‘White Lives Matter’ rallies: Opponents outnumber white nationalists at Tennessee shout fests – USA TODAY
White nationalist groups will gather in Tennessee for ‘White Lives Matter’ rallies.
video by Michael Schwab/Tennessean
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. â Opponents outnumbered white nationalists Saturday in peacefulÂ “White Lives Matter” ralliesÂ in Tennessee that were punctuated by taunts and chants from both sides.
In Shelbyville, the site of the first rally, someÂ 200Â whiteÂ nationalists â met by nearly twice as many counter protesters â carriedÂ a Confederate flag and chantedÂ for closed borders and deportationsÂ at a mid-morning gathering.
Â As Brian Culpepper of the National Socialist Movement took the microphone to speak, counter protesters played Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech over their own speaker system, largely drowning outÂ Culpepper’s words.
At one point,Â counter protesters’ shouts ofÂ “Black Lives Matter” were met by white nationalistÂ chants ofÂ “blood and soil.”
The two sides, however, were kept well apart as law enforcement officersÂ funneled them ontoÂ sidewalks on opposite sides of a four-lane road.
The protesters showed up here and in Shelbyville, 25 miles south, despite comments by Gov. Bill Haslam that “these folks” were not welcome in the state. The rallies had raised fears in the community of a repeat of the Charlottesville, Va., rallyÂ in August that turned deadly.Â
In Murfreesboro, a town of 130,000 people,Â wary business owners hadÂ boarded up windows downtown andÂ residents held aÂ prayerÂ vigil Friday night nearÂ the rally site.
On Saturday afternoon, some 500 peopleÂ â but only around 15 white nationalistsÂ âÂ lined Church Street, one of the city’s busiest corridors, as counter protesters chantedÂ “refugees are welcome here” and “this is what democracy looks like.”Â
When the formal rally kicked off, theÂ demonstration largely fizzled as the outnumbered handful of white nationalists faced counter protesters across a downtown square with only a 15-foot gap between them.Â
After exchanging taunts, with counter protesters chanting “Nazis go home” and “shame,” most of the crowd dispersed within a half hour.
Organizers of theÂ rallies hadÂ said theyÂ aimed at protestingÂ refugee resettlement and immigration to Middle Tennessee, specifically noting the presence of Somali and Sudanese people inÂ the region.
In Shelbyville, police Lt. Brian Crews said oneÂ man was arrestedÂ for disorderly conduct and exhibiting “threatening behavior.” While Crews would not identify the man, it was clear that the arrest was made on the white nationalist side of the demonstration, although it was not certainÂ if he was participating with that group.
Members of the League of the South, theÂ white nationalist group that helped organize the “White Lives Matter” rally, carried a sign calling “southern cultural genocide.” Michael Hill, president of the league,Â said “Hail Dixie” and “Hail victory!” over the loudspeakers.
The crowd of mostly men in Shelbyville at mid-morning included some carrying shields or covering their faces with masks or bandanas. Before marching toward the security checkpoint, an organizer asked the group to put their weapons back in the car.
Thor Henderson, a grand officer in Georgia for the International Keystone Knights, a Ku Klux Klan group, said he was marching to bring awareness to the September shooting at a NashvilleÂ church.
Some people there had “tradworker” written on their shields â alluding to the Traditionalist Worker Party, another white supremacy group. On their website, that group also listed the shooting as a reason to participate in the rally.
One woman was killed and seven others were injured in theÂ shooting at theÂ Antioch church last month. TheÂ suspect, Emanuel Kidega Samson, is a legal U.S. resident from Sudan.
“We’ve been here marching for the white peoples’ rights,” said Henderson. “Making a stand and bringing awareness to what’s going on … and maybe we can wake up the general public and just open their eyes.”
Some 300Â counter protesters were also on hand early, heading to a separate staging location designated by police.
Vegas Longlois came from Birmingham with other members of the Democratic Socialists of America.Â
âWe can’t let hate go unchecked in the nation,â said Longlois. The 23-year-oldÂ said refugee populations need to know they are supported.
Gov. Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials wouldÂ be out “in full force” for bothÂ rallies.
“We want to send a really clear message that these folks are not welcome in Tennessee,” the governor told reporters Friday in Gatlinburg. “If youâre part of the white supremacist movement youâre not somebody that we want in Tennessee.”
In addition to demonstrators from the League of the South and the Traditionalist Worker Party, affiliate groups including theÂ National Socialist Movement andÂ Vanguard America, all collectively known as the Nationalist Front, were expected to attend. All areÂ classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as white nationalist and white supremacist groups.
The counter protesters include the loosely organized anti-Fascist group commonly known as Antifa, local faith leaders, interfaith and community organizers as well as other anti-racist organizations.
Officials have said they expectÂ counter protesters to outnumber rally attendees by as much as four times.
The clashes in Charlottesville,Â Va., in AugustÂ left a 32-year-old womanÂ dead after a speeding car drivenÂ by a white nationalist rally goer slammed into a throng of counter demonstrators. Nineteen people were injured.
Doug Stanglin reportedÂ from McLean, Va.Â Stephanie Ingersoll, Daily News Journal, reportedÂ from Murfreesboro, Tenn. Contributing:Â Natalie Allison, Daily News Journal