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Thousands of people are expected to gather at white nationalist demonstrations Saturday in two Middle Tennessee cities. Rallies are scheduled for the morning hours in Shelbysville and during the afternoon in Murfreesboro.
The White Lives Matter rallies received approval in recent weeks through city officials because of the First Amendment, but are expected to be met with large counter protests that could have the potential to turn violent. Officials in both cities have taken extreme precautions in preparing for the events, with many denouncing the hate rallies.
Here’s what you need to know about the rallies in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville on Saturday:
1. Two White Supremacist Rallies Have Been Planned by Groups
Members of the nationalist groups are expected to hold rallies Saturday afternoon in two locations: Shelbyville and Murfreesboro. According to The Tennessean, members from the League of the South, the Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard America and other groups affiliated with the National Socialist Movement are expected to be in attendance.
The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the League of the South as a “neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by European Americans.” It refers to the other groups as being groups that encourage white nationalism and white supremacism.
Some of the groups associated with Saturday’s rally are the same that took part in the Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia in August. The demonstrations turned violent, and one person was killed when a vehicle driven by James Alex Fields hit dozens of counter protesters who were in the street.
A permit for the rally in Murfreesboro states the event will take place from 1-4 p.m. local time on the grounds of Downtown Square near the historic courthouse downtown. The one in Shelbyville is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., but it’s only expected to last a short while.
Various white nationalist speakers are expected to attend the rallies and give speeches, including League of the South president Michael Hill and Traditionalist Worker Party leader Matthew Heimbach. An invitation was also send to alt-right leaader Richard Spencer, but there was no word on if he plans to attend.
2. Many Protesters & Antifa Are Expected at Counter Protests
In response to the “White Lives Matter” rallies, there are also counter-protests planned. The anti-Facist protesters Antifa are expected to hold demonstrations together with faith leaders and community organizers near the White Lives Matter rally.
One event planned on Facebook titled, “Stop the nazi and kkk supremacene Oct 28th in Shelbyville!” says that over 1,000 people are “interested” in attending. The event description says it’s the community’s “obligation” to “mock, ridicule and laugh” the White Lives Matter protesters out of town.
Hey there are no brothers or sisters under those hoods, those are white people saying they are there to protect white people which makes them the white communities responsibility to deal with. So white folks (or shade therein) yall come! Others are welcome but these pointy headed fools are our problem and we all have an obligation to come mock, ridicule and laugh them off the streets with a resounding, “Ya’ll are not welcome, you do not defend or in any way respresent me or my community.”
Counter protesters in Shelbyville are asked to arrive by 9 a.m., and a “community cookout” has been planned as a “solidarity event.”
An event on Facebook titled “Counter Protest Hate Groups in Murfreesboro 10/28 Stop the Hate!” says that almost 700 people are expected to attend the demonstration. The events are planned in coordination with the Tennessee Anti-Racist Network and “Murfreesboro Loves,” a community organization with a goal of ending hate.
Event organizers are asking people to gather for the counter protest at 11 a.m. in Barfield Park before being briefed on safety and other instruction. The group notes that it will have a security and safety team and encouraged demonstrators to “wear your GoPro camera if you have one.”
“Nazis are not welcome here,” event co-organizer Kirk Braaten told News Channel 5. “White supremacists are not welcome here. Your message is not welcome here. Your attempts to promote your ideology are not welcome here.”
3. City Leaders Have Denounced the “White Lives Matter” Rally
The White Lives Matter rallies have been denounced by many city officials, including Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland. His office issued a statement three days ahead of the scheduled rally, saying he was “deeply saddened that any group can come in and create chaos and fear in our city.”
Read his full statement below:
In anticipation of the rallies, about 40 church members gathered to pray and sing songs of worship in the same place the events are set to take place Saturday. Those in attendance said they were praying for peace.
“We felt like it made sense to do this on the square and specifically focus on safety for this weekend… that the forces of evil will be stopped and our city will be known for love and not for tragedy or hate,” Seeds Church pastor J.D. Swilley told The Daily News Journal.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Friday that white supremacists “are not welcome” in his state and vowed to take action if things turn violent.
“We want to send a really clear message that these folks are not welcome in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “If you’re part of the white supremacist movement you’re not somebody that we want in Tennessee.”
