Why did North Carolina Rednecks Block Tesla Superchargers?

Hickory NC is the most visible flashpoint in anti-EV tantrums

In late December 2018, Hickory, North Carolina, became the latest flashpoint between the old and the new. A trio of pickup- and SUV-driving local men decided to aggressively block access to the local Tesla Superchargers. They chanted ‘fuck Tesla’, threatened to ram one of the waiting Teslas with their trucks and had to be ordered off the property by an employee of the store the Superchargers were located at. The Superchargers were at the back of the lot and there were many empty spots the men could have parked in, so nothing was being taken from them.

What would motivate this trio of men?

The world is changing. Some people aren’t cut out for change due to a combination of genetics, unfortunate choice of parents, and place of birth (none of which they chose). And they are struggling to make sense of a world which doesn’t value them the way it valued their fathers. And so, they act out, stupidly.

These men are to be pitied. Except for the ones who radicalize and are to be feared. And there are a lot of them these days.

Hickory, North Carolina image courtesy Google Maps

Hickory is a town of 40,000 with a density of 1,300 per square mile, a bit over the 1,000 per square mile necessary to call it urban, but at 40,000, it’s definitely a town. It’s in an area of North Carolina dotted with smaller towns, so it’s the big town in the region. It’s more rural than not. Hickory is home to the speedway considered the birthplace of NASCAR.

What’s interesting about Hickory is that it is a data center hub, home to both Google and Apple data centers, and makes 40% of the world’s fiber optic cable. That has supplanted the town’s historical industry of making furniture. At one point, 60% of the USA’s furniture was made in and around Hickory. Now, the money has shifted.

That’s a legacy, physical industry supplanted by modern information-economy industries which require a lot fewer workers with very different skills and education, and the change probably happened in the last 20–30 years. These men are probably the children of mothers and fathers who worked in furniture factories and grew up expecting to work in the factories themselves, able to afford their pickup trucks, NASCAR races, and the like.

But now they can’t. Furniture factory jobs have dried up and probably been automated as well. The new industries require educations that they and their parents probably had no clue about. This doesn’t make them stupid, lacking in work ethic or a desire to succeed, just not attuned to the rapid changes sweeping the world.

And then Tesla sets up a Supercharger in town to service well off, modern-economy people driving between major cities. People with modern economy skills. People with money. People who don’t drive pickups and probably don’t like NASCAR. People who look down on people like these men.

Blocking of Tesla and other electric vehicle chargers is happening across the USA right now. It’s associated with the deeply atavistic rolling-coal phenomenon, where diesel pickup drivers install devices that detune their engines to the point where they spew gouts of dense, black, unhealthy smoke.

Mostly this is aimed at cars that they perceive as virtuous and green, such as the Toyota Prius. Sometimes it’s aimed at any car that’s expensive, including at least once a late model Corvette. It’s stupid, ugly, obnoxious and intentional. It’s malignant behavior.

But even a very rich Tesla shorter, Mark Spiegel, proudly bragged about parking his Porsche Boxster in a Tesla Supercharger slot in 2018. He’s an outlier, but perhaps also a cause, given the dynamic of anti-Tesla shorters and PR campaigns.

Were they really rednecks?

According to Google dictionary, the definition of a redneck is:

a working-class white person, especially a politically reactionary one from a rural area.

Let’s crop the picture down a bit and have a look.

That first truck is not a late model pickup. The other two are a bit more recent, but doesn’t read as a collection of trust fund kids. Working class: check.

Let’s crop it a bit further.

Yup, those guys are white. Check.

Hickory, as was established earlier, is fairly rural.

What about reactionary?

(of a person or a set of views) opposing political or social liberalization or reform.

It’s hard to categorize the tantrum that these light truck owners had in Hickory as anything other than reactionary. They weren’t protesting to establish positive change or to hold onto a positive good in the face of opposition, they were acting out in the face of positive change. Intentionally blocking EV slots in a town that covers 29 square miles is a targeted reaction.

What else might be going on?

While one of these men might be a closet Democrat, I think it’s pretty safe to say that they are more likely to be at minimum Republicans, and given the demographic probably shading to alt-right. One of the things young, white males who are further right in the political spectrum increasingly have in common is climate change denial.

strong evidence has emerged from multiple peer-reviewed and published studies that if you scratch a white, male, far-right nationalist, you’ll find a denier of climate science as well.

That the less enlightened on the right consider electric cars to be more of a problem than a solution isn’t a surprise. Pew Research did a good study on this a while ago as part of its assessments of climate change attitudes.

Chart courtesy Pew Research.

Conservatives are less likely to believe the science of climate change to begin with, although a majority of US conservatives have come to grudgingly accept its reality if not the severity of the threat. But they are much less likely to accept any of the solutions for global warming.

They don’t like fuel efficiency standards and they don’t like electric cars.

So we have an intersecting set of challenges. We have right-wing tribalism which is expressed in three ways. The first is reaction to the rich city folks. The second is climate change denial. The third is reaction to solutions to global warming. And we have a group, at least in the case of the three men in Hickory, who are likely being left behind in the rapid transformation of the US economy.

Given the likely overlaps of this group with other signifiers of the US right at present, especially gun ownership, the situation in Hickory likely had the best outcome possible. The shouting, the physical intimidation, the threat of ramming a Tesla were undoubtedly nerve-wracking for the innocent Tesla drivers who were just trying to charge up and get on their way. But no one was physically hurt. This time.

A version of this article was originally published on CleanTechnica.



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