He Didn’t Deny Being A White Supremacist. Then He Was Elected To City Council.

Judson Blevins, a city commissioner in Enid, Oklahoma, won’t refute evidence tying him to a secretive fascist group. Does the city care enough to recall him from office?
Activists in Enid, Oklahoma say a man photographed marching in the 2017 "Unite The Right" white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia is Enid City Commissioner Judson Blevins.
Activists in Enid, Oklahoma say a man photographed marching in the 2017 "Unite The Right" white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia is Enid City Commissioner Judson Blevins.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Unicorn Riot/Getty

ENID, Okla. — On the evening of Nov. 7, 2023, Judson “Judd” Blevins, a city councilman in Enid, Oklahoma, took his seat inside the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Municipal Complex and watched as local constituents took turns at a lectern.

“A lot of people want to give you a pass, Mr. Blevins, because you’re an honorably discharged veteran,” said Father James Neal, a local priest, wearing a black cassock and white clerical collar. “I am an honorably discharged veteran, and I tell you, as a fellow veteran, the Commandant of the Marine Corps made it clear in 2017 that your actions in Charlottesville were a betrayal of the core values of the Marine Corps and of this country —”

“Time,” Mayor David Mason interjected, enforcing a strict one-minute limit on public comments. Neal ignored him.

“As a priest, I will continue to pray for you,” he continued. “And after you are a private citizen, if you desire and pursue —”

“Your time is up!” the mayor interjected again.

“You’ve had six months of silence!” Neal shot back at the mayor. “Your time is up!” He turned his attention back to Blevins. “We will be ready to help you —”

“I’m gonna have to ask you to stop!” the mayor yelled.

Neal kept his focus on Blevins. “We will be ready to help you on a path to reconciliation,” he said, walking away from the lectern and taking a seat in the gallery among his fellow citizens, some of whom wore purple shirts emblazoned with “Enid Social Justice Committee.”

The scene was the culmination of a simmering political fight in Enid, a deeply conservative town of 50,000, home to Vance Air Force Base, an hour-and-a-half drive north of Oklahoma City, where a small band of progressive activists in town have begged their elected officials to, at the very least, acknowledge that there might be a neo-Nazi in City Hall.

Four years earlier, in 2019, journalists and anti-fascists had published research identifying Blevins as a leader in the now-defunct white nationalist group Identity Evropa. Blevins announced his candidacy for city council in late 2022, prompting the local newspaper to publish an article rehashing all the evidence of his connections to the group. But voters in Ward 1 of Enid elected Blevins anyway. And since Blevins took his oath of office, the mayor and other city commissioners have remained largely silent about his past.

Reporters for Unicorn Riot photographed this man at the 2017 Charlottesville rally. Anti-fascists and a reporter for Right Wing Watch identified the man as Judson Blevins.
Reporters for Unicorn Riot photographed this man at the 2017 Charlottesville rally. Anti-fascists and a reporter for Right Wing Watch identified the man as Judson Blevins.
Courtesy Unicorn Riot

Blevins has neither acknowledged nor denied his role in Identity Evropa, a profoundly racist and antisemitic group that advocated transforming America into a whites-only ethnostate.

He has also repeatedly refused to acknowledge photos appearing to show him participating in the deadly 2017 “Unite The Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia: marching in the infamous tiki-torch march and carrying an Oklahoma state flag during the main event the next day, when a fascist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring dozens of others.

Nearly a year into his four-year term, Blevins continues to receive support from prominent members of the Enid community, as well as from everyday citizens — some of whom refuse to believe the allegations against him, and some of whom refuse to believe that Identity Evropa or the rally in Charlottesville were really all that bad.

The Blevins saga has left progressives in Enid dumbfounded and infuriated: How could their community allow this man, who wouldn’t deny participating in one of the most infamous fascist gatherings in a generation, join the city council? How could Enid let this man, who wouldn’t deny that he once expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, make policy decisions that will affect people’s lives?

Initially the activists gave their neighbors who voted for Blevins the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe they hadn’t heard about his past when they went to the polls. But over the last year, that shock has given way to horror at the seeming indifference of so many in Enid to the possibility that a neo-Nazi is helping to run their town. Then came the creeping thought that maybe it wasn’t indifference at all, but something even worse.

These activists fear what’s happening in Enid is part of a larger national trend, in which conservatives and Republicans maintain a “never punch right” ethos, shamelessly allying themselves with extremists. Moreover, the rhetoric currently coming from prominent conservative and Republican figures — about an “invasion” of immigrants at the border and rampant “anti-white” discrimination — could have been copied word-for-word from the Identity Evropa message groups. Although Identity Evropa has been dissolved, in many ways the group’s ideas have gone mainstream. In Enid, those ideas might have a seat in the city council.

Blevins did not respond to multiple HuffPost requests for comment for this story. Nor did he address why a Texas man — with business ties to a member of an active white supremacist group — donated nearly $2,000 to his 2023 campaign for city council.

Perhaps the closest Blevins has come to acknowledging allegations of his white supremacist activism came at the end of that heated city council meeting this past November, after the Enid Social Justice Committee announced it was launching a recall campaign against him.

“The First Amendment gives us freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government with grievances, which all of you have done tonight,” he told the assembled crowd, some of whom held up photos that seemed to show Blevins marching at the Charlottesville rally. “We either have these rights, or we don’t. And if we find ourselves having to make apologies when we exercise these rights, then we don’t have them.

