It’s been 10 months since someone set an office building on fire at Highlander Research and Education Center, a storied civil rights institution perched in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee, but the investigation into the fire seems to have gone nowhere.
The charred remains of the collapsed structure are still untouched, and the yellow tape blocking access to them has only recently come off. In the parking lot next to the destroyed building, a symbol someone spray-painted in black on the concrete the night of the fire is also untouched: It looks like a hashtag, but with three intersecting lines instead of two.
That symbol is one used by racist extremists in the U.S. and abroad. It was painted on one of the firearms used by an Australian white supremacist who massacred 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, just two weeks before the fire at Highlander.
But while the symbol is obscure to most, it has resurfaced in connection with the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group that was active in the U.S. until recently. A year before it was sprayed in the parking lot at Highlander, the symbol was also painted on “the Rock,” a boulder at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus, not far from Highlander, used by students as a message board.
Yet if the symbol was a clue about who might have attacked Highlander, investigators — with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office; the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the FBI — have not yet said so publicly.