Blue Ridge Public Radio reported on a Sunday rally in Murphy in front of the now infamous '4 Horsemen' billboard. Part of our coverage included a photo of a man flashing a hand signal with three fingers in the air similar to an OK sign, while another showed a 'Punisher Skull' complete with a hairstyle similar to President Donald Trump. The Southern Poverty Law Center says each signal has multiple meanings, but both have ties to white supremacists.
The billboard for Cherokee Guns depicting four Democratic congresswomen who President Trump encouraged to “go back” to their countries was removed Monday, with a new slogan in place - "First Amendment. Enough Said." Its detractors said it was racist, though the owner of the store disputed that assertion.
Both symbols depicted in the BPR photos have multiple meanings and need to be taken in context explains Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“If you have someone flashing the OK symbol you really need to know more about their background before you jump to the conclusion that this person is a white supremacist,” says Beirich.
In this case, BPR looked into the person making the OK symbol in the picture. That person is Murphy resident Jason Blomgren, who organized the Cherokee Guns rally on Sunday.
“This was and is not about Republicans vs Democrats, right vs left, good vs evil, and/or about racism - This is about our Constitutional Rights being used/abused and against us instead of for us,” Blomgren writes in a statement on his Facebook page.
He says that the sign he is making in the picture is for the Three Percenters, a militia group that is listed as an anti-government group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group’s name refers to the debunked claim that only three percent of American colonists rose up against the British in the American Revolution. There is a closed Facebook Group for the North Carolina Chapter with 100 members. That Facebook Group was started in 2014.
Their mission statement on Facebook states: “As citizens we support law and order and we support the Law Enforcement Community. We believe that we have an obligation, if necessary, back them up in situations where they are under threat. We are committed as an organization to the family, community, the people who are part of them, and to the solidarity of all those who are part of our society.” Blomgren says that the group is not anti-government and does not want to overthrow the government.
"Today we recognize with this 3% in being that we will be the last defense to protect the citizens of the United States if there ever comes a day when our government takes up arms against the American people," explains Blomgren, referring to the group's origins.
Three Percenters are on the Southern Poverty Law Center list of anti-government groups and militias. Beirich explains that different chapters of the group have different goals and beliefs. Not all of them are white supremacists. However, members of the group were present at Charlottesville, the largest hate rally in years.
“What we’ve found is that there is some fracturing of the group where some elements are more radical and more into racism,” says Beirich.
Another key piece of Blomgren’s background is that he was charged for his involvement in the 2016 militia takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Blomgren reportedly drove to Oregon from North Carolina to be a part of the takeover and acted as an armed guard at the facility for two weeks.
“The fact that you have someone who was involved in the Malheur incident I think is really interesting. It’s a toxic brew of this nasty billboard and extremist elements like that,” says Beirich.
Beirich advises that citizens should familiarize themselves with hate symbols though the databases at Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League.
Another symbol spotted in BPR’s reporting on this story was the Punisher skull. The image was emblazoned with a hairstyle similar to President Trump's on a Cherokee Guns store sign.
The Punisher is a Marvel Comic character but the symbol has also been used by militia groups like the Three Percenters as well as by law enforcement. Punisher creator Gerry Conway has been clear that the Punisher was never meant to be a hero. Marvel sues companies that use the logo for their own purposes.
“To me, it's disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system,” explains Conway in an interview. The second season of the Netflix version of the show launched in January.
“We don’t want to have extremist element connected to law enforcement. I mean look, these people carry guns and are supposed to protect the community,” says Beirich. “They shouldn’t be involved in organizations that either have racial beliefs or other kinds of extremist beliefs that are a danger to the public.”
Cherokee Guns owner Doc Wacholz was not available for comment. But at the rally on Sunday he expressed his views against racism and thanked supporters saying: “I think we got our point across that we have four very anti-American individuals in Congress who are trying to change our country for the wrong reason but you know what? November 2020 is coming pretty soon.”