The front and back of a flyer handed out on Halloween in the Blythewood area of Richland County (Photo courtesy of Andrew Johnson)
A Blythewood resident said his Halloween was interrupted by a surprise visit from someone carrying a white nationalist flyer.
Columbia attorney Andrew Johnson was at home Monday evening when he heard his doorbell ring. Expecting it to be trick-or-treaters, he answered the door with a bowl of candy at the ready.
Instead, he was met with a man dressed in a white shirt, black tactical pants, a beanie-style hat and a black mask with an image of a grinning skull covering the lower part of his face.
“’Reverse trick-or-treat,’” Johnson said the man said, handing him a flyer and a handful of candy before turning to walk away.
Johnson said he looked down at the flyer and immediately noticed the “SS bolts” and other Nazi symbols.
“Hey, what is this?” Johnson said he called after the man.
“’If you’re interested,’” he said the man replied, “send us an email.”
Johnson said he held a flyer advertising a group called the Southern Sons Active Club.
Johnson filed a report with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and gave deputies the flyer.
The sheriff’s department report, obtained by The Carolina News & Reporter, said the flyer was being sent to the department’s lab for analysis. The sheriff’s department didn’t comment further.
The investigation is active, the report said.
A group with the Active Club name isn’t new to those who track extremist activity.
“Active Club is a white nationalist hate group with about a dozen chapters around the country, including the Southern Sons chapter in South Carolina,” Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said via email.
Passing out flyers is a way the group spreads its message and recruits, but it also acts as a form of intimidation against those they target, she said.
At least one local leader said he’s appalled.
“As a representative of Blythewood and a minority, it’s hurtful,” said Blythewood Town Councilman Sloan Griffin III. “We like to think that we live in America, the great melting pot where dreams come true. It saddens me that there are people out there who just generally hate other people.”
Griffin said he is ashamed that hate such as this exists in his town, and he hopes that the group sees that Blythewood will not stand for it.
“It’s scary to experience on Halloween,” Griffin said, “I was out trick-or-treating with my kid, and it’s scary to know that there are people out there hidden in costume who have ill intentions.”
Miller said the Active Club group was started by white nationalist activist Robert Rundo, a former leader of the Rise Above Movement, one of the white nationalist groups that engaged in the violence during the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Last year, Rundo began encouraging his followers to create their own Active Clubs that “combine fitness, Nationalism, activism, camaraderie, and skill-building,” Miller said. Martial arts and fitness are used to “physically and mentally prepare young men to push back against what they see as the detrimental influence of Jews, Muslims, and people of color.”
The group’s goal is to stop what members see as the “great replacement” of white people in the United States and other Western countries, Miller said.
The Southern Sons Active Club, South Carolina’s Active Club chapter, appears to have formed this summer, Miller said. Its first online post, on the messaging platform Telegram, was a photo of members posing beside graffiti reading “WLM,” or “White Lives Matter.”
The chapter is noticeably active on alt-right social media platforms such as Gab. Posts include videos of sparring matches, quotes from Nazi Germany leader Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and photos of places tagged with symbols and stickers.
Active Clubs meet regularly, participating in physical fitness activities and spreading their ideologies, Miller said.
According to the Southern Sons’ Gab feed, there are other Active Clubs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia.
For more on various hate groups, visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, which shows hate groups’ presence in various areas of the United States.