“And I want to be clear: I am a different man today than I was yesterday. There is no hate in my heart. All there is is the desire to follow the Lord. But I’m not going to apologize for things I never was. And I am not going to apologize for the lies that others tell.”

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Municipal Complex in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024. Nick Oxford for HuffPost
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Municipal Complex in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024. Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Father James Neal poses for a portrait in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024. Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Father James Neal poses for a portrait in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024. Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Nick Oxford for HuffPost

“Time’s up, Mr. Mayor!” Neal yelled, pushing Mason to enforce the same time limit he’d forced on the gathered constituents.

“A commissioner can speak as long as they want!” the mayor responded.

“But not the public?”

“Not the public, that’s right.”

“You’re a coward!”

“If you continue I’m gonna ask you to leave.”

“Point of order, I have the floor!” Blevins barked.

“You’re not gonna be able to hide behind decorum,” Neal said.

“Over 800 people went to the polls that day and I got the majority of their votes,” Blevins continued. “Now, I wish my detractors could accept the results of the decision the voters made that day. … I thought for a long time for the last few days about how I could address the people who are unhappy with me, but they made it clear that there’s nothing I can say to them that will satisfy them and honor God.”

“We wrote down what you could say!” one of the Enid Social Justice Committee members screamed. The progressives had offered to strike a deal with Blevins: Sign a statement denouncing your past neo-Nazism, and the committee wouldn’t instigate a recall effort. Blevins had refused the offer.

“If it comes to it,” Blevins growled, “I will stand before the voters of Ward 1 and I will defend the job I’ve done here in my first six months and I will let them decide.”

A contingent of Blevins’ supporters stood up, hollering and applauding.

Neal screamed at Blevins’ fellow commissioners, begging them to speak up, eventually leading the mayor to summon security. As the martial escorted Neal out of the meeting, Blevins openly laughed, his face turning red with delight, a trollish grin drawn across his face

“What’s so funny?” one of the Enid Social Justice Committee members screamed at him. Blevins stopped laughing, quickly reconstructing his face to make it appear serious and respectable.

Unmasking ‘Conway’

Identity Evropa founder Nathan Damigo, right, holds a press conference with white supremacist Richard Spencer, left, on August 14, 2017, two days after the violent "Unite The Right" rally.
Identity Evropa founder Nathan Damigo, right, holds a press conference with white supremacist Richard Spencer, left, on August 14, 2017, two days after the violent "Unite The Right" rally.
Tasos Katopodis via Getty Images

Identity Evropa was founded in 2016 with a focus on recruiting college-aged white men, by an Iraq War veteran named Nathan Damigo. The group eschewed explicit neo-Nazi imagery and slogans, attempting to put an intellectual veneer on its racism and antisemitism, branding itself as a white “identitarian” organization. Its members alternately wore suits and ties, or khakis and white polo shirts, often sporting the “high-and-tight” haircut that was all the rage among fascists at the time. Damigo once claimed that there were over 700 white men in the group, a small army of young Americans who proved eager participants in what has been called “the Summer of Hate,” a period of intense white supremacist organizing in 2017 born out of excitement for former President Donald Trump’s election victory.

Members often kept their real identities a secret, choosing pseudonyms to communicate with each other in a private Discord message server. In 2019, anti-fascist activists infiltrated Identity Evropa and managed to download the contents of the server, which contained some 770,000 messages. Of those messages — which were published online by Unicorn Riot, an independent media outlet that often reports on right-wing extremism — over 1,100 belonged to someone using the pseudonym “Conway.”

Conway said he was the regional coordinator for Identity Evropa in Oklahoma, and could be seen in chat messages coordinating membership fees, onboarding new members and conducting propaganda missions. “I’m Dannion Phillips from Oklahoma looking to make contact with my Local Coordinator,” a new recruit, using his real name, wrote in one 2018 message.

“Hello Dannion I’m at gym and need to finish this workout,” Conway wrote back. “In the meantime, pls set an avatar, and send proof of paid dues.”(In an investigation into white nationalists in the military, HuffPost later revealed that Dannion Phillips was an active-duty airman in the U.S. Air Force.)

Conway also frequently posted photos of the Identity Evropa posters and flyers he said he’d placed around Oklahoma. He claimed to have targeted at least five universities, including the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

CNN has picked up on our banner!” Conway wrote in one message, linking to a tweet from a CNN reporter about an Identity Evropa banner he and his crew had hung from a highway overpass.

As delighted as Conway was about seeing the group’s activism in the news, he also expressed a seething hatred for journalists. “Not all liars are journalists but all journalists are liars,” he wrote once.

“Journalism is not a profession, it’s a tactic,” he argued in another message. “They want you to empathize with others and their interests before yourself and your people and our interests.”

And once, in January 2019, Conway wrote: “MASS LAYOFFS AT HUFFINGTON POST PRAISE ALLAH.”

In a Discord server used to plan the 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Conway frequently posted antisemitic messages, once calling a leftist activist in the Virginia city a “Jewish hag.” Noting that this activist was originally from Boston but had moved to Charlottesville, Conway called them part of the “(((rootless international clique))),” a riff on the old antisemitic phrase “rootless cosmopolitan.”

“Good, we have enough f*gs in Boston,” a user named “Johnny O’Malley” replied. (HuffPost later reported that O’Malley was an active-duty cop in Woburn, Massachusetts.)

