In spite of white supremacists descending upon Tennessee on Saturday morning, the organizers of the Black Lives Matter did not protest the Neo-Nazi marches, and they offered a thought-provoking reason as to why. White Americans, the organization's statement said, need to step forward and take direct action against Nazism.
In an official statement, Black Lives Matter organizer Mia Jaye Thomas explained the reason behind their refusal to counter-protest the Saturday morning Nazi congregation. Thomas said these kind of rallies "are used as scapegoats for institutions and white America at large; it becomes a chance to point fingers at the obvious racists." Thomas added:
In reality, it is both the practice of overt and covert racism that makes these violent and hateful rallies of Klansmen and neo-Nazis possible. It is white America who invited them in, and it is white America who has the responsibility to see them out.
One of the strategies for confronting white supremacy that Thomas outlined in the official statement pointed to direct confrontation. "We believe that these rallies are times for white people to step up," Thomas said. "Although it is scary, cowering in fear, hiding behind closed businesses or relying on protection from law enforcement will not effectively combat white supremacy. For many people of color, the daily experiences of living in America offer no safe places to hide or people to call for protection."
She added, "Our hope is that any counter-protest will extend its message to discussing the myriad ways black people are disproportionately and negatively impacted by the systemic policies that undergird this country."
Anti-racism activists got creative to express their disagreement with the ideology espoused by the white nationalist organizers. Counter-protesters present at the rally managed to drown some white supremacist factions out with PA systems playing Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech along with songs like "La Bamba."
The Saturday morning march was initially organized by the white supremacist organization known as The Nationalist Front. The organization functions as an umbrella network for other factions — like The Anti-Communist Action, The National Socialist Movement, and League of the South — and its website openly calls for a state based on ethnicity. The Nationalist Front mission statement centers on a demand for the "Balkanization" of the United States wherein different ethnic groups should be, according to the website, divided and given their own sovereign states on purely ethnic lines. "The only logical solution to the racial strife in America," the website's statement page says, "is to follow the example of the dissolution of the USSR and to Balkanize the nation ethnically and culturally."
A USA Today report indicated that Shelbyville was chosen as a strategic point for The Nationalist Front. The city has recently witnessed a growing number of Latin and African immigrants, including a small number of Muslim refugees from Somalia and Iraq who were fleeing wars, in the past few years. One of the marchers Brad Griffin, who is also a member of the white nationalist group, League of The South said, "We don’t want the federal government to keep dumping all these refugees into middle Tennessee."
Thomas' statement also touched upon the anti-immigrant element of the march and said, "We know that they are here because they want to incite fear in our black and brown immigrant communities," she said. "We know that they are here because our resistance against the devaluation of our lives is growing, and they feel their power to divide us being threatened."
The Shelbyville city council's modus operandi for the march has been centered on maintaining law and order, and protecting people as well as property. This could be to avoid the kind of outcome that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, a few months ago. The white supremacist rally in Virginia took a fatal turn when anti-racist protester Heather Heyer was reportedly killed when a white nationalist drove his car into a group of counter-protesters. Shelbyville Mayor Ewing Wallace Cartwright did not outrightly denounce the Neo-Nazi views expressed by the organizers but said that the "community is caught between conflicting ideological ideas."
Ultimately, the kind of solidarity needed at this hour, according to Thomas, should be about questioning white America's complicity in "upholding" of the "pillars of white supremacy."
"Taking the time to question your fears, unpack the ways you uphold the pillars of white supremacy and continue the difficult task of dismantling the many institutions in place that reinforce white supremacy — long after the rallies are gone — is the type of solidarity needed in these times," Thomas said.