How Enid, Okla., united to remove a local fascist from office
Members of the ESCJ including Father James Neal, Jacob McNew, Byron Balden, and Kristi Rice Balden cheer as results are announced.

ENID, Okla.—In February 2023, Judd Blevins was elected to the Enid City Commission just as his fellow participants in the white supremacist torch-light rally on the University of Virginia campus were facing criminal charges under Charlottesville’s burning object statute.

The march, held on the eve of the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, was not a peaceful exercise of speech and assembly. Instead, hundreds of fascists encircled a small group of student counter-protesters in front of a statue of Thomas Jefferson and some beat them with torches.

Enid is the county seat for Garfield County, which is so conservative that nearby Waukomis was floated as a site for housing removed Confederate monuments. Enid has a subdivision named after Tara, the fictional plantation in Gone with the Wind, and Enid High School still uses an Indigenous person as a mascot, despite requests from alumni to change it.

With that background Enid, may seem like an unlikely town for an anti-fascist movement to blossom, but it was also the hometown for the 1992 Socialist Party presidential candidate J. Quinn Brisben. However, as Molly Congers, a podcaster from Charlottesville, put it, “I’m not living in a fantasy land where the City of Enid, Oklahoma is represented by a council of six socialists.”

Republican Cheryl Patterson stepped up to challenge Blevins in the April 2 election. Patterson waves to supporters on Election Day.

There are parallels to an earlier time in Enid’s history. On Oct. 26, 1921, the Ku Klux Klan held a car parade in downtown Enid, chasing 18 of its Black residents from Garfield County. Local police refused to protect Black citizens that night. Then-Mayor William H. Ryan praised the Klan in a letter to The Nation and was met with so much local resistance that he chose to arm himself. Ryan would go on to serve one term in the Oklahoma state legislature. There were reports of Klan activity in Enid as late as the 1980s.

Now, like then, many Enid residents found the courage to stand up, hoping to prevent another resurgence of the organized racist right. Resistance began at a Jan. 26, 2023, candidate forum where moderators had failed to address Blevins’ involvement in the Charlottesville fascist march. Local Democrats Nancy Presnall and Connie Vickers took matters into their own hands, confronting Blevins in person. He dodged their questions, just as he would numerous times in the months ahead.

Father James Neal, a priest in the Orthodox Catholic Church of America, sprang into action, crafting a pledge of peaceful resistance that gained 1,400 signatures. Motivated by his Christian faith, he counts anti-fascist martyr Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer as one of his heroes.

Father Neal found himself in the minority. Most local clergy chose silence. Anti-communist Pastor Wade Burleson, a former Republican congressional candidate, publicly defended Blevins, touting his military service and volunteer activities at his church. Burleson is a member of the Oklahoma Advisory Commission on Founding Principles, which pushes to overturn the separation of church and state within the Oklahoma public school system.

Even as more evidence surfaced of Blevins’ activities, Burleson stood by him. Burleson’s advocacy for Blevins places him alongside prominent white nationalists who publicly supported Blevins’ campaign, including Jared Taylor of American Renaissance and Jason Kessler, organizer of the Unite the Right rally.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of Christian clergy today—just as in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s time—choose the institution of the church over the true faith of Christ, which demands we unequivocally oppose the evil engendered in Nazi and white nationalist ideology.

“We cannot claim to follow the example of the prophets, of the Apostles, or saints, let alone Jesus if we fail to stand up to injustice and evil. Failing to resist evil is itself a form of evil (to paraphrase Bonhoeffer),” stated Father Neal.

Father Neal is the product of his Catholic maternal great-great grandmother’s intermarriage to a Protestant. “They surrendered everything for love, and I try to honor that tradition.” He takes further inspiration from “my ancestors in Scotland and Ireland risking all they had—and in many cases losing it—to stand by their integrity and sense of justice.”

He said, “Our family is American today because we fought empire in Scotland, and lost (last Jacobite rising)—but fighting the right fight is its own victory, regardless.”

Locals contend that both apathy and an undercurrent of bigotry are what allowed Blevins to win. According to Neal, “Apathy remains perhaps the greatest threat to our democracy. Most who opposed us, at least in person, simply refused to talk to us. But there were a few who made it clear they supported him because of his white nationalist views, almost always tying that into a fear and hatred of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Enid is the model of what these extremists are looking for right now as a breeding ground for their ideology of fascism and hatred—a small city, with state and national connections, that is overwhelmingly conservative,” said Father Neal.

These tactics have been confirmed by ex-white nationalists on the Daily Former podcast, and Blevins is quoted as wanting to “fly under the radar” in local elections.