Although Identity Evropa often avoided using Nazi symbols in public, members like Conway made their Nazi sympathies plain in private messages. “The burden of rehabilitating the roman salute will fall on a future generation,” Conway wrote, referring to the stiff-armed fascist salute most often associated with the Nazis. “Our burden is to ensure that generation exists.”

“Hitler never would have allowed this shit,” Conway wrote another time.

Messages written by "Conway," a pseudonymous member of white supremacist group Identity Evropa.
Messages written by "Conway," a pseudonymous member of white supremacist group Identity Evropa.
Courtesy Unicorn Riot

Conway seemed at his most “white-pilled,” or optimistic, when he saw Identity Evropa’s brand of white nationalism starting to gain purchase among prominent Republicans and right-wing pundits. Identity Evropa sought to infiltrate and influence mainstream conservative circles in hopes of nudging the Overton Window — the spectrum of ideas acceptable to the general public — ever rightward toward explicit white nationalism.

“The Overton Window is shifting our way when Tomi Lahren starts tweeting about anti-whiteness,” Conway wrote once, referring to a tweet from the popular conservative commentator, currently a host on Fox Nation.

He was especially excited about Steve King, the former U.S. congressman from Iowa, who had made a series of statements embracing white nationalism. Conway urged his fellow Identity Evropa members to donate to King’s campaign. “Our opponents have turned their gaze upon him,” he wrote in Oct. 2018, likely referring to a series of HuffPost reports about the congressman. “We need to keep him in office. We need 100 Steve Kings in office.”

And Conway was also an admirer of Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin Republican running to replace then-House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2017. Although Nehlen enjoyed prominent support, including from the likes of media figure Steve Bannon and then-GOP Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, HuffPost reported that he’d started to appear on neo-Nazi podcasts to discuss how he became “redpilled” on the “JQ,” or the “Jewish Question.”

“Paul Nehlen does not cuck!” Conway wrote in a December 2017 message, reveling in Nehlen’s radicalization.

Nehlen would go on to advocate the mass murder of Jews.

"Conway" posted photos of Identity Evropa propaganda he claimed to have placed on universities across Oklahoma.
"Conway" posted photos of Identity Evropa propaganda he claimed to have placed on universities across Oklahoma.
Courtesy Unicorn Riot

Conway’s final post in the Identity Evropa Discord server, which included pictures of the group’s propaganda he said he’d placed at the University of Central Oklahoma, came on March 3, 2019 — a few days before Unicorn Riot published the group’s 770,000 leaked messages online, allowing journalists and anti-fascist researchers to mine the messages for clues about the identities of some 700 pseudonymous extremists.

Conway had left a lot of clues. He once posted a link to an article in the Enid News & Eagle, a newspaper based in Enid, Oklahoma, noting that the publication was in his “hometown.” He also told his Identity Evropa compatriots that he was moving back to Enid to work for his “father’s business.”

But most importantly, Conway had announced in a message that he would be carrying the original Oklahoma state flag at the rally in Charlottesville. (He preferred this flag over the current Oklahoma flag, which pays tribute to Native Americans. “Such a shame OK lawmakers cucked to the Indians in 1925 and adopted the current flag,” he explained.)

Photos taken by HuffPost at the Charlottesville rally show a man with dark hair and beard, wearing khakis and a white polo shirt, marching with the original Oklahoma state flag. Other photos, including one taken by reporters from Unicorn Riot, show this same man among the crowd of neo-Nazis who marched through the University of Virginia campus with tiki-torches on the eve of the Charlottesville rally, chanting “Jews will not replace us!” It’s unclear if he chanted along.

On March 29, 2019, Right Wing Watch, a site that documents right-wing extremism, published an article identifying Conway, the Oklahoma regional director for Identity Evropa, as Judson Gannon Blevins, an Iraq War veteran who lived in Enid and worked at his father’s roofing business. They described anonymous sources who they said identified the man in the photos from Charlottesville as Blevins.

A photo taken by HuffPost of a participant in the 2017 Charlottesville rally. Anti-fascists and Right Wing Watch later identified this man as Judson Blevins.
A photo taken by HuffPost of a participant in the 2017 Charlottesville rally. Anti-fascists and Right Wing Watch later identified this man as Judson Blevins.
Christopher Mathias/HuffPost

Identity Evropa dissolved soon after the contents of its Discord server were published online. The group later rebranded as the American Identity Movement, but that eventually disbanded too. But Blevins seemed to use other social media accounts to continue to post support for white nationalism, including once under his own name. “James Allsup is a good man,” Blevins wrote in December 2019 on his own Facebook account.

Allsup was well-known at the time. As reported by multiple national media outlets, Allsup was a member of Identity Evropa, and had participated in the Charlottesville rally, but had nevertheless been elected to a precinct committee seat in the Washington state Republican Party.

Elsewhere online, Blevins appeared to maintain a Twitter account with the username @AbolishJournalism. (In the Identity Evropa Discord server, “Conway” had indicated the account belonged to him.) The account expressed a particular contempt for Native Americans, which is notable considering Blevins’ home state has one of the highest populations of Indigenous peoples in the country, due in part to the U.S. government’s forced removal of tribes from eastern states to Oklahoma in the 19th century — an act of ethnic cleansing, carried out at gunpoint, that’s often called the “Trail of Tears.”

But the @AbolishJournalism account supported a racist distortion of this history. “When you ‘lost’ your land because you sold half of it for booze and rifles, and the other half was taken because of the wars you kept starting while you were drunk using the rifles you bought, so you tell everyone the white man ‘stole’ it all,” read one tweet.

