“The sheriff told me he could either terminate me or have me resign,” he said. “That way my file is sealed or something. I just chose to resign. It seemed like the more dignified thing to do, since it really wasn’t much of a choice anyway.”
East’s resignation is the latest victory for Atlanta Antifascists in its vigilante campaign to unmask people with white supremacist connections and force them from positions of public trust.
In 2017, the group campaigned to have a high school English teacher in Fayetteville dismissed after their research tied him to numerous racist and antisemitic comments online. The group has sustained a campaign against a John Marshall Law School student for his alleged connections to alt-right organizations and distribution of “white power propaganda” in downtown Atlanta.
In 2018, two Spalding County jailers were fired from their jobs after the group exposed social media posts by the men expressing sympathy for Hitler and the American neo-Nazi movement.
Also last month, the group targeted two employees of Chatham Emergency Services in Savannah for their alleged associations with white supremacist and far-right organizations.
‘Religion for white people’
Although he resigned, East said he does not consider himself a white supremacist.
“They call me things like a Nazi or a white supremacist. I’m neither of those. I’m just a guy who is proud of my heritage,” he said.
In a press release, Sheriff Eddie Mixon said East had committed “numerous policy violations,” including membership in “subversive” organizations, that made his continued employment untenable.
Research first published by Atlanta Antifascists revealed East and his high school friend, Dalton Woodward, were the organizers behind Ravensblood Kindred, a group of modern Norse pagans with numerous connections to white supremacist groups and individuals. Those connections include an affiliation with the Asatru Folk Assembly, a larger pagan fellowship criticized by hate group watchdogs for its racial rhetoric.
Mark Pitcavage, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said that while all modern Norse pagans are not white supremacists, the type of “neo-folkish” paganism practiced by the Asatru Folk Assembly is attractive to racial extremists.
“White supremacists promote the idea that Norse paganism is the religion for white people,” he said. “It is, in their minds, a warrior religion, which they contrast, in their minds, with pacifistic Christianity.”
Both East and Woodward are soldiers in the Army National Guard, which has opened separate, ongoing investigations into them.
East is a non-active duty member of the Alabama's 167th Infantry Regiment, a historic unit which saw battle in both world wars and protected civil rights protesters in the 1960s.
Woodward has been on active duty with the Georgia National Guard in Afghanistan. His unit is returning home from a six-month stint overseas.
Michael Weaver, a “pro-white” activist in Georgia with a long association with various white supremacist groups, decried the fact that East lost his job. Weaver said he doesn’t know East or Woodward, but he said the campaign against them is part of an underground war between the far right and far-left “antifa” groups like Atlanta Antifascists.
“If simply you disagree with people’s point of view, (antifa groups) are going to call their job up and get people fired,” he said.
Nonetheless, Weaver said having sympathetic people in law enforcement and the military is part of the strategy for extremist groups.
“If you plan to win any kind of fight, you have to have people in power,” he said.
Shannon Weber, a freelance researcher who has studied the rise of paganism in the far right, said the FBI has issued several reports in recent years warning about efforts to root out white supremacists from the military and law enforcement. Any connections between pagans associated with Asatru Folk Assembly “should be taken extremely seriously,” she said.
A survey last fall found 22 percent of service members reported seeing signs of white supremacy or extremist racial ideology. That figure was higher among racial minorities.
“Any time a person with white supremacist beliefs has access to institutional power via police or military, they constitute a threat to marginalized groups, especially communities of color, Muslim and Jewish communities, and LGBTQ people,” Weber said.
While East has denied being a white supremacist, his own actions, both online and in the real world, raised suspicions.
Earlier this year, East opened an account on VK.com, the Russian answer to Facebook, where he described his political views of “Monarchist” and joined a fascist coalition called the White National Alliance. While he was at it, he also became a fan of “Miss Hitler 2019,” which — much as it sounds — is an online Nazi beauty pageant so outrageous that even VK, a haven for white supremacists, took it down.
East's association with the White National Alliance may be the most damning. According to its online manifesto, the alliance claims to fight against "our racial enemies" and includes a number of racist skinhead organizations with names like "Aryan Terror Brigade" as coalition members.
East had seen the jailer job as a way to get into law enforcement. According to his application, obtained through an open records request, he had been a security guard at Floyd Medical Center in Rome immediately before being hired by Haralson County.