Controversial social media posts are latest chapter in Buckhead City Committee’s responses to race and racism

The Buckhead City Committee logo.

The Buckhead City Committee began the new year embroiled in racial controversy after two inflammatory social media comments from its leader, Bill White: one calling new Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens a “racist” and another reposting a white nationalist affiliated website’s comments attributing Atlanta’s murder rate to its Black population.

The controversy put a new spotlight on the racial implications of the cityhood movement‘s call for a majority-white and wealthy neighborhood to leave Atlanta, but that has been talked about from the start, including by the BCC itself. The BCC’s responses largely continued its longstanding strategy of presenting itself as actively anti-racist while simultaneously highlighting Black-on-white crime and branding any race-related criticism of cityhood as unfair.

White, the BCC’s chairman and CEO, has apologized online for reposting the comments from VDARE, but has defended his labeling of Dickens. The BCC’s public relations company, Lucie Content, provided with a written apology from White for the VDARE “mistake,” but ignored questions about the Dickens comments and some other issues, including the racial and ethnic makeup of BCC leadership in what White has called a diverse movement.

Early talk of race and racism

Word of the BCC’s private formation began circulating in the tumultuous time of July 2020. That was when metro Atlanta, like the rest of the nation, began seeing rising crime rates that became a major political driver of Buckhead cityhood. That was roughly a month after Atlanta, also like many other cities, saw massive Black Lives Matter protests following the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd. Coinciding with the local protests in May 2020 was a night of rioting and looting in several Buckhead commercial areas, whose origin and intent remain unclear, and which shook the neighborhood.

Bill White, CEO and chairman of the Buckhead City Commission.

The protests led to public reflection on the role of racism in Buckhead’s past, particularly at the time of its 1952 annexation into Atlanta. At that time, in the segregation era, Buckhead was majority white in part because of the deliberate displacement of Black communities for white neighborhoods or amenities like parks. And a significant reason for the annexation was to keep Atlanta’s voting rolls majority-white.

That background was directly addressed by the BCC — then called the Buckhead Exploratory Committee — that summer in a semi-public webinar that was briefly posted on YouTube and since has been made private. At that time, the BCC would not identify its leaders, and the webinar had an unusual format where a man named Jack Montgomery served as both moderator and advocate while being directed by unnamed people off-screen.

At the webinar’s start, Montgomery addressed the political atmosphere by saying that “we do not tolerate racism.” He also claimed that Buckhead’s annexation was illegal and suggested that undoing it would reverse its racist intent — and declared that to be one of cityhood’s main motives.

“Our whole reason for forming this committee is to right the wrongs of a racist and non-democratic past while ensuring the happiness, safety and security of all of the residents and business owners here,” he said in the webinar.

An implication of the comment was that it would allow Atlanta to be majority-Black, a status the city ended up losing in the 2020 U.S. Census results. However, Montgomery did not say that explicitly.

White has often repeated the claim that Buckhead’s annexation was illegal, including in a November hearing of a Georgia Senate committee, but without the references to undoing racism. Whether the BCC still considers that a main reason for cityhood is among the questions to which it did not respond.

As the BCC effort became public and began in earnest last year, it focused on public safety as an issue and has especially highlighted a street attack whose victims are demanding prosecution as a Black-on-white hate crime. After the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” favorably covered Buckhead cityhood, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Bill Torpy noted the program focused on recent Black-on-white crimes.

The BCC has avoided or condemned discussion of the racial implications of cityhood. Questioned at the Senate committee hearing about the demographics of the proposed Buckhead City, White initially responded it would be about 18% African American and the rest “everything else.” White evaded follow-up questions twice before finally acknowledging that Buckhead City would be majority-white.

Last summer, the BCC issued the results of an internal poll that White said, in part, showed public condemnation of the anti-cityhood Committee for a United Atlanta “making this about race.” The poll included a loaded question asking if “it’s fair or unfair for people to be labeled ‘racist’ for trying to get control of crime in any community?”

Nearly 74% of respondents said that is unfair, an answer the BCC broadly presented as a condemnation of “name-calling” and discussing race in the cityhood debate.

Mayor called ‘racist’

But in December, it was White doing the racially based name-calling, with Dickens as his target.

On his Instagram page, White posted part of an Ebony interview with Dickens, highlighting passages where the mayor spoke of the “glory days” of Atlanta’s “Black majority” and how that has gone away due to gentrification and displacement fueled by large corporations. Dickens spoke of wanting to “get the balance back.” The excerpt made no mention of Buckhead or cityhood.