The @AbolishJournalism account also expressed hopes that white nationalists would run for public office.

“I agree with the argument ‘GOP cannot be changed from the bottom up,’ however I do not believe in discouraging our guys from getting elected into smaller offices such as city council, county commissioners, or even state legislators,” read a 2019 tweet.

“Basically positions where one can fly under the radar yet still be effective,” it said.

Blevins For Ward 1

A campaign sign for Judson Blevins is displayed at the entrance to a neighborhood in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024.
A campaign sign for Judson Blevins is displayed at the entrance to a neighborhood in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024.
Nick Oxford for HuffPost

Blevins announced his candidacy to represent Ward 1 in the Enid City Commission in November 2022. The next month he declined an interview request from the Enid News and Eagle about his involvement with Identity Evropa, but later sent over a statement that did not deny the allegation.

“I think we can all see this for what it is, a hit piece posted four years ago by a George Soros funded leftist outlet,” Blevins said in the statement, referring to Right Wing Watch. “They were smears then and they are smears now. The labels applied to me are the same applied to any American who speaks out against the ruling liberal establishment. I am proud to have served this country honorably and defended our rights in the United States Marine Corps. I am absolutely opposed to the erasure of America’s history and heritage.”

On Jan. 8, 2023, the Enid News & Eagle published the statement in a story headlined, “City candidate accused of white nationalist ties,” laying out the evidence obtained by Right Wing Watch. The paper spent a month reporting out the story, checking every fact and detail, reviewing every photo of Blevins in Charlottesville and interviewing the author of the original Right Wing Watch article to verify every step of his investigation.

Nevertheless, many Enid residents angrily refused to believe what their local paper had reported.

Kelci McKendrick, the reporter who wrote the article, was shopping at a Walmart when she received a call from one such reader: City Commissioner Scott Orr. She remembers Orr yelling at her down the phone for what he called “irresponsible journalism” with “no hard evidence.” McKendrick, then 25 years old, said she broke down in tears after the call.

Reached for comment via email, Orr didn’t respond to a question regarding his call to McKendrick. Explaining why he disputed the allegations against Blevins in McKendrick’s article, Orr told HuffPost: “We all perceive things differently.”

A handful of local politicians did offer criticism of Blevins — including Jerry Allen, the incumbent commissioner running against him, who told the paper there was “no place in Enid for those kinds of attitudes.”

Derwin Norwood, the Ward 2 commissioner and the city’s only Black commissioner, also said there was “no place” for Blevins’ alleged views. “We’re all created equal in the image and likeness of God,” he said.

And perhaps the strongest denunciation came from Ward 3 Commissioner Keith Siragusa, a former cop, who said: “If, in fact, any of it is true, I don’t feel that he should be eligible to hold office because that’s not a representation of what the city of Enid is.”

But the three other commissioners demurred or declined to comment to the News & Eagle. David Mason, then just a candidate for mayor, said he didn’t know Blevins and couldn’t “speak for him in any way.”

In a healthy, multiracial democracy, a political campaign would be torpedoed by compelling evidence of the candidate’s participation in a white supremacist group. But it quickly became clear that something else was happening in Enid. Within a week of the article in the Enid News & Eagle, Blevins found himself with a powerful, vocal supporter: Wade Burleson, an evangelical pastor who led the town’s biggest church, Emmanuel Enid, for three decades.

“I’m stunned that the Enid News & Eagle would publish this article about Judd Blevins,” Burleson wrote in a post on Facebook, where he has 8,000 followers. “Judd is an honorable, kind, compassionate Christian who served our country as a Marine. Judd loves Jesus and his country and has not one racist bone in his body.”

Burleson called the article “yellow journalism” that relied on an “accusation by a far left socialist organization” to falsely call an “American patriot who fought for his country a ‘white nationalist.’” He also expressed skepticism that Identity Evropa was actually an extremist group, noting that it was founded by a Marine. “I refuse to go along with the leftist communist cancellation of good people,” Burleson said.

“Judd, wear this news article as a badge of honor,” he added. “Enid citizens, do not fall for it.”

Burleson’s résumé is long. He served two terms as president of the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention; was appointed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating as a regent for the Northwest Oklahoma Board of Higher Education; ran in the 2022 Republican primary for Congress (losing to the incumbent but still receiving some 25,000 votes); worked for years as chaplain for the Tulsa Police Department, claiming to have investigated “crimes that involved the occult”; and boasts close relationships with a host of influential figures, including both of Oklahoma’s U.S. senators.

He stepped down as pastor of Emmanuel Enid in 2022, after years of making the church a hub of conservative politics, known for inviting MAGA luminaries like Charlie Kirk and Dinesh D’Souza to give speeches from a stage in the nave. Burleson now runs Istoria Ministries, a nonprofit aimed at spreading “the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

When HuffPost met with Burleson early one morning at Istoria Ministries, a new single-story building in Enid, he’d just finished leading his weekly men-only Bible study. Before talking about his support of Blevins, Burleson held forth on why he thinks trans people are “psychotic”; why Western civilization is “superior” to other civilizations; why Christianity is “superior” to both Islam and Judaism; and why the “real” antisemites are actually pro-Palestinian protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Burleson had come to Blevins’ defense, he said, because he knew Blevins’ pastor. “His pastor said he’s amazing,” Burleson recalled. “We have children in our community whose parents are either incarcerated or too poor, or too uninterested for their children to attend church. Judd drives a bus for them, picks up the children and brings them to church.”