4. Many Businesses Will Be Boarded up & City Streets Will Be Closed
Haslam has placed the National Guard, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on notice, making sure they’re ready to go if needed. The threat of violence has spurred many around the two cities to take action. Some business owners in the downtown areas have boarded up their shops in preparation for the rallies.
“I’ve had years in risk management,” business owner Ed Loughry told The Daily News Journal. “And that instructs one to address what risks you feel like you have and try to deal with them in other ways rather than just let the insurance policy cover it.”
A majority of the businesses in the downtown area have decided to close for the day. The swarms of people gathering to the small cities has also prompted many road closures and event cancellations.
Officials said the Downtown Square area in Murfreesboro will be closed to all vehicle and pedestrian traffic beginning 3 a.m. Saturday. There are also a number of street closures near the area where the protests will be taking place.
Check below for the road closures:
College Street between North Walnut and North Spring Street.
East and West Main Street between Walnut Street and Spring Street.
Vine Street between South Walnut Street and South Spring Street.
Walnut Street between West College Street and West Vine Street.
Maple Street between West College Street and West Vine Street.
Church Street between East College Street and East Vine Street.
Spring Street between East College Street and East Vine Street.
West Tommy Martin Drive between Vine Street and N.W. Broad Street.
Middle Tennessee State University also canceled a high school band competition that was planned for Saturday, and many dormitories on campus will be locked overnight.
The same applies to Shelbysville, as main roads are scheduled to be closed and parking won’t be allowed on city streets in the area.
On Friday, the Murfreesboro Police Department released a list of items that are banned at the rally. It includes backpacks, purses and other bags.
“To ensure everyone’s safety, many items will be prohibited from the area,” Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh and Murfreesboro Interim Police Chief Michal Bowen said in a joint statement. “We will require everyone to comply with the restrictions. We are committed to taking precautions to keep the area secure.”
Aerosol cans, spray cans and pressurized canisters;
Air horns and similar noise-making devices;
Axes, ax handles and hatchets;
Baseball and softball bats;
Batons and clubs;
Bicycle locks, including U-Lock bike locks;
Biological agents or biohazards;
Blades and bladed items, including knives, daggers, swords and razor blades;
Bows and arrows;
Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems;
Firearms, including licensed concealed or open-carry firearms;
Gasoline, kerosene or any other flammable liquid;
Glass, thermal or metal containers;
Hazardous chemical agents (including bio toxins, blister agents/vesicants, blood
agents, caustics/acids, pulmonary agents, incapacitating agents, nerve agents, riot
control agents/tear gas, organic solvents, metallic or other poisons;
Heavy gauge chains;
Lengths of lumber or wood;
Liquids, including water;
Metal beverage or food cans or containers;
Metal or PVC pipes;
Packages that are sealed/unopened or whose contents cannot be readily determined by law enforcement;
Pepper spray, mace and similar substances;
Signs not constructed solely of foam core, cardboard or paper;
Sticks and staffs;
Tasers and stun guns;
Tent/canopy poles or stakes;
Torches, lanterns or any other devices that use fire or fuel;
Toy or replica weapons;
Tripods for cameras or video cameras;
Wooden dowels; and
Any other item, which in the assessment of law enforcement could be used as a weapon or otherwise presents an unreasonable risk to public safety.
Helmets, Bullet-proof vests and other protective vests/body armor;
Masks of any kind (including gas masks and costume masks);
Tents or canopies.
Law enforcement officials said they will have metal detectors and will be screening anyone wanting to enter the area where the protests will be taking place.
5. Middle Tennessee Was Selected to Host the Rallies Because of Its Refugee Population
Rally organizers told The Tennessean they selected Murfreesboro as the location of the White Lives Matter rally because it’s “typically a red state.”
A blog post announcing the event criticized President Donald Trump for not speaking about the Nashville church shooting that took place last month, where a 25-year-old who immigrated from Sudan opened fire on church members at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, killing one person and injuring seven.
Event organizers have also cited the changing demographics in the area as the reason Murfreesboro was scouted as a possible location. Middle Tennessee has been the site of many refugees and other immigrants resettling, with the Department of State reporting that 18,000 of them have arrived in Tennessee throughout the last 15 years.
Brad Griffin, a member of the League of the South, said that Middle Tennessee was selected partly because the group “believes law enforcement will keep counterprotesters away from his group.”
“We just do not trust the police in a lot of these Democratic-leaning leaning cities to enforce the law,” Griffin told The Tennessean.