Locals formed the Enid Social Justice Committee (ESCJ), electing Kristi Rice Balden as chair. The ESCJ attended city meetings, demanding leaders condemn Blevins, protested his inauguration, and held community events to raise awareness. In November 2023, city officials failed to enact a formal censure of Blevins crafted by Republican Mayor David Mason, so the ESCJ canvassed Ward 1 with a recall petition.

“We didn’t start collecting signatures until November, because of the city charter requirement that he be in office six months before initiating a recall. We took a 10-day hiatus to attempt reconciliation, which he rejected. All together, it was about two weeks of active signature collecting. The vast majority of folks were appreciative that someone was undertaking the work to remove a neo-Nazi from office.”

Just as signature collection began, Blevins falsely accused three people of cutting his brake lines.

Father Neal was named in the police report. He responded, “We unequivocally denounce political violence, but if it were something to consider, I think we deserve credit for not being so incompetent as to attempt ‘assassination’ by cutting one brake line in a town with a median speed limit of 35 mph and a completely flat terrain.”

Byron Balden, who had been recovering from a medical procedure that weekend, and Jacob McNew, a former Enid resident who studies horticulture at Oklahoma State University and proudly sports hammer-and-sickle and ACAB tattoos, were also falsely accused by Blevins. The police closed the case after finding no evidence to support Blevins’ claims.

Republican Cheryl Patterson stepped up to challenge Blevins in the April 2 election. A group calling themselves Friends for a Better Enid, including several former mayors, endorsed Patterson and released a full-page ad in the Enid News & Eagle that was delivered free of cost to every house in Ward 1. Enid community members, spanning the political spectrum, united behind Patterson. On election day, supporters stood outside in the cold, holding signs to encourage passing motorists to get to the polls.

That evening, the ESCJ gathered to watch election results at Jezebel’s Emporium and Tea Room as an assortment of anti-fascist protest songs from Woody Guthrie to the Dropkick Murphys played in the background. The group erupted into jubilant shouts of “Judd, we just replaced you!” and “Fuck Nazis!” upon learning that Patterson defeated Blevins.

Kristi Rice Balden and former Enid Mayor Norman Grey check voting results.

At a March 26 election forum, the 42-year-old Blevins framed his participation in Unite the Right as his being “young and foolish,” downplaying his involvement as “one day in Virginia,” and claiming his sole purpose was protecting the 1924 Robert E. Lee statue. However, by 2019, anti-fascist researchers at Ignite the Right and Right Wing Watch had already connected him to years of fascist organizing in his thirties.

However, Blevins still has not cut ties with white nationalists. Following his removal from the Enid City Commission, he gave his first interview to the WarStrike podcast on April 23, 2024. WarStrike is hosted by Warren Balogh and Joseph Jordan, both of whom have extensive resumes of white nationalist activity.

Most recently, they were leaders in the now defunct anti-Semitic hate group National Justice Party. Balogh is the son of Alan Balogh, an associate of William Pierce whose book inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In the interview, Blevins openly admits his work as an Identity Evropa organizer. He stated that he would only run for public office again if it were a paid position. He is also considering a lawsuit.

At the April 16 Enid City Commission meeting, Garfield County Democratic Party Chair Nancy Presnall praised the “coalition of all ages, races, parties, and income groups” that made up the collective movement to oust Blevins. She hopes to build upon local solidarity, calling the historic moment “a real opportunity here to overlook what divides us and focus on what unites us.” She also thanked the Oklahoma Democratic Party for providing resources.

Patterson was sworn in that evening. She voted to approve a new MLK mural on the building that bears his name, joining the 1991 monument outside where a quote from his “I Have a Dream” speech is etched in stone.

Father Neal envisions ESCJ will continue to “stand by the marginalized and oppressed in our community, to continue to ferret out and upend fascism and injustice, and to empower and inspire other communities to take up the same fight.”

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D.L. Lang
D.L. Lang

D.L. Lang is an internationally published poet and former poet laureate of the city of Vallejo, Calif. She is a member of the IWW’s Freelance Journalists Union, and the Revolutionary Poets Brigade, and has been a panelist for the Communist Party USA's Writers’ Group. Her poem “American Dream” is included in the Vagabond Lunar Collection which will be archived on the moon via the Lunar Codex project, traveling in November 2024 to the Nobile Crater. Using her poetry as a tool for political action Lang has spoken out at demonstrations for social justice including RiseUp4AbortionRights, and workers’ rights with LaborFest. As poet laureate she spoke at local demonstrations for Families Belong Together, Vallejo United Against Hatred and Anti-Semitism, International Peace Day, and performed in a multi-city Poets Laureate for Social Justice Tour.