And what about the evidence that Blevins marched with Nazis in Charlottesville, and had never denied doing so? “I don’t trust what I read in the news or see in the news,” Burleson said, doubting whether the rally in Charlottesville was actually “racist” or “white supremacist.”

HuffPost emphasized to Burleson that the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville chanted “Jews will not replace us” and that they beat a Black counter-protester with flag poles while calling him slurs.

“I go to the sources,” Burleson said. He recounted a conversation he had with Blevins in which, he said, Blevins had admitted to attending the Charlottesville rally — an admission Blevins has never made publicly.

“Judd told me he was there because he feels like our country is being subverted and the Constitution is being overturned,” Burleson said. “And I’m telling you, I will stake my reputation on him not being racist.”

A mural welcomes visitors to town in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024.
A mural welcomes visitors to town in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024.
Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Shops line the streets of downtown in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024.
Shops line the streets of downtown in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024.
Nick Oxford for HuffPost

Campaigns for city commissioners or councilors in any city, especially a relatively small one like Enid, are typically low-budget affairs. Blevins’ campaign listed only three donations in its financial reports. There was $100 Blevins had contributed himself; another $10 from a local woman; and then a third, significantly larger donation from a man living a four-and-a-half-hour drive south of Enid, near Dallas.

Joshua Berkau of Irving, Texas, gave $1,944 to Blevins’ campaign. Berkau is 26 years old and, according to public records, and aworked as a field director in 2021 for a county commissioner campaign in Denton County, Texas. He also appears to be connected to a series of blogs and other sites that include racist content and betray a fluency in white supremacist lingo.

An account on Pastebin, a site used to publicly store links and text files, belonging to a “Joshua Berkau” includes a folder labeled “crime and non-whites.” It’s full of links to articles on American Renaissance, a white supremacist website, all falsely arguing that Black people are inherently more prone to violence. Another folder is labeled “Migrant Crime.” And yet another is labeled “Race & IQ & Time Preference.”

An account registered to “Joshua Berkau” on Gravatar — a service that creates “globally unique avatars” that can be used across different internet platforms — linked out to an old blog called “American Homeland.” The blog is empty of content save for a message stating that it was meant as a backup in case the owner’s other blogs got “shoahed.” Shoah is a word for the Holocaust that white supremacists, in a cruel appropriation, often use to describe their social media accounts or blogs being banned for violating terms of service, usually for being too racist or antisemitic.

But perhaps the most compelling evidence that Berkau is mixed up in white supremacist circles comes from examining a series of limited liability corporations registered to his name, including Sphinx Vending LLC, Spanish Horses LLC, and Ghost Dancing Redux LLC. It’s not entirely clear what any of these businesses actually do. What is clear is that Berkau started one of them with a known member of an active white supremacist group. Berkau registered Sphinx Vending as an LLC in January 2023, according to public records, with a co-owner named Robert Whitted.

Whitted was convicted last year on misdemeanor charges of conspiring to riot. He was among some 30 masked members of Patriot Front — a white supremacist group known for holding flash-mob style demonstrations in cities across the country — arrested in 2022 in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, just as they were about to ambush and disrupt a LGBTQ Pride event in a lakeside park. Whitted was later sentenced to five days in jail.

Berkau did not respond to a request for comment about his relationship with Whitted or why he donated to Blevins, a man who was running for a city commission seat 300 miles away from his home.

Whitted didn’t respond to a request for comment.

‘Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay! Judd Blevins, Go Away!’

In the leadup to the Feb. 14, 2023, election, Blevins appeared at two town forums where he answered questions alongside his opponent, the incumbent Jerry Allen. At the first forum Blevins did not address ties to Identity Evropa, instead talking about improving infrastructure. But afterward, two local Democrats, Connie Vickers and Nancy Presnall, confronted Blevins, asking him to admit or deny his white supremacist activism and his participation in the Charlottesville rally.

According to Vickers and Presnall, Blevins literally ran away from them.

At the next forum, a week before the election, the moderator asked Blevins directly to clarify his involvement with Identity Evropa. This time Blevins repeated the statement he’d previously given to the Enid News and Eagle, calling the initial Right Wing Watch article about him a hit piece by a “leftist” outlet. It was, yet again, not a denial.

Recent years have seen a wave of far-right extremists across America running for seats on local school boards, library boards, health boards and city councils. They have also increasingly run for often uncontested positions as GOP functionaries, like precinct captains and election inspectors, as a way of taking over the Republican Party from the bottom up. This localized, “flood-the-zone” approach grew, in part, out of the fallout from the unsuccessful attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election via the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, when the far right found itself in disarray, reeling from a wave of arrests and prosecutions.

Local elections, which in a depleted local media ecosystem tend to garner less scrutiny, typically have low turnout. This provides extremists with an opportunity: If a radical minority of voters turn up and vote as a bloc, getting their candidate into office isn’t all that hard. It’s a strategy, the NPR podcast “No Compromise” once described, of “leveraging voter apathy to impose your will on society.”

Progressive activists in Enid think this is how Blevins got into office.

