Alt right and neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin, who runs the white supremacist website Daily Stormer, has for several weeks threatened to stage an anti-Semitic armed march in Whitefish, Montana.
Though no march permit has yet been filed with town officials, Anglin today announced a date for his purported march, January 16, calling it the “James Earl Ray Day Extravaganza.”
January 16, 2017, is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
This is no coincidence.
Ever since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1983, white supremacists have tried to attack or pervert the holiday. Originally, many white supremacists tried to promote instead Robert E. Lee Day, a state holiday in several southern states. Others attacked, and continue to attack, MLK, Jr. Day as “Martin Luther Koon Day.”
In more recent years, however, it has become popular for white supremacists to refer to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as “James Earl Ray Day.” James Earl Ray is the man who assassinated Dr. King in April 1968. Though some white supremacists preferred to label the date of the assassination itself as “James Earl Ray Day,” it became common to use the term as a racist reaction to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday each January.
“Everybody remember,” posted one person on Facebook to the Sons of Odin Indiana on January 2, “that ‘JAMES EARL RAY DAY’ is coming up on the 16th.” Another Facebook user asked on January 5, “what’s everybody going to be doing on James Earl Ray Day?? I’m celebrating to the fullest.”
These posts are not unusual. Every year, racists and white supremacists on Facebook and other social media sites make references to “James Earl Ray Day.” In 2011, for example, the Anti-Defamation League tracked hundreds of anti-MLK, Jr. Day messages on Facebook, many of which explicitly referred to “James Earl Ray Day.”
Similar sentiments can be found each January on white supremacist forums such as Stormfront, where racists there wish each other a “Happy James Earl Ray Day.”
Though some people may be distressed by such blatantly racist sentiments, they actually are essentially sour grape expressions by white supremacists embittered that Martin Luther King, Jr. has become so widely embraced as a hero by Americans young and old. The holiday stands out as a profound example of how American society has rejected what white supremacists stand for.
Unfortunately, white supremacists do not always limit their anti-King sentiments to expressions on the Internet. It is common, for example, for some Ku Klux Klan groups around the country to plan Klan flyerings over MLK, Jr. Day weekend, in order to draw attention.
The holiday can even attract violence: in 2011, white supremacist Kevin Harpham tried to bomb a Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial march in Spokane, Washington. Luckily, the bomb, hidden inside a backpack, did not successfully detonate and was subsequently discovered. Harpham was caught and is currently serving a 25-year sentence for the attempted terrorist act.