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An Oklahoma council member with ties to white nationalists faces scrutiny, and a recall election

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ENID, Okla. (AP) — The typical topics for discussion among city leaders in the northwest Oklahoma community of Enid are how to lure a new movie theater, the cost of operating a downtown arena and plans for a solar farm on the edge of town.

But the issue looming large over this community of just over 50,000 residents in the heart of the state’s wheat plains is whether to remove a city councilor with ties to white supremacist groups.

Judd Blevins, 42, an Iraq War veteran who attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlotesville, Virginia, is facing a recall election on Tuesday, when voters in one of the city’s wards are set to decide whether to keep him in office or opt instead for his opponent, Cheryl Patterson, a grandmother and longtime youth leader at an area church. Although both Blevins and Patterson are Republicans, the race is nonpartisan and open to all registered voters in the ward.

Even though the number of white nationalist groups in the United States stabilized at a little more than 100 chapters in 2022 after reaching a historic high of 155 in 2019, experts who monitor hate-group activity at the Southern Poverty Law Center say the movement has been given legitimacy within the political mainstream. They cite the attendance of U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona at an event in 2022 organized by a white nationalist as an example.

The recall effort in Oklahoma was launched by two longtime Enid residents, best friends Connie Vickers and Nancy Presnall, both Democrats in a county where Republicans have a nearly 4-to-1 advantage in voter registration. The two helped spearhead a signature drive to qualify Blevins’ recall for the ballot, getting 350 signatures from voters in the ward, far more than the 240 they needed.

“There are people on the opposite side of the political spectrum who are totally together with us on this,” Presnall said. “This isn’t a Republican-Democrat thing. It’s a Nazi and not-Nazi thing.”

Blevins acknowledged at a community forum on Tuesday that he participated in the Unite the Right rally, where white nationalists carried torches through the University of Virginia campus and chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

He also admitted being connected to Identity Evropa, a now-defunct white-supremacist group that gained notoriety for its participation in the rally.

While saying that he is now “opposed to all forms of racial hate and racial discrimination,” Blevins also doesn’t shy away from his history.

When asked at the forum to explain his involvement in the rally and his ties to Identity Evropa, he responded: “Bringing attention to the same issues that got Donald Trump elected in 2016: securing America’s borders, reforming our legal immigration system and, quite frankly, pushing back on this anti-white hatred that is so common in media entertainment.”

Blevins’ response drew a smattering of applause from some of the 150 people who packed into Enid’s downtown arena for the forum during which the two candidates fielded questions from the publisher of the local paper, the Enid News & Eagle, and a reporter for a local radio station.

But his election to the city council, even after the local paper ran a story about his ties to white nationalism, has many residents of this conservative city concerned about its reputation, particularly as city leaders seek to recruit businesses and young professionals to the area.

“I’m surprised anyone thinks that way in this day and age,” said Patrick Anderson, a lifelong Republican and local banker who represented Enid for 12 years in the state Senate. “And then to find out someone in our own community is involved in that, it’s concerning and disappointing.

“It certainly doesn’t reflect the views of our community.”

Although Enid is 75% white, Anderson said the community has long embraced diversity with an Air Force base that trains young pilots, a growing Hispanic population and a large contingent of Marshallese citizens.

Anderson said he believes a decline in newspaper readership, combined with voter apathy, particularly in municipal elections, allowed a small group of hard-core Blevins supporters to help him eke out a narrow victory of just 36 votes over the incumbent, a fellow Republican. Only 808 of the ward’s roughly 5,600 registered voters cast ballots.

Father James Neal, pastor of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church in Enid, agrees with Anderson’s assessment.

“I think a lot of people in the community, myself included, thought that he had no chance of winning,” Neal said. “The people who support that ideology are very passionate and very dedicated, and up until this point we haven’t been.

“But this has been galvanizing and helped us get off our asses, quite frankly, and fight back.”

Presnall, who helped launch the recall with her friend, agreed the entire recall effort has been energizing for left-leaning residents of the community, who formed the Enid Social Justice Committee. While their focus has been on the recall lately, they want to move on to other issues important to the community, including homelessness and paying off student-lunch debt at area schools.

“We determined that we have a good group together that wants to do good things for the community,” Presnall said.

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Follow Sean Murphy on X, formerly Twitter.

By SEAN MURPHY
Associated Press

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