CINCINNATI (WKRC) - He was the new face of hate, but Matthew Heimbach, the founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi, white nationalist group that once called Cincinnati home, says he is renouncing his beliefs and embracing all races in his new effort for equality.
Local 12 Chief Investigative Reporter Duane Pohlman met Heimbach in a park in London, Kentucky, the halfway point between Cincinnati and Heimbach’s new hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
FROM FASCIST TO COMMUNIST SYMPATHIZER
Pohlman: Are you a Bernie Sanders guy?
Heimbach: I’d go farther than Bernie. (laughs)
Pohlman: My God! You sound like a socialist!
Pohlman: Are you a communist?
Heimbach: I have sympathies.
The journey from founder of one of the country’s leading hate groups to a communist sympathizer is a stunning about-face from the fascist views he shared just four years ago.
When he lived in Paoli, Indiana, I met Heimbach at the local park and was stunned when I asked him to give me his view on Hitler.
“Good guy,” he said of Hitler back then without hesitating.
Those ideals led Heimbach into a world of neo-Nazis, white separatism and hate.
It also propelled him into the national spotlight on March 1, 2016, when he was seen pushing an African-American woman at a Trump rally. For that, he was convicted and was placed on probation for physically harassing the woman.
A HISTORY OF EXTREMISM AND VIOLENCE
In 2017, Heimbach was a key organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally, which drew hate groups from across the country to a violent showdown and one death in Charlottesville, Virginia.
When the clashes were still happening, Heimbach defended the actions, saying, “Anything that happened was self-defense.”
More violence came in March 5, 2018, after, Heimbach says, white nationalist Richard Spencer asked his group to provide security at a speaking event in East Lansing, Michigan.
Heimbach and several of his members suffered broken bones, severe cuts and other injuries and needed medical attention, but Heimbach said few had health insurance to pay for that. When he called Spencer to help pay the bills, Heimbach said he received a big surprise.
“He hung up on me,” Heimbach explained, adding that Spencer made it clear he wouldn’t pay a dime.
SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL
Heimbach’s personal life was spinning out of control, too. He was arrested in the same month for domestic violence involving his ex-wife and went to jail for half a day before being bailed out.
But he says that’s all it took for his group to begin to fracture and members to turn on him and rush to take over his organization.
“Dozens of wannabe fuhrers popped up in the span that it took me 12 hours to get bailed out," Heimbach recalled.
WRESTLING A DEMON
But Heimbach says all the hate, violence and turmoil was truly rooted in a demon that he was wrestling with inside himself: alcoholism.
Pohlman: So you had a fog a bit.
Heimbach: A bit...But, I mean, the movement was not really a psychologically healthy place, so removing myself from it has allowed me to, like, work the steps.
Pohlman: The 12 steps.
Heimbach: AA -- I definitely suggest -- helps.
NO LONGER BLACK AND WHITE, BUT GREEN
Heimbach says he’s now sober and clear about a new path, no longer dwelling on black and white but the “green” that separates us.
"It's all about the money. The capitalist class that rules this country does not care, fundamentally," Heimbach said.
Now, Heimbach says he no longer wants to separate from black communities, but work with all races to close the economic gap.
Pohlman: So you would work with Black Lives Matter?”
Pohlman: You want to?
Pohlman: But would they work with you?
Heimbach: Well, that’s big question.
For a man who was once touted as the face of white nationalism’s new way, Heimbach is now hated by the hate groups he once embraced and struggling with a new identity and an even bigger question.
Pohlman: Why would anybody believe you?
Heimbach: What I would say is actions speak louder than words.