Hundreds of white supremacists rallied in Tennessee on Saturday, displaying neo-Nazis signs and voicing racist views. Most participants were members of fringe white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, although they expressed positions on immigration and deportation similar to the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration.
The rally was billed as a “White Lives Matter” event, co-opting the name of the Black Lives Matter movement which for years has protested police brutality against the black community.
Early in the day, heavily armed groups of men marched into Shelbyville, Tennessee, carrying shields and chanting slogans such as “closed borders, white nation, now we start the deportation.” Another “white lives matter” rally was scheduled for later in the afternoon in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, located about 25 miles north of Shelbyville. However, the afternoon rally was reportedly canceled.
Dillon Hopper, commander of Vanguard America, a white supremacist group, expressed support for Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. “The wall is going up. And it’s going to get higher and higher and higher,” Hopper said at the rally. Hopper’s comments were met with loud cheers, Natalie Allison of the Tennessean newspaper reported.
One of the speakers at the rally said, “I don’t see Heather Heyer in the crowd over there,” pointing to the protesters across the street. A white supremacist from Ohio drove his car into a group of anti-racists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in early August, killing Heyer and injuring many more. “That’s the voice of murderers. That was unbelievably offensive to me,” a woman named Leslie, who was standing on the side opposite of the rally, told Buzzfeed News.
They rally-goers sought to harness momentum from the events in Charlottesville, when hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis used the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in the town as an opportunity to show the strength of their movement.
Trump drew intense criticism for equating the anti-racist counter-protesters with the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. “You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said in a statement after the incident. He also defended some of the protesters in Charlottesville, who marched on the side of the white supremacists, as “very fine people.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) issued a statement Saturday condemning the white supremacists. “The views of the white nationalists, Nazis, white supremacists and the Klan are wrong, they are un-American, they are not welcome and we need to be loud and clear about that,” Alexander said.
My statement on the white nationalist rallies in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville: pic.twitter.com/mTN0wDvsi0
— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) October 28, 2017
Similar to the scene in Charlottesville, the white supremacists in Tennessee were met by hundreds of protesters. But a large police presence was able to keep the two sides separated for the most part. They set up security checkpoints, forcing the white supremacists to hand over their weapons if they wanted to enter certain protest zones. Police reported only one arrest in Shelbyville.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said Friday that the white supremacist groups attending the White Lives Matter events would not be welcome. “We want to send a really clear message that these folks are not welcome in Tennessee,” Haslam told reporters in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “If you’re part of the white supremacist movement you’re not somebody that we want in Tennessee.”
BREAKING: White nationalists march in to Shelbyville chanting “Closed borders, white nation, now we start the deportation.” pic.twitter.com/0KeuEKCIQv
— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) October 28, 2017
At the rally in Shelbyville, Jeff Schoep, chairman of the Nationalist Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi political party, spoke into a bullhorn, telling the crowd to stand up for “white rights” and urging his followers to “get all the [race] traitors out of this country.” Meanwhile, members of the League of the South, a white supremacist organization based in Alabama, carried signs that read: “Stop Southern Cultural Genocide.”
Matt Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist group allied with neo-Nazi organizations, spoke out in support of aggressive deportation policies. “All peoples have a right to their own nation. But they don’t have the right to take a nation from another people,” Heimbach said, referring to new immigrants entering the United States today, not how Native Americans have been treated over the past 500 years.
Addressing Black Lives Matter supporters across the street, Heimbach said black communities should be granted the right to have their own police forces and nations, just like whites should be allowed the same. Immigration and multiculturalism do not work, he shouted. During the speeches, rally-goers gave Nazi salutes as protesters on the other side of the street jeered them.
Vegas Longlois traveled from Birmingham, Alabama, to Shelbyville to protest the white supremacists. “We can’t let hate go unchecked in the nation,” Longlois told USA Today, adding that refugee populations need to know they are supported.