geographies, and identities show up consistently, has been repeatedly targeted over our 87 years of existence. ... This is a time for building our power. Now is the time to be vigilant. ... Now is not the time to dismiss how scary things are."
As for the office, the center's staff said historic documents and memorabilia were lost, though the News Sentinel notes the bulk of its archives are preserved elsewhere with the Wisconsin Historical Society. The AP notes the office was among 10 buildings on the property. (Dozens of Jewish graves were recently desecrated in Massachusetts.)

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