Protesters wear red shirts inside the City Commission chambers in Enid, Okla., during a meeting on whether or not to make wearing a mask mandatory during the coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday, July 15, 2020.
Protesters wear red shirts inside the City Commission chambers in Enid, Okla., during a meeting on whether or not to make wearing a mask mandatory during the coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday, July 15, 2020.
Billy Hefton/The Enid News & Eagle via AP

In 2020 they watched as a group of local anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers formed a group called the Enid Freedom Fighters. This new far-right coalition showed up to city commission meetings in red shirts, shouting at commissioners who voted for mask mandates and other measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has now killed over 1.1 million Americans.

The next year, the Freedom Fighters joined the anti-transgender backlash sweeping the nation, turning their ire toward the “indoctrination” of children with “an LGBTQ+ agenda” at Enid’s local libraries. Suddenly library board meetings, normally tame affairs, became one of the biggest shows in town, with large, angry crowds of screaming constituents. By 2022, the library board voted to prohibit programs that featured “sexual perversion” or referenced gender or sexual orientation.

And so by Election Day in February 2023, when Blevins was on the ballot, this far-right coalition was already mobilized. That evening, the Enid News and Eagle reported the results: out of over 800 votes cast, Blevins had won by 36 votes.

He thanked his family and friends for his victory. “The credit really goes to them tonight,” Blevins told the paper. “They got me across the finish line.”

Blevins was scheduled to be sworn into office on May 1, 2023, during a city commission meeting inside the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Municipal Complex. Some 50 progressive activists gathered outside on that day, holding up signs — including one with a photo of Blevins in Charlottesville, reading, “ONLY A NAZI MARCHES WITH NAZIS.”

“It’s abhorrent,” Neal, who was there protesting, told local news channel KFOR about Blevins. “It’s inexcusable. Of course, as a priest, I pray for him.”

Neal, a Navy veteran and recently ordained priest in the Orthodox Catholic Church, was wearing his black cassock and white clerical collar. He and the head of the local chapter of the NAACP, Lanita Norwood, had spearheaded the formation of the Enid Social Justice Committee, the liberal group fired up over Blevins’ election.

The group was not a radical band of “antifa,” as Blevins has sought to portray them, but was made up of pretty moderate, everyday Democrats. They couched their opposition to Blevins in patriotism, pointing to Enid’s history as a military town. “Enid Army Airfield trained pilots to fight Nazis and their Axis allies in World War II,” the Enid Social Justice Committee website stated.

“Enid’s sons and daughters did more than their share in the fight against Nazism and fascism,” the statement continued. “Now, their descendants have a new fight to win. Enid City Commissioner Judd Blevins embraces the same Nazi ideology we defeated almost 80 years ago.”

City ordinances would only allow a recall effort to be launched after Blevins had served six months in office, so until then the Enid Social Justice Committee was focused on getting Blevins to acknowledge and renounce his time in Identity Evropa, and to pressure the mayor and his fellow city commissioners to speak out against him.

Their protest during Blevins’ swearing-in proved a preview of how hard those tasks would be. As they held up their signs and chanted — “Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Judd Blevins, go away!” — they were approached by an angry man many of them recognized: Kyle Williams, one of the richest guys in town.

The owner of Jiffy Trip, a chain of gas station-convenience stores across Oklahoma, Williams is perhaps best known as the man determined to make Enid the annual home of the “world’s tallest fresh-cut Christmas tree,” each year shipping a gigantic fir 2,000 miles from California to Enid, where it’s decorated with 20,000 lights and 10,000 ornaments, looming over the town at a height of 140 feet. (In 2021, Oklahoma’s high winds swept across the arid plains of Enid and broke off the top of the “Christ tree,” as Williams calls it.)

Neal says Williams disrupted their protest, getting in the face of an Enid Social Justice Committee member and yelling at her. Williams, it turned out, was a big Blevins supporter.

“We just kept asking him, ‘Why are you supporting somebody who’s tied to Nazism?’” Neal recalls, to which Williams kept responding “I support him” over and over. Williams didn’t respond to a HuffPost request for comment about the confrontation.

Later, a group of young white men waving a Trump flag out of their car kept driving by the protest and revving their engine.

After the protest, members of the Enid Social Justice Committee, most wearing purple shirts, filed inside the municipal building, where Allen, the incumbent from Ward 1 who Blevins had defeated, gave a farewell speech. He recalled a trip he’d recently made to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where he felt moved after seeing a crowd of rowdy middle schoolers fall silent as they made their way through the exhibits.

“I was so proud of them, that they were recognizing what that museum represented,” Allen said. “We’re very fortunate we have a military that protects all of us. We have a police department that protects all of us. No race, no nationality, no creed. Everyone counts. That’s what this nation was founded on. Inclusivity. We welcome everybody. And so, to that end, Mr. Judd Blevins will take the seat here in a few minutes...”

The ESJC members braced themselves. Maybe, finally, someone was going to denounce Blevins. But Allen didn’t.

“He deserves the respect of the office,” Allen said. “So I hope you give him the opportunity that I was given many years ago when I first started doing this… Thank you.” The commissioners, the mayor and many in the crowd broke into applause. (Allen has since died.)

Blevins lifted up his right hand and took the oath of office a short time later, taking his seat for the first time on the city commission. Then the newly-elected mayor, David Mason, announced the public comment portion of the evening, begging the assembled crowd for “decorum,” and announcing a new rule: a one-minute time limit.

