About 200 people representing the Nationalist Front – the same group of white supremacists that sponsored the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville that descended into violence nearly three months ago – gathered in Shelbyville on Saturday morning. This time they were uniting to protest refugee resettlement in Tennessee by bringing attention, they said, to a church shooting in nearby Antioch last month by a 25-year-old man who came to the U.S. from Sudan as a child. One person was killed and at least seven others injured in the Antioch shooting, which the Nationalist Front said was given scant attention by the media.
There would be no such complaints about Saturday’s heavily covered protests, though the visuals could not have pleased the white nationalists. Quarantined to one street corner in Shelbyville, a town of about 21,000, their message was often drowned out by about 400 counter-demonstrators, who greeted their chants of “Blood and Soil” and “White Lives Matter” with derisive taunts and loud music from the likes of Bob Marley.
“All you people over there – your day is coming,” warned Michael Hill, president of the League of the South, one of the groups behind Saturday’s protest. “You’re responsible for more damage in the past century than anybody else.”
Barely audible over the counter-protesters, Hill said, “We are here to stake a claim to that which belongs to us. We will not give up until we won this fight.”
An hour later, Hunter Wallace, identifying himself as the public relations chief for the League of the South, tweeted that the second protest, to be held about 20 miles away in Murfreesboro, was “not worth the risk.”
About 600 protesters who were waiting for them there, and when news of the cancellation spread they cheered the news with chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “Murfreesboro loves.”
“I have to stand up against evil,” said Ione Smith, who drove 40 miles from Lebanon to protest the white nationalists. “We’re the Volunteer State for a reason. We’re friendly. We accept people.”
In both Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, law enforcement enacted strict measures, making everyone who entered their town squares go through a security checkpoint. Everything from guns to cigarette lighters to selfie sticks were prohibited.
The clampdown worked, with no reports of violence and only one arrest, in Shelbyville.
In Murfreesboro, about a dozen people showed up in to protest along with the white nationalists, apparently unaware the event was canceled.
“We’re here to expose the bias of the national media against reporting black on white crime,” said Calvin Tate, 28, of Murfreesboro. “This isn’t about white supremacy. It’s about exercising our First Amendment rights.”
A few feet away, a family, with children as young as 6 years old, posed for cameras with Nazi salutes.
“We are the supreme race,” said Michael Clement, a white man from Shelbyville. “Just because we have people against us, we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for what we believe in.”