Community

Anti-government militia groups have called for “boots on the ground” to defend against a Black militia march planned for Saturday in Louisville.

In Facebook posts, videos and images, groups associated with the Three Percenter movement have requested members come to the city to act as “security” to oppose a Black militia known as the “Not F***ing Around Coalition” (NFAC).

It’s unclear how many militia members will actually descend on Louisville, but with opposing armed militias announcing marches amid a city already reckoning with months of protests, experts say the city is steering toward the precipice of violence.

Organizers of a similar armed protest planned last month never went downtown, but many protesters carried weapons anticipating their presence. Later that night, 27-year-old photographer Tyler Gerth was killed in Jefferson Square Park after police said a man grabbed a gun from the holster of another protester and shot Gerth.

Representatives with Black Lives Matter Louisville say they have not had any contact with NFAC, a group based in Atlanta, and do not condone the march.

“I’ll support anybody who is part of a liberatory struggle, but I don’t support showing up at someone’s house, armed, and trying to tell them what is the plan and what isn’t the plan,” said Reece Chenault, a strategic coordinator with Black Lives Matter Louisville.

But Chenault said any confrontation between the militias on Saturday would be the result of inaction from city and state officials who have failed to address the demands of protesters, which include arresting all three officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police officers in her home in March during the execution of a warrant.

Taylor’s death has sparked eight weeks of protests in Louisville, with protesters calling for police reform and accountability.

The LMPD and Metro government say they are aware of NFAC’s march. In a statement to WFPL News, a city spokesperson did not address the potential presence of right-wing extremists.

“We’re aware of tentative plans for this protest. LMPD has a public safety plan for any potential unrest in the city, but they’ve also been in contact with the organizer about our shared goal that it is a peaceful event,” said city spokesperson Jessica Wethington.

Wethington also said the city doesn’t have any reason to believe the federal government will deploy agents to Louisville as it has in other cities including Portland.

Last week, extremism expert J.J. MacNab testified before a congressional subcommittee on the threat posed by military extremists. She told members of Congress she feared armed factions could start a war in the streets of U.S. cities. The addition of the police or National Guard could make a bad situation worse, said MacNab, a fellow with George Washington University’s program on extremism.

“I am deathly afraid of a street war,” MacNab told WFPL News. “We’ve got too many opposing factions who are all too heavily armed.” 

Louisville is a powder keg, she said.

Militia Groups

NFAC founder and Atlanta-based rapper and DJ John “Jay” Johnson announced in a YouTube video on Sunday his intention to lead an armed march to respond to Taylor’s death.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Johnson amassed about 1,000 armed Black militia members to march through Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park calling for the removal of the massive Confederate monument there.

In Sunday’s video, Johnson called on members to show up on Saturday dressed in black, armed with shotguns, rifles and semiautomatic weapons.

“I am going to let you all know, all members of the NFAC we will be descending on the city of Louisville, Kentucky, on July 25,” Johnson said.

Johnson claims to be ex-military and said he ran for president in 2016, MacNab said. On social media, he appears to express some Black Hebrew Israelite sentiments and talks tough in posts.

He formed NFAC only six weeks prior to the event in July, she said.

“I think he is mostly looking for attention at this point and he is looking to recruit,” MacNab said.

In response to NFAC, extremist antigovernment militia groups associated with the Three Percenters issued their own calls for members to show up in Louisville. A Facebook user under the name Michael Malinconico put out a Facebook live video asking for “boots on the ground” to act as security against what he described as a dangerous group.

“This dude is threatening major damage, very major damage,” the Facebook user says in the video.

Neither group responded to WFPL’s request for comment.

Another Facebook user with the group “Kentucky III% Security Force” posted the NFAC video with a message saying “See you Saturday.” That group is a state chapter of the national III% Security Force; the national group is headed by Chris Hill, who is a well known leader within the Three Percenter movement and has previously led an armed protest against the construction of a local mosque, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Back in May, Kentucky Three Percenter Terry Bush strung a noose around an effigy of Governor Andy Beshear outside the state Capitol.

 

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

The Anti-Defamation League says Three Percenters are part of the extremist militia movement that believes a small number of “patriots” are needed to protect Americans from tyranny. While Three Percenters would not label their movement as a criminal organization, a handful of people claiming allegiance to the movement have made news after they were charged in bombings or weapon-related offenses in recent years.

Senior Research Fellow Mark Pitcavage with the Anti-Defamation League said Three Percenters don’t have much of a history of violence when showing up to events like the one planned for Saturday. However, he said that it would be wise for police to separate opposing factions.

“Whenever you have two groups of opposing armed extremists there is always the possibly that tempers could flare, someone could exercise bad judgment, that violence could break out,” Pitcavage said.

Chenault with Black Lives Matter Louisville said it’s important to distinguish Black militias from anti-government far-right militias.

Black militias have historically formed to defend Black communities from racist threats. Right-wing militias, on the other hand, have often espoused racist and xenophobic attitudes, Chenault said.

“There’s no comparison between Black militias that are defending people’s homes and the Threepers and everybody else who is clearly trying to defend a system of white supremacy.”

The Anti-Defamation League’s primer on the Three Percenters doesn’t label them a white supremacy group, but the ADL notes they often seek out confrontation with left-wing activists. Hill, the leader of III% Security Force, has “often spewed anti-Muslim rhetoric and has also led armed anti-Muslim protests in Georgia.”

Chenault said the roots of the events planned for Saturday have grown out of the failure of government to make substantial changes following the deaths of Taylor and George Floyd, and the protests that have erupted across the country.

Louisville has passed a ban on no-knock warrants, removed a Confederate statue and announced a top-to-bottom review of the Louisville Metro Police Department. The city has also fired officer Brett Hankison for his role in shooting and killing Taylor. Hankison, one of three officers under investigation related to the shooting, is currently appealing that decision.

Chenault says that’s not enough. Protesters have called for the city to divert funds away from the police and into the city’s Black community, but their chief demand remains the city fire, arrest and prosecute all three officers involved in Taylor’s death. He thinks the attention paid to the planned demonstrations right now ought to be redirected to the mayor’s inaction.

“Suddenly when a bunch of Black people show up and want to rightly or wrongly try and support people in town, suddenly [Fischer] is doing live interviews on TV,” he said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.