Police in the Tennessee towns of Shelbyville and Murfreesboro are prepared for “White Lives Matter” rallies taking place south of Nashville on Saturday. The events are being held by the Nationalist Front, a group of several white nationalist organizations, including those involved in Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally in August, when a car plowed into counter-protesters killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and leaving 19 others injured.
The protests began Saturday in Shelbyville and will continue in the nearby city of Murfreesboro. The rallies are expected to draw hundreds of counter-protesters.
Shelbyville Police said this week that they have put safety plans into place for the event, and urged protesters to act respectfully during the demonstrations.
“Law Enforcement officers along with fire and emergency personnel will be there to maintain order, provide safety, and protect rights of freedom of assembly and speech,” