Wellington serves as the Bulletin's foreign correspondent. This week he goes underground with the beleaguered group attempting to fight fascism in the region
I waited to the sound of diesel trucks pulling in and out of the parking lot. I was to meet the representative of Triple A (Appalachian Antifa Alliance) in the parking lot of the Kingwood Dollar General and to be transported to a secret meeting location within the hour. To keep my low profile, I sipped a Mountain Dew Code Red and purchased a can of Grizzly Chewing Tobacco to obtain the snuff ring in my back pocket.
The time of the arranged meeting passed. Had they had second thoughts? Were they fearful of the power and spotlight the Buddy Bulletin commands? I had my doubts this meeting would be completed and scanned the lot with a healthy amount of skepticism.
I heard them before I saw them.
A 2006 Subaru Impreza with a modified exhaust careened down the hill and whipped into the parking lot, cutting off a minivan and nearly causing a wreck. Loud electronic music filled the lot and onlookers turned toward the scene. The group, clad in all black with masks included, piled out of the car. The tallest of group grabbed me by the arm, put a reusable flower pattern freezer bag over my head, and stuffed me in the middle seat of the Impreza.
With that, they squealed the tires out of the parking lot and we made our way to their secret base. It was a tense 40-minute journey to their hideout. We listened Dark Side of the Moon the entire way.
The car was put in to park, and I was pulled from the back. I was helped up a set of stairs and into the base. They sat me down and, with the bag pulled off my head, I scanned the surroundings.
To say that Triple A was living rough would be an understatement. The sparse apartment featured few highlights. In front of me hung a Che Guevara poster and underneath a table featuring a selection of different sized Starbucks cups and a collection of Tame Impala vinyl albums. On the dresser by the wall was a collection of books, two of which I could discern the titles. One was "Das Kapital" by Karl Marx and the other was "Composting for Dummies". McDonald's wrappers and bags were scattered on the floor, and on the smart television played a YouTube playlist of WWII Soviet Propaganda songs. This was the heart of the resistance.
The tall one, clearly the leader, sat in front of me. His mask remained on as he spoke to me.
"We're fighting back against fascism and unfair capitalism inflicted on all peoples in the Appalachian region. It's gone on for far too long and we are taking a stand."
It was a strong leading statement. The region has struggled with anything resembling economic growth for the past 100 years. From the coal company towns of the early 20th century to the shale boom of the recent age, this region has struggled to keep profits and build a thriving economy despite having all the resources to do so. The money is always headed somewhere else.
And as far as the fascism, it certainly has a presence.
Recent activity by groups like Triple A and BLM brought out some of the worse angels of the region, including some outright fascist behavior.
I asked the leader how he intends to fight the fascist uptick in the region.
"Our best options are education and speaking back against fascist speech in the area, maintaining a presence and making our voices heard."
It brings forth the question, is education possible? Or, perhaps to a larger picture, is it even wanted?
There are some statistics to consider. According to US News, West Virginia is
27% College educated
44th in education
48th in healthcare
50th in economy
50th in infrastructure
And while college education is not the sole indicator of whether someone can see a new perspective, it can provide a pretty fair estimate over its effectiveness.
I present these facts to the Triple A leader, and he sits in silence for a moment. "What I just can't figure out is why a people that have been absolutely decimated by the current system have so much resistance to change."
It's a thought many young people in the state struggle with. With the path the state currently treads, who does it intend to help? Why are West Virginians, who all have roots to labor battles and fights for freedom in days gone past, so resistant to change? Is it the thought of the Scarlet Letter S in socialism?
"People think we are coming to repossess their property for the masses, but we are trying to educate them that they are being screwed as much as the individual who is struggling."
Che looks down at both of us.
"How do you help someone who doesn't want help but clearly needs it? And who thinks that government assistance is to the detriment of every working man?" He adds.
Consistent news programming and, what some would argue, propaganda have historically drilled the "They took our jobs." rhetoric into the people of the Mountain State. It's always someone else's fault. When, in reality, a changing economy and negligent political leaders and CEOs have pretended that everything is fine, and the state doesn't need to change its approach that was already floundering. Now it's saddled with an ancient economic outlook. And a good many older individuals providing the voices. A year ago, West Virginia ranked 3rd in the nation for percent of individuals 65 and over.
"Another thing, people who hate government assistance here either are on government assistance or know many people who are."
He has a point. In 2017, West Virginia benefitted from federal funding than all but 4 states in the Union. As of 2014, West Virginia receives 26.2% of its annual income from welfare programs compared to the national average of 16.7%. "It's strange to detest something that is clearly essential for a lot of neighbors.", he adds. " Why does someone want to be so callous to someone who hands them their McDonald's breakfast every morning?"
I ask how the debate plan is going. "Pretty terribly."
"If something, like socialism, is considered life and death in this area, how can you expect a level argument?"
Being plugged into the social media scene of the region, I know what he means. How can you try to convince someone who (unironically) shares a meme like this:
Or this this piece of slyly anti-Semitic material:
It's just a fraction of the content shared amongst social media users of the region. And, while harkening back to our education statistics, provide a troubling effect among the citizens of the region.
"We came to liberate this area from fascism and unfair effects of capitalism. But the more time we spend here, it's almost like the people embrace it, no matter the ill effects. It's disheartening."
What's the path forward for Triple A? Stifled by resistance, their leader looks forward to the future. "We hope with time that locals will find a new outlook necessary. But we aren't banking on it. We might go try this in Alabama or something."
I'm tempted to agree with him, and not about Alabama. As more young people join an exodus to different states, I question what West Virginia will look like in ten years. Will it have changed, or will it follow the radical SS t-shirt wearing trend and make this year's West Virginia look progressive?
I ask him to weigh the prospects of improvement. "The ceiling isn't that high, and I would need a flashlight to see the floor."
With that, my time with Triple A has ran out. They have to attend a rally in Elkins, and they need to fill up with gas and Starbucks beforehand. The bag is applied to my head and we (audibly) speed back to the Dollar General parking lot. They let me out and remove the bag. With that they speed away up the street and out of my view.
I take a moment to gather myself. I look to the entrance of the Dollar General and see an obese man make his way into the store with a cane. An elderly woman is in the passenger seat. I look at the old truck he had exited and see the multitude of political bumper stickers common for the region.
The plight of Triple A makes more sense now than it did before.
Wellington Parselsnip is the foreign correspondent for the Bulletin. He is Oxford educated, an Arsenal man, drives on the wrong side of the road, and fluent in 3 languages.