Highlander Center fire, painted in the parking lot.
Tenn. — As investigators try to solve what caused a fire that destroyed part of the Highlander Center, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office confirmed a racist symbol was found spray-painted onto the premise’s parking lot.
The symbol that the sheriff said was used also matched the one used by the Christchurch shooter who killed 50 people in New Zealand in March.
The Iron Guard symbol used by that shooter is a Nazi-era far-right movement that originated in Romania. The corresponding symbol of the movement resembles a grid. It was one of many racist symbols the Christchurch terrorist painted onto his weapons before carrying out the mosque attack.
That’s the symbol investigators found in the parking lot. They are now trying to determine if the symbol has anything to do with the origin of the blaze.
The Highlander Center in New Market is one of the nation’s oldest social justice institutions, providing education and training for emerging movements throughout the South, Appalachia and the world.
The fire on Friday destroyed its main building, which contained decades of historical documents, speeches, artifacts and memorabilia from movements across the years, including the Civil Rights Movement.
Throughout its history and multiple locations, the Highlander Center has hosted Civil Rights icons such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis and was also where the Montgomery bus boycott was planned.
Investigators have not determined what started the fire, but officials at the center said they “found a symbol connected to the white power movement spray-painted on the parking lot connected to the main office” on its Facebook page.
The post implies that they believe the fire was intentionally set.
“While we do not know the names of the culprits, we know that the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, across this nation, and globally,” the post claims.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office confirms that they are trying to determine if the symbol has any affiliation to any individual or group.
The sheriff had originally told 10News on Tuesday that is was a “common” symbol but would not elaborate on what it was.
“What’s real is that a sacred space has been violated, and I think that there’s a lot of grief that people here and people all over the world that love Highlander are feeling right now,” Henderson said.
Agents from the State Fire Marshal’s Office are assisting in the investigation.
The FBI could not confirm whether or not it is investigating any sort of hate crime related to the fire.
Henderson says they’re taking the threat seriously.
“It feels clear that the reason you would put a symbol so that people would know who it was,” Henderson said. “So we’re being intentional about that information.”
Henderson says that support can be felt across the globe.
“From the Philippines from Kenya, South Africa, Japan, and every southern state, and probably every state in the United States,” Henderson said. “We’ve had people send their love and support. Organizations, individuals, communities, and so we’re overwhelmed by the sense of (connection).”