“Wow, one minute?” the first speaker, Ben Ezzell, a member of the Enid Social Justice Committee and a former city commissioner himself, said as he took to the lectern. “Here’s the thing, everything you just said about decorum is important, but we’re right now sitting in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Municipal complex. And the thing about Dr. King that we all laud is that Dr. King pointed out that sometimes decorum isn’t the right solution. There are times where we have to stand up to point out when things are simply wrong. ... So decorum is a shield —”

“30 seconds,” the mayor interjected.

“And when you use that shield to protect white nationalists, that’s wrong. It’s not okay to say we need decorum so don’t point out that Judd Blevins is a white nationalist, a member of Identity Europa. ... Show leadership and say no to the wrong thing.”

“Time’s up.”

“Well, one minute is kinda chickens**t,” Ezzell shot back. “Do better.”

Ben Ezzell poses for a portrait in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024. Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Ben Ezzell poses for a portrait in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024. Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Nick Oxford for HuffPost

The meeting ended a short time later. KFOR chased down Blevins, asking him on camera to address his history with Identity Evropa. “I understand that you’re never going to please everyone,” a visibly nervous Blevins said, his voice quaking. “As far as the people outside, ultimately, they’re here because an election did not go their way and that’s fine.”

“So are the claims true?” the KFOR reporter asked. “Do you have ties—”

“That’s all I have to say,” Blevins said, ending the interview and walking away.

For the next six months Blevins dutifully avoided answering questions like these. Mason and the five other city commissioners seemed uninterested in pressing him on the matter.

By November, the Enid Social Justice Committee had decided to offer Blevins an olive branch: just sign this letter acknowledging and denouncing your time in Identity Evropa, and your participation in the Charlottesville rally, and the group would not pursue a recall effort. Norwood, the only Black city commissioner, encouraged Blevins to sign it, but at the Nov. 7 city commission meeting Blevins announced that he would refuse to do so.

This refusal meant the Enid Social Justice Committee would commence the recall effort, members informed him during the public comment portion of the meeting. They then took turns at the lectern reciting racist messages they said Blevins, as “Conway,” had written in Discord, including “Hitler would never have allowed this shit.”

Then Blevins gave his statement, yet another non-denial denial. This was when Neal interrupted him and was removed by security, causing Blevins to laugh.

As ESJC members yelled at Blevins at the end of the meeting, a coterie of Blevins supporters mocked them. “Oh my Lord, you whiny people,” Neanne Clinton said. Clinton, a middle-aged real estate agent with long, straight blond hair, is a conservative fixture at city commission meetings, and has spoken out against LGBTBQ books in libraries and mask mandates.

“Black Lives Matter is the real Nazis,” she told HuffPost. “They hate Jews and protest for Palestine. I’m a conservative Christian Republican who is a patriot and believes in our nation and our Constitution. And so is Judd, He’s never been a Nazi. He has nothing to apologize for. Just because these people label him a Nazi does not make it so.”

HuffPost repeatedly pressed her about the photos of Blevins in Charlottesville, but she refused to acknowledge them.

Outside, another local woman, 65-year-old Trudi Bandi, was walking back to her car. She said she didn’t like the name-calling and attacks against Blevins. Mostly, she said, she didn’t get what all the fuss was about. HuffPost asked her if a white supremacist should be on the city council. “What difference will that make towards the city council?” she said. “That’s what I don’t understand.”

When HuffPost explained that it would likely be disconcerting for Black residents of Enid to have a white supremacist on city council shaping policy, Bandi responded that Blevins owned a roofing business in town that hires non-white workers.

“I’m just saying if that was what he believed at that time, and he may still believe it or not, he’s not living that life right now in this town because I’ve witnessed it,” she said. “I’ve seen it in my neighborhood for the work that he’s done. And the people that he hired to do the jobs in my neighborhood were of every color.”

The Recall

A few days later Blevins announced in a press release that he had filed a police report. “The mechanic informed me that my brake lines had been cut,” he wrote. “There is currently an investigation to identify those responsible and I will be pursuing criminal charges.”

He added that he had been receiving “threats from far-left wing fringe groups” for years, but “since the Enid City Commission meeting on November 7th, verbal harassment and threats have now escalated to criminal violence.”

Blevins didn’t provide any evidence that this alleged crime was politically motivated, but told police he suspected three members of the ESJC. “I never imagined I would face domestic threats for upholding these beliefs,” he said.

ESJC chairwoman Kristi Balden denied that her group was responsible for vandalism.

“All our group has done … is we are engaging in the democratic process that is afforded to us in the charter of Enid,” she told the Enid News and Eagle. Cass Rains, a spokesperson for the Enid Police Department, told HuffPost the investigation into Blevins’ brake lines was “closed,” as officers “could neither prove nor disprove that a crime had occurred.”

In the following weeks, Mayor Mason introduced a resolution to censure Blevins, condemning his “failure” to “explain and apologize for his participation in a White Nationalist, Neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11 and 12, 2017.”

But at the Nov. 20 city commission meeting, the mayor and the commissioners voted unanimously to table the resolution. They would not vote on it. Instead, one of the commissioners, Norwood, asked Blevins to stand up alongside him.

“Do you love me?” Norwood asked Blevins.

“I love you as a Brother in Christ,” Blevins replied.

“I love you too. I forgive you.”

“Thank you,” Blevins said.

Norwood then hugged Blevins, as the other commissioners and the mayor gave them a standing ovation. For the ESJC members in the audience, the whole scene was profoundly confusing. Why was Norwood forgiving Blevins for something that Blevins had never asked forgiveness for? It felt like a desperate, hollow ploy to mollify the ESJC.

