Our Statement on Recent Arsons in the U.S. South


A rising wave of racist terror attacks, inspired by right wing media and politicians and fueled by social media networks, continues to target communities of color, Muslims, Jews, and the LGBT community.

The March 29 arson on The Highlander Center in Tennessee, a crucial movement space for nearly a century, is among the most recent in the US South, along with the recent arrest of the son of a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy for a series of arsons on Black churches. Black churches, mosques, and other community and religious spaces used by communities of color have become among the most frequent targets.

As Robin D.G. Kelley and Makani Themba note in The Nation, “Highlander has long been on the front lines of a protracted war on workers, poor farmers, people of color, and other marginalized communities. In a region ravaged by the worst excesses of capitalist and racist exploitation—plant closures, environmental catastrophe from coal mining, dispossession, opioid addiction, state-sanctioned violence—Highlander is one of the few progressive safe spaces where movements connect, dream, and build for the local, national, and global fight back.”

Highlander made clear in a statement on the arson that these attacks will not stop our struggles for liberation:

Since 2016, the white power movement has become more visible, and we’ve seen that manifest in various ways, both subtle and overt. They’ve targeted and exploited working class and cash-poor white communities searching to find a sense of belonging, dividing them from people who support efforts to improve the material conditions of all people. Their attempts to increase in size and scale impact the realities of our daily lives here because the majority of Black people in this country reside in southern states. As islamophobic attacks become more prevalent, we’re hyper-aware that the majority of Muslims in this nation are Black people. We know that anti-Semitic attacks have rocked the Jewish community. We know that anti-immigrant forces are consolidating, attacks on reproductive freedoms abound and the politics of the federal government’s executive branch are speaking to the privilege-based fears of the white power movement, emboldening them in ways the 21st century hasn’t seen.

Even in the face of these realities, the southern freedom movement is alive and well. Our folks are winning campaigns. They’re organizing and base building. People are fighting for progressive policies and using direct action to hold people in power accountable.

At NESRI, we stand with movements in the deep south and throughout the U.S. and the world, fighting for liberation. We condemn these attacks, and the atmosphere of hate fanned by media outlets and political leaders. We call for collective public solutions. We stand with Highlander and all those under attack as they mourn and rebuild.