Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
A small Tennessee town is bracing for what some fear could be a repeat of the violent clashes earlier this year in Charlottesville, Virginia.
An umbrella group of white nationalists calling themselves the Nationalist Front has planned a “White Lives Matter” rally for Saturday in Shelbyville, a town located about 60 miles southeast of Nashville. According to the event page, the rally will begin in the morning in downtown Shelbyville, followed by a private meet-up of white nationalists.
In a statement posted on Facebook, the Shelbyville mayor's office said that the white nationalist rally did not require a city permit and that it had not been contacted by counter-protesters.
Residents of the town told the Tennessean, they were worried violence would erupt.
“The City of Shelbyville has a responsibility to protect free speech rights,” the mayor's office wrote. “Given the recent incidents in our country surrounding protest and counter-protests, the City is taking very seriously multiple concerns regarding the safety of expected protesters, counter-protesters, the public, and the protection of public and private property from damage.”
The mayor said that police will strictly enforce separation of the two sides.
In neighboring Murfreesboro, where there may be a second demonstration on Saturday and where many white nationalists plan to stay during the weekend, the mayor posted a video on Facebook rebuking the group and featuring a number of local pastors with the hashtag #wearemurfreesboro.
Local events have been cancelled in anticipation of unrest.
According to one of the rally's organizers, Brad Griffin, Nationalist Front includes the neo-Confederate League of the South, the KKK-affiliated Traditionalist Worker’s Party, National Socialist Movement (same name as Hitler's “National Socialist” party, aka the Nazi party), Vanguard America, Anti-Communist Action, The Right Stuff, the Daily Stormer, and the League of the South.
James Alex Fields, charged with second-degree murder for allegedly running his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville in August, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, marched with Vanguard America during the rally.
Griffin runs the white nationalist blog Occidental Dissent under the pen name Hunter Wallace, and serves as public relations for the League of the South.
Griffin said the aim of the rally is to draw more attention to the shooting last month at Emmanuel Samson Church in Antioch, Tennessee, and to protest refugee resettlement in the state. He and others are upset that Sudan is no longer on the travel ban list and that Trump has not begun construction of the wall on the border with Mexico.
Griffin and other organizers have issued a series of directives on the event's invite. Here are some:
“The tragic events in Antioch, which was retaliation for the Dylann Roof shooting in Charleston, illustrated that the national media only cares about pushing its false narrative of White racism and black victimhood.”
“Objectives: Draw national attention to the Emanuel Samson church shooting. Foster greater unity and cohesion within our own movement. Turn the page on Charlottesville.”
“Chants will include WHITE LIVES MATTER, BLOOD AND SOIL and YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US.”
“DO NOT bring a swastika flag. This is a settled issue in the Nationalist Front.”
“Blood and soil” and “You will not replace us” are traditional KKK chants. These same groups chanted the same slogans during a torchlit march on the University of Virginia's campus in August.
Michael Hill, president of the League of the South, issued a statement Wednesday outlining “legal and moral constraints” for all League members, which included:
Obey all authorities charged with keeping public order. If you believe an order or command of a public official violates your right to free speech, assembly, or some other matter, report this to our League leaders and we will in turn report to our attorneys on the scene.
“Engage in violence, and at the proper level, only in defense of your own person, that of your compatriots, and your property.”
White nationalists at protests around the country have maintained that they were the victims of violence and did not start physical altercations, despite several instances where that was not the case, including in Charlottesville.
Griffin said he and other white nationalists have laid low during the backlash over Charlottesville, retreating mostly to private events and working on their web presence after tech companies barred them from technological services.
“I think staying quiet worked to allow the backlash to calm down,” he said.
Griffin also said many white nationalists no longer have a trusting relationship with law enforcement because Charlottesville police removed them from Emancipation Park after violence erupted.