"White Lives Matter" Protestors In Tennessee Were Drowned Out By People Blasting MLK's Speech
Hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis descended on Shelbyville, Tennessee, for a "White Lives Matter" rally on Saturday to demonstrate against refugees. Protestors took to the streets and chanted various slogans associated with white supremacist movements, but they were reportedly drowned out at times by counter-protesters who blasted Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech and songs like "La Bamba" on a PA system.
The rally was organized by The Nationalist Front, a white supremacist organization which operates as an umbrella network for other white nationalist groups across the country. The website for the organization says that it seeks an ethno-state based on white nationalism through the "Balkanization" of the United States of America. Its mission, in simple terms, is to create a sovereign nation based on ethnic background.
Protestors from outside Shelbyville attended the rally under various white nationalist groups. Factions like The Anti-Communist Action, The Right Stuff, Traditionalist Worker Party, League of the South, and The National Socialist Movement were present, according to The Huffington Post. Some brought signs like "White Lives Matter," and there were reports of marchers throwing Nazi salutes in the air. White nationalists also chanted "blood and soil," a slogan that first originated in the early days of Nazi Germany, and "Jews will not replace us."
The selection of Shelbyville as the main point for congregating under racist banners and chants seemed to be a calculated move on part of the white nationalist groups. The small town has recently undergone a demographic change with a growing number of immigrants and refugees in the area. Most of these immigrants are from Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, including a small number of Muslims.
Reports cite white supremacists openly pointing to the demographic change as the reason for Saturday's rally. Brad Griffin, a League of the South member, told USA Today, "There has been a big dumping of refugees all over the area."
In response to the rally, the Shelbyville city council issued a resolution to maintain law and order. Mayor Ewing Wallace Cartwright did not specifically denounce the extremist views expressed by the marchers, but he said that the "community is caught between conflicting ideological ideas."
White nationalists also swamped Murfreesboro, another Tennessee town, on Saturday. Mayor Shane McFarland's condemned "in no uncertain terms" white supremacists and white nationalists' ideologies. On Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam issued a strong denunciation of the "White Lives Matter" rallies as well: "We want to send a really clear message that these folks are not welcome in Tennessee. If you’re part of the white supremacist movement you’re not somebody that we want in Tennessee."
Reports noted that the Shelbyville and Murfreesboro rallies were the largest gatherings of white nationalists since Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. The rally turned violent in Charlottesville, and an anti-racist protester named Heather Heyer was killed after a man plowed his car into the crowd there. On Saturday, BuzzFeed News' Andrew Kimmel shared a video of a counter-protester in Tennessee recounting a speaker at Shelbyville's rally telling other white nationalists, "I don't see Heather Heyer in the crowd over there."
The events in Charlottesville had left many anxious about whether white nationalist rallies in Tennessee would devolve into violence, too. On Friday, some Murfreesboro storefronts boarded up their doors and windows in anticipation of the rally, in case it turned violent. Organizers of the "White Lives Matter" rallies were reportedly concerned about violence, too, urging attendees not to bring guns.
Separated from the White Lives Matter rally-goers by police, who erected barriers between them, counter-protesters in Tennessee got creative. In Shelbyville, they chanted back at white nationalists, and some dressed up as clowns to mock them. One video on social media showed a tuba player trolling white nationalists as they marched. In Murfreesboro, long lines of counter-protestors took to the streets for their own #MurfreesboroLove rally.