Murfreesboro and Shelbyville are bracing for Saturday’s “White Lives Matter” rallies that have already drawn widespread attention.
Officials have issued public safety plans and people are organizing counter protests to challenge the messages of the League of the South and other similar extremist groups. Tensions heading into the Middle Tennessee rallies are high given the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August between white supremacists and radical leftist counter demonstrators.
The League of the South describes itself on its website as a “Southern Nationalist organization that seeks the survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people.” The group’s leader, Michael Hill, says the group is demonstrating “to call attention to the continuing influx of African immigrants/refugees into middle Tennessee, and to protest the recent black-on-white church shooting in Antioch.” The group has allied itself with the Nationalist Front, National Socialist Movement (NSM) and the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP).
The Murfreesboro Police Department and Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department released a joint statement Wednesday about the rally set to be held in the city’s downtown public square Saturday afternoon. The statement said the departments “will partner with federal, state, and other local law enforcement agencies to ensure the constitutional rights and safety of citizens.”
The statement said the League of the South filed an application to hold the event and that neither the city nor the county can legally prohibit it because of the right to free speech and the right to peaceably assemble guaranteed by the First Amendment. However, the statement said “the views of the League of the South are not from this community” and expressed pride in “the community we are building and the diversity of its residents.”
Officers will close the public square to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic at 3 a.m. Saturday and by that time all drivers must remove their cars from the square and from all streets within a one-block radius. Weapons and masks are not allowed at or near the rally. Officers will search everyone in the area. They are asking curious residents to stay away.
Earlier this month, the city of Shelbyville issued a press release saying the League of the South notified the city that the group would hold a sidewalk rally starting mid-morning Saturday. The rally does not require a permit nor any official approval, the press release said. As in Murfreesboro, the League of the South is expected to be joined by its allies. Counter protesters will be kept separated from the rally-goers and officials have advised the public to be aware of road closures.
Hill has told League of the South members not to initiate physical contact with anyone and not to incite illegal behavior.
In Murfreesboro, a group called “Murfreesboro Loves” has formed to hold a counter protest. The group plans to hold marches, prayers and rallies in different areas away from the public square.
Allen Jackson, senior pastor of World Outreach Church in Murfreesboro, said during a worship service earlier this month that while free speech should be respected, he wants people to know that the League of the South and its allies “weren’t invited to our community.”
“We’re a diverse community and I think that’s a wonderful thing,” said Jackson, who asked church members to fast and pray for Murfreesboro.
Jackson was among a group of local pastors featured in a video released last week in which Mufreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland described a spirit of unity in the city.