“We need to get out of ATL. NOW,” wrote White in response. “Unfortunately Atlanta has elected a racist as its incoming mayor. Andre Dickens is a racist. It’s official and its [sic] confirmed by and in his own words. This is not good for Atlanta. @buckheadcityga NOW. 319 days until we are free of this thinking.”

George Chidi, a former AJC reporter who now writes independently on Substack as “The Atlanta Objective,” decried White’s comments in a Dec. 30 article as racist “dogwhistling” that shows cityhood is an idea “absolutely and unmistakably steeped in racial animus.”

“This comment is depraved. It is also entirely on brand for White’s movement,” Chidi wrote. “This Instagram post is deliberately provocative, an act of calculated offense meant to deepen relationships with a specific kind of racially-blinkered supporter. It is Trumpism manifest.”

Chidi noted that Dickens was talking about the outcome of systemic racism on economic inequality, which also affects crime. He called White’s commentary a “false equivalency” tactic often used by white supremacists to label those who notice racism as racists themselves.

“Secession will make racial inequality worse. Bill White promotes secession. Thus, Bill White is a racist,” wrote Chidi.

Responding to a supporter’s Twitter post about Chidi’s comment, White said, “Buckhead City Committee is focused on the facts. Keep the distractions where they belong.” He included an icon of a trash can.

And in response to a critic accusing him of “racist profanity,” White tweeted: “314 days until @BuckheadCityGA is free of racist thinking. No one in Buckhead wants a mayor talking about making Atlanta more white, hispanic, asian, or black. That’s racist (1952 style).”

That’s a reference to the year of Buckhead’s annexation — the act that the BCC originally presented as a racist wrong it would undo.

Retweeting VDARE

Just days after his criticism of “racist thinking,” White retweeted the racist comment from the account of VDARE, igniting widespread criticism.

A screenshot of White’s retweet of VDARE’s comment.

Founded over 20 years ago, VDARE is focused on articles about restricting immigration. Initially it was considered a relatively mainstream, conservative site. However, over the years VDARE has published writings by white nationalists and similar racially focused authors, leading to its designation as a “hate” or “extremist” outlet by such political advocacy groups as the Southern Poverty Law Center. Among metro Atlanta locals who have written for VDARE are Phil Kent, a publisher, commentator and FOX5 “Georgia Gang” panelist who still has a 2007 article on the site and follows its Twitter account; Kent himself a decade ago was controversially named a “hate group leader” by the SPLC for his work with other immigration-related groups, which he dismissed at the time as publicity-seeking by the advocacy organization. (Kent did not respond to a comment request.)

White’s VDARE incident began with a Jan. 1 tweet from a ProPublica journalist about record murder rates in several U.S. cities. The VDARE retweeted the journalist, commenting: “Atlanta also set a record this year. What do all these cities have in common as who [sic] is behind the carnage? Especially Jackson, MS (hint: city is 82 percent black).”

White then tweeted VDARE, adding: “@BuckheadCityGA NOW.”

Facing immediate negative commentary, White soon deleted the tweet and apologized, saying he had mistakenly reposted the comment without reading it.

“Buckhead City and its leaders condemn all forms of hate speech and intolerance in the strongest possible terms,” White said in the written statement provided later through the public relations company. “Rather than retweet a link to a news article about Atlanta’s rising violent crime rate, I mistakenly retweeted another entity’s inexcusably racist comments on the article. I was going too fast, and I made a mistake. That’s all this was — an unfortunate mistake. I deleted my retweet as soon as I realized what happened. I remain sincerely sorry for my error and apologize again to those who it offended.”

Cityhood opponents were not appeased. The anti-cityhood group Neighbors for a United Atlanta denounced the tweet in a press release as “hate speech” and White’s explanation as a “prevarication.”

“Instead of promoting Atlanta’s legacy of civil rights, sustained economic growth, or its unbound potential, today’s action by Mr. White tarnishes Atlanta’s reputation,” said Neighbors chair Humberto García-Sjögrim.

“Sorry, you’re not hiding from this,” wrote District 4 Atlanta City Councilmember Jason Dozier, reposting a screenshot of the deleted tweet. “White supremacists aren’t welcome in Atlanta. End of story.”

State Rep. Betsy Holland, a Buckhead Democrat, criticized White’s Dickens and VDARE posts.

“I find Bill White amplifying the messages of a hate group like VDARE very concerning,” she said in an email. “In challenging times, we desperately need advocates who value working together and respecting Atlanta’s broad diversity. This is the City Too Busy To Hate — there’s no room for folks retweeting white supremacists or demeaning others with name-calling.”

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