By the end of November, the ESJC had collected enough signatures from voters of Ward 1 to initiate a recall, leading Blevins to issue a particularly hostile statement about the group.

“I am eager to see who, if anyone, is willing to attach themselves to the so called ‘Enid Social Justice Squad’ a small group of antifa-adjacent leftists, who seek to bring ‘family friendly’ drag shows to our community, promote a gospel contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and whose rhetoric and behavior is actively dividing and destroying our nation,” he told the Enid News and Eagle. “It is unfortunate that Enid is being held hostage by a group of people who harbor so much hate against those with different views that they cannot control themselves in our public meetings.”

“The attacks against me are inspired by the same antifa radicals that rioted and burned cities across this country in 2020,” he added. “Despite the best efforts of this fringe group, great things are coming to Enid in the years ahead, and I look forward to being a part of that process.”

In January, when a local business owner and educator named Cheryl Patterson announced that she would be running against Blevins in the recall election, she was careful to distance herself from the ESJC, saying the group had not asked her to run. Her major platform as a candidate, she said, was a return to normalcy.

“I would love to see people show up to the meetings because they want to be involved in what’s going on in our community,” she said. “But unfortunately, I think we have two different sides coming in and sometimes shouting. So just civility — we need civility.”

The recall election is now set for April 2.

Darkest Before The Dawn

Michelle Solano, 42, remembers how segregated Enid used to be just decades ago; when Black people like her and her family knew to stay on their side of the railroad tracks. She remembers being called the N-word in elementary school, and she remembers rumors of KKK meetings a few blocks from her house.

Seeing Blevins on that city commission, she said, has conjured up all those feelings again.

“I know that racism is still alive and well,” Solano told HuffPost. “And it’s just sad that the city is kind of like sweeping it under the rug.”

It also beggars belief, she said, that so many people in Enid refuse to believe that Blevins was mixed up with white supremacist groups. “Do you want him with the white [KKK] hat?” she said. “What do you want? Do you want him with a sign saying ‘I am a Nazi’?”

Solano spoke to HuffPost inside a Sunday School classroom at First Missionary Baptist Church on the east side of town. The building, with a nave bathed in sunlight pouring in through stained glass windows, was only built in 1997 — one year after the congregation’s previous place of worship, a 103-year-old church, was set on fire by a white man. Police could never prove the arson at First Missionary was racially motivated, but parishioners felt it was a casualty of a wave of arson attacks that targeted predominantly Black churches across America in the 1990s.

Solano, also a member of the Enid Social Justice Committee, still believes in the fundamental goodness of most people, including Blevins’ fellow city commissioners. She was just saddened, she said, that Blevins’ “presence on the board has taken a lot of away from what the city actually needs.”

“We’re supposed to be focused on education, the youth here, after-school programs,” she added. “We’re not supposed to be worried about racism.”

Father James Neal poses for a portrait in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024. Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Father James Neal poses for a portrait in Enid, Oklahoma February 20, 2024. Nick Oxford for HuffPost
Nick Oxford for HuffPost

Neal agrees that there are other urgent, even existential, problems facing Enid — problems that could be compounded by the bad press Blevins is bringing to the city.

“The ultimate threat to this town is when the next round of BRAC — base realignments and closings — comes up,” he said, referring to when the federal government decides which military bases are slated to close. “And if the Air Force goes, ‘we can have a base over here training student pilots, or we can have a base in the ‘Nazi town,’ Enid loses that battle. And If the Air Force Base goes away, this town dries up like a dog turd and floats away in the wind.”

But for Neal, perhaps the most disturbing part of the whole Blevins saga has been witnessing the degree to which so many lawmakers across Oklahoma are embracing rhetoric and policy positions that would likely be cheered by Identity Evropa, were the group still around.

Over the last year Oklahoma’s Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) has signed one of the nation’s strictest anti-choice laws, banning abortions from the “moment of conception”; he’s advocated sending Oklahoma’s national guard to the U.S.-Mexico border to “defend our country” against an “invasion” of immigrants and asylum seekers; and he’s made Oklahoma into a testing ground for the country’s most severe anti-transgender laws.

“The way they’ve attacked transgender people, in particular, I mean, if it’s bad enough if you’re gay, but if you’re trans around here, it’s like a whole other order,” Neal told HuffPost.

As a man of the cloth, what most infuriates Neal is the way men like Blevins, Stitt, and Burleson, the megachurch pastor, gussy up plain old bigotry with the poetry of the Bible, twisting the word of the Lord for their own cruel ends.

“It is the worst form of evil I can think of, besides crimes against children and genocide, and things like that,” he said. “Manipulating people’s faith to stir up oppression and hatred and violence is reprehensible beyond reproach.”

The shame of it all, Neal says, is that he loves Enid from the bottom of his heart, and he also believes the people here are fundamentally good, even if they often get manipulated by the rhetoric of powerful pastors and politicians. He still has hope.

“Sometimes things have to get a lot worse before they get better,” he said. “The good thing about all of this is that it’s bringing all of this latent hatred out into the open. And people are beginning to be forced to have to deal with it. People like the mayor and business leaders.”

The majority of the pastors in this town may still want to pretend like it’s not happening, but that momentum is there now,” he continued. “People, pastors and business leaders and politicians didn’t want to acknowledge the civil rights movement. The momentum was there, and it was gonna move whether they got on board or not. And I think we’re at that place — where things are gonna get worse before they get better, but they’re gonna get better.”

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