Hate in The Hills: How Benjamin Klassen and the Church of The Creator Influenced Modern Extremism (Pt. 1)

Benjamin Klassen in Otto, N.C. (SPLC)

Otto, North Carolina has welcomed travelers seeking a rural escape into the Smokey mountains for generations. Produce stands and shops for homemade crafts dot the side of Highway 441 (23) during the summer as it snakes through the unincorporated community and north towards Rocky Top, Tennessee.

Primarily agricultural, Otto also depends partly on the seasonal economy of vacationers and outdoor-enthusiasts coming north from Atlanta, Greenville or Charlotte.

Each year, thousands pass through while en route to the Smokies, the large casinos of the nearby Eastern Cherokee Reservation, or the amusements of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. These destinations represent quintessential getaways for the modern, Southern family hoping to escape the summer heat and reconnect with the mountains.

While locals are generally welcoming and hospitable to passersby, those who linger too long in Otto may find themselves suspect, and for good reason; Not all visitors have come in peace. Stories of high-profile extremists and fugitives escaping along 441 and stopping to hide in the area, such as the 1996 “Olympic Bomber” Eric Rudolph, are still fresh in the minds of local residents.

Least notorious, but by far the most dangerous of these intruders, white-supremacist Benjamin Klassen and his following, known as the Church of The Creator (COTC), came to Otto in 1982 and stayed until 1993. In the group’s own newsletter Racial Loyalty, Klassen described the large parcel of land bought in Otto as a new home for the church.

“We’ve built a personal residence,” read the 1982 newsletter, “a three-story church, a small warehouse and school for gifted boys.”

“Creativity” Forum Photo Album Post

Previously a Florida state legislator, state chairman of the George Wallace 1968 Campaign, and the patent-holder to several home appliances, Klassen was a known racist who published hateful texts throughout the 1970’s. These texts laid the foundations for his newfound group and for many organizations, both contemporary and modern, built upon anti-Semitism, anti-Christianity, and race wars.

Within slightly over a decade, the group would go on to terrorize their new neighbors with violence, aggression and threatening behavior which still haunts those who lived through it. Worse still, the impact of the COTC would spread much further than Appalachia. See the timeline below for an overview of events involving the COTC in Otto and beyond.

Timeline created by William T Ross using data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, ADL, and More

Among many others, Klassen’s publications of The White Man’s Bible and RAHOWANature’s Eternal Religion became the core tenets of what is now called the Creativity Movement, as well as many other right-wing, white supremacist organizations.

Most of the texts list specific calls to action for the beginning of a “racial holy war” or “Rahowa”. This is similar to the call seen in modern groups such as the Atomwaffen neo-nazi organization or some sections of the “Booglaoo” movement for accelerationist actions. Comparable to the disgusting influence of William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries, Klassen’s books spewed hatred in a way that has ignited many to commit acts of violence against marginalized communities from their publication to today.

According to Appalachian State University professor and veteran extremism researcher Dr. Nancy Love P.hd, Klassen’s time in Otto was extremely influential upon other extremist organizations and the current trajectory of white supremacy in the US due to the writings he published while there.

ASU Professor Dr. Nancy Love (William T Ross)

“The concept of Ra-Ho-Wa, is short for “racial-holy-war”, she said. “If you want to think about the continuing legacy of the COTC up into the present day, it was one of the rhetorical sucesses of Klassen’s teachings. It became a battle cry for other white nationalist movements.”

Much of Klassen’s ideas formed in his longer works were later boiled down into what was called The Little White Book. Dr. Love says that it includes mantras and sets of rules for “creators” in the form of Klassen’s fundamental beliefs.

“His fundamental beliefs are in the Little White Book.” Dr. Love said. “There’s a little red book with the sayings of Chairman Mao, there was a little green book with the sayings of Muammar Gaddafi, and Klassen had this little white book which believers were expected to carry as devotions said daily.”

Dr. Nancy Love (Interview by William T Ross and Emily Ritter)

Comparable to the disgusting influence of William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries, Klassen’s books spewed hatred in a way that has ignited many to commit acts of violence against marginalized communities from their publication to today. Almost all major white nationalist hate groups have been known to reference these texts and the ideas therein, most notably the concept of a racial war, according to Dr. Love and the SPLC.

Enjoy the full interview below and check out Part 2 of this series on Benjamin Klassen and the COTC.

Dr. Nancy Love (Interview by William T Ross and Emily Ritter)




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