The Road to Radicalization

May 8, 2018

Last week, two men went on trial for the beating of a black man in a Charlottesville parking garage after the Unite the Right rally, and this week a third will have his day in court.  The parents of the first man – Jacob Goodwin – are featured in a new documentary produced by NBC Left Field – a division of the network that produces programs seen through social media. 

White supremacist Jacob Goodwin talks with his mother at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail.
Credit NBC

The program begins in rural Arkansas where Jacob Goodwin grew up.  That’s where we meet his Mom – Tamara.

“This here’s my world," she says while pushing a shopping cart.  "I go to Walmart, I go to lunch with my friends. I come home.  I make sure my husband’s got his clothes washed and his supper done.  I raise my children.  I just want to live my life and love my children and my family.”

She says she’s not interested in politics, nor is her husband Scott. They insist they’re not racist but feel their son did something noble when he and several others attacked a black man.

“He said, ‘Mom, this white man was getting beat up,’ and I said, ‘Oh my God, what did y’all do?’  He said, ‘Well we retaliated!  We couldn’t let him get beat up!’ He’s just a political prisoner, and I couldn’t be more proud.”

After their son’s arrest, a group came forward to befriend the couple. It’s called The Shield Wall Network, and it’s headed by Billy Roper – a white nationalist who claims his race is on the verge of extinction. The Southern Poverty Law Center says he’s the voice of violent neo-Nazism in America.

But Roper provides financial and legal assistance to Goodwin’s parents, and they’re grateful.

“There is no way in this whole world that we could ever, ever repay you!” Tamara tells him.

She invites Shield Wall troops to train on her property, and Scott – who served in the U.S. military – agrees to instruct.

“For visual effect, you get 15-20 guys all dressed in the same uniform holding shields and their boots pounding on the pavement, it has a psychological effect on people,” he tells the militia. “It intimidates people, and that’s basically what you want.  Forward, March!”

“This is changing people,” Scott says. “It’s changing who I am.  Anger does make you look at things differently.  You begin to say, ‘I don’t care how you feel about me.’ The only people helping my son are these people.”

“Any time they want to come here and train, I’ll feed ‘em,” Tamara Goodwin adds. “Through Jacob being in jail I’ve made great friends, met great people.” 

The parents attend a group meeting and get their son on Facetime from the Albemarle County Jail.

“Hey everyone!” he says,

“Hey Jacob!  How’s it going?” asks a member of the group.

“I’m doing alright,” he replies. “I’m fine in here.  They’ve been making it nice and comfortable for the darky friends in here, so at least we can reap the benefits, right?  All I can say is if this is all those commie bastards have got, I’m doing alright.  It’s not too bad!” 

Jacob’s older brother, Dustin, is also featured. 

“Me and my parents have never really seen eye-to-eye since I was 15,” he says. “I had enough of religion and racism.  I’m not into either one of those things.” 

He joined the Marines when he was 17, and today he’s suspicious of people like Billy Roper.

“They find people that are easily manipulated – males between the ages of 17 and 25 that don’t have a career, don’t have anything steady in their life – that’s a pretty easy target,” he explains.

But by the program’s end, it’s clear that Jacob Goodwin’s parents have also joined the white nationalist movement. The documentary is called Path to Radicalization.  It’s available on YouTube.