A Haralson County corrections officer accused of being a white supremacist has been suspended with pay pending an investigation.
The investigation of jailer Trent East, a member of a pagan group called Ravensblood Kindred, reverses an earlier determination by Haralson County Sheriff Eddie Mixon that East didn’t present a danger.
“We are treating it seriously and we want to be fair to the employee but also be fair to the citizens,” County Attorney David Mecklin said Thursday. “We do not need to have employees involved with any organization that might be considered subversive.”
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement Thursday saying the organization is “deeply concerned” East remained on the job despite apparent white supremacist ties.
Last week, Mixon told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution his office had looked into jailer Trent East's social media posts connecting him with an extremist sect of Norse paganism but found nothing to concern him.
“The whole world has got a right to religion,” Mixon told the AJC. “There is nothing that would indicate that this is a hate group.”
East did not respond to a request for comment sent through his Facebook page.
Ravensblood Kindred espouses a belief in “folkish” Norse paganism, which combines worship of ancient Norse and Germanic deities with an ethnocentric ideology. East’s affiliation with the group and his extremist social media posts were first identified by leftist activist group Atlanta Antifascists.
Mecklin attributed Mixon’s earlier statements to a lack of familiarity with the extremist elements of folkish Norse paganism. He said the county has reached out to state agencies for help with the investigation.
“I have never heard of some of the organizations that are in play here,” he said.
Mecklin said he was unsure which state agencies were involved. “They are state agencies that the sheriff’s department has worked with before,” he said.
The Ravensblood group affiliates itself with the Asatru Folk Assembly, which the ADL and other watchdog organization describe as a hate group. East’s social media posts combined paganism with expressions of white supremacy, including sharing memes of “white genocide” common among hate groups.
“He has got ties to a hardcore white supremacist group. He has been seen at white supremacist rallies. He has a media profile that touches on white supremacist ideologies,” said Allison Padilla-Goodman, regional director of the ADL. “This is much more than religion.”
East founded Ravensblood Kindred with Cedartown High School classmate Dalton Woodward, a Georgia National Guard soldier currently deployed to Afghanistan. The men attended a 2017 speech at Auburn University by white supremacist leader Richard Spencer and posted their handmade signs expressing fears of "white genocide" popular along such extremists. They concluded their post with the Nazi salute "hail victory."
Other posts show East's interest in 1930s fascist books, display symbols common to racist groups, and his attendance at other events where white supremacists were featured speakers. Padilla-Goodman said no careful investigation could conclude East's interest in Norse paganism was solely religious.
The Georgia National Guard has opened an investigation into Woodward. Military regulations prohibit expressions of support for extremist organizations, including taking a leadership role in an organization or participating in public rallies. Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Jeff Freeman said he does not know if Woodward’s duty assignment has changed as a result of the investigation but he said it is not uncommon for soldiers to be reassigned in such cases.
“We will do our due diligence to ensure we have covered this investigation as thoroughly as possible,” he said.
In Alabama, a spokesman for the Alabama National Guard has opened its own investigation into East, who is a guard member there but not on a deployment. The investigation will examine whether East violated military regulations forbidding ties to supremacist or extremist groups, the spokesman said.
“The Alabama National Guard is committed to being an organization that is characterized by equity and inclusion and one that is reflective of this great nation we represent, where all individuals have dignity and worth,” Lt. Col. Tim Alexander said in a statement.
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