The KKK style burning in Virginia, a protest to protect “southern traditions,” followed by Heather Heyer’s murder by a white supremacist is a reminder of our proximity to hate. While these displays of hate are disheartening, resistance against the reanimation of racist traditions has been encouraging. Consider the events in Pikeville, Kentucky, where counter-protesters outnumbered a planned white supremacist rally. Carrying signs with slogans that read “no hate in our holler,” they snatched Southern vernacular and tradition from racist mouths. Among the protesters were members of Redneck Revolt, an armed group of Leftist activists. To them being a 'redneck' means, "a pride in our class as well as a pride in resistance to bosses, politicians, and all those that protect domination and tyranny."
Redneck Revolt is a group that resists fascism, capitalism, racism, and bigotry. Its commitment to ‘redneck’ culture and guns makes it unique compared to other groups with similar goals. For Redneck Revolt, gun training is more than a shock tactic; it’s an important redistribution of knowledge. Gun training is a vital aspect of the praxis of both Redneck Revolt and John Brown Gun Clubs (these chapters place an emphasis on guns). Following the maxim, “solidarity not charity,” individual chapters offer training to the general public and other groups. In a podcast hosted on their website members said, “[we] don’t want to be gatekeepers to firearm knowledge,” and the hope is that through education, firearm training can become “self-replicating.” By informing the Left on safe gun practices they hope to encourage firearm ownership and knowledge amongst threatened communities who do not have access to these resources from industry front groups like the NRA.
The group has grown in size and notoriety in the past year with chapters forming across the country, now reaching the mid-30s. Unfortunately, too much of the media focus has been about the role of guns and the supposed irony of people with Southern drawls talking about exploitation and bigotry. This misses the revolutionary aspect of the organization. Interacting with the culture of the communities that you seek to organize rather than demeaning it should be part of any radical strategy. This tactic has eluded the modern Left but it has historical roots.
To understand Redneck Revolt we must remember Fred Hampton and the Rainbow Coalition in Chicago. The Rainbow Coalition was the successful fusion of three distinct groups: the Young Patriots, a group of poor white Appalachian migrants, the Black Panthers, and the Young Lords, a radical Puerto Rican organization. After many positive meetings with the Young Patriots and their leader William "Preacherman" Fesperman, Black Panther Bob Lee brought the idea of an alliance between the poor white activists and the Black Panthers to then Illinois Chairman Fred Hampton. Fred Hampton was thrilled by the idea and gave it the name Rainbow Coalition. It later grew to include other radical groups like the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets, and I Wor Kuen. These groups worked in solidarity with one another to combat the political machine of Mayor Daley in Chicago. A few months after announcing the formation of the coalition, Fred Hampton was murdered by the FBI at the age of twenty-one. Redneck Revolt frequently cites this movement in Chicago as an inspiration and impetus to organize.
The forgotten histories of the Southern Left are many, from the rich history of black activism to Johnny Cash’s “Man In Black” to militant labor organizing in Appalachia and the Battle of Blair Mountain, to the explosion of communist mobilization in the early 20th century with black Sharecroppers in Alabama. Similar traditions continue to live on today. While we reckon with our nation's shame, we should remember the struggles of history. Are these not also the story of the South? Redneck Revolt is an example of new strategies for mobilization in areas and communities that have been too easily surrendered to the reactionary Right.
Redneck Revolt’s strategy for recruitment and conversion embraces the uniqueness of ‘redneck’ culture. Rodeos, gun shows, and country music concerts are opportunities to build their communities. Redneck Revolt has a presence at events that most left-wing organizers would avoid. Counter-recruitment, as it is called, allows for the expansion of the movement, based on class interest and liberation. Rather than promote Left politics as an alternative lifestyle choice, Redneck Revolt brings ideas to the people where they are. These attempts are not always successful. But their presence is important for two reasons: to show that there are diverse perspectives within communities and to avoid conceding territory to white-nationalists and right-wing groups. In fact, while practicing this strategy, Redneck Revolt has discovered that most of the right-wing and white nationalist groups that recruit at these events are not local but rather travel from event to event to spread their message. By having a presence, Redneck Revolt is able to challenge the presumption that reactionary politics are a part of ‘redneck culture.’
Redneck Revolt includes members who are queer, of the minority, and women. Events like gun shows have the potential to be unsafe to trans* folk and minorities. A trans* RR member recounted their experience in Phoenix, “I had it in mind that people would be sneering at me.” To their surprise, even though there was an openly fascist presence, it was “not as a reactionary as I thought.” Importance is still placed on safety; tactics include going to the bathroom with a partner and making sure not to expose people to dangerous or volatile situations.
While Redneck Revolt’s strategy targets communities that are susceptible to reactionary politics this does not mean they sanitize their politics. Their message is “white folks have been duped into doing the work of the institutions that injure us all. They make them [poor white people] think they have more in common with a banker than the migrant family down the road.” By challenging racist concepts like white unity, and focusing on class-consciousness, Redneck Revolt has the potential to revolutionize ‘rednecks’ without demanding that ‘rednecks’ remove themselves from their identity and community. Change the politics, not the person.
Dave Strano one of the founders of Redneck Revolt wrote in an essay about the historical contradiction of poor whites in the United States, “We’ve been an exploited people that further exploits other exploited people. While we’ve been living in tenements and slums for centuries, we’ve also been used by the rich to attack our neighbors, co-workers, and friends of different colors, religions, and nationalities.” Dealing with this contradiction will be test this organization and prove whether or not it can successfully mobilize around the ‘redneck identity.’
Redneck Revolt is a growing organization and much of the media attention given to them has focused on their weapons training. Without diminishing the importance of gun training to this organization, it is the potential success of their message with working class ‘redneck’ folks which will be the more lasting, and in some ways the more revolutionary, aspect of their organization. The popular understanding of this ‘redneck’ identity is that it is toxic, misogynist, and racist. But who decides this? Yes, many a redneck have been foot soldiers at the service of reactionary philosophy and politics. But there is also an important history of working-class resistance in rural areas and in the South against white supremacy and capitalism. The Right's dominance of this group should not be seen as permanent but rather a temporary result of recent victories won by the right-wing. All cultural spaces are political. The war of positions, as Gramsci would call it, is a war that anti-racism, solidarity, queer liberation, and the Left must win.