Racist leader’s death was suicide, authorities say

Craig Spaulding at a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020 in Knoxville. Note the pistol in his right hand as he and other white nationalists drive through a crowd of civil rights activists. Photo submitted.

Authorities have determined that a Knoxville man who earned widespread notoriety as a violent white supremacist committed suicide two months ago while he was drunk and showing a child how to fire a handgun.

The death of Craig Spaulding, age 33, on April 8 was initially characterized in police reports as an accidental shooting, but investigators from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office have since ruled it was a suicide, KCSO spokesperson Kimberly Glenn said Monday. 

Spaulding was a self-described white nationalist, which means he was a member of a group of militant white men and women who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation. 

White supremacists under Spaulding’s leadership have been operating in the area and traveling to events outside of East Tennessee for several years, such as the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. 

According to the medical examiner’s report, Spaulding was visiting a friend’s house on Belt Road in South Knox County on the evening of April 8.

The two men were drinking alcohol, the report said. Spaulding was carrying his regular sidearm, a .25 caliber Ruger pistol, and he suggested they use the weapon to shoot bottles. The minor son of Spaulding’s friend was also present, and Spaulding apparently decided to teach the boy how to use the gun. 

Spaulding was standing with the boy and “racking the gun back and forth and flipping the safety on and off” when he suddenly raised the gun up to his head and pulled the trigger, the report said.  

He was rushed to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where it was determined he had a non-survivable brain injury. At his family’s request, he was placed on “comfort care measures” and died the next morning.  

Page from the medical examiner’s report.

There was no suicide note, and the report didn’t mention any possible motives. Spaulding’s blood alcohol content was later determined to be .296, more than three-and-a-half times the legal limit for someone to legally drive a motor vehicle, the report states. 

Spaulding tested negative for commonly abused illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine or methamphetamine. He tested positive for ketamine and Midazolam, but since those drugs are commonly used to treat terminally injured patients they were likely administered by hospital staff to prevent him from suffering in his final hours.  

Officials from the Knox County Regional Forensic Center declined to discuss any of their findings. A spokesperson said the center’s responsibility ended with the public release of death records. 

A KCSO incident report filed April 8 stated that a Beretta 950 was taken from the scene but no further reference to the gun was made in the case records that were available Monday.     

Hard Knox Wire obtained Spaulding’s autopsy report several weeks ago but decided not to publish the results pending the completion of KCSO’s investigation. The case was handled by Capt. Steve Sanders, Detective Chad White and Detective Kenneth Allen. 

Craig Spaulding left behind his wife, Britney, and three children.  

Little else is known about Spaulding’s personal life. Over the past few years, however, he became a well-known local personality in far-right political circles.

According to the Left-wing activist group Knoxville Radical Alliance, Spaulding was spotted working a booth for Ragnarok Tactical at a gun show in the Knoxville Expo Center in January of this year. Ragnarok Tactical sells firearm parts, ammunition and accessories, mostly at the Smoky Mountain Flea Market in Sevier County.  

Craig Spaulding after his 2020 arrest in Rogersville.

“Ragnarok” is a reference to the apocalypse in Norse, or Viking, mythology. Many white supremacists, borrowing from their Nazi roots, have tried adopting elements of Viking culture and religion. 

Spaulding would often show up to gay pride and anti-racist events where he would yell anti-gay and racist insults at participants. His tendency to use violent and threatening rhetoric caused many local activists to keep an eye on his behavior at these events. Spaulding was escorted away by police on several occasions, and he was photographed on one occasion with a gun in his hand.  

Spaulding was one of eight white supremacists who were arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest in Rogersville in 2020. 

Immediately following Spaulding’s death, statements were published on the white supremacist Telegram channels, NSC-New England and Radio Free Indiana. He was praised in a post attributed to Matt Parrott as a man who “lived a passionate life dedicated to his Christian faith, his beautiful family, and his Appalachian folk.”  

“He embodied the ideal of the ‘cultured thug’ more than any man I’ve known; philosophically, metapolitically, and strategically—with heart,” Parrot said.

Spaulding’s friends and family have either declined to comment or haven’t replied to requests for comment about the ruling on his manner of death.

Christian Exoo, a senior researcher at Deplatform Hate, another Left-wing group, weighed in with some final thoughts about Spaulding. 

“Suicide is always a tragedy that resists categorization, but there are mitigating factors,” he said. “A prevailing theory of suicide posits that human connection can act as a buffer, but in his embrace of far-right politics, Spaulding chose to reject over 70% of the population— anyone not white, male, cis, straight, or Christian. I can’t help but wonder how Spaulding’s life may have gone had he not chosen to reject people with whom he could have otherwise had real, loving, and human relationships.”

Craig Spaulding as a counter-protester at a LGBTQ Pride event. Photo submitted.

Jennifer Stambaugh can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com 

Published on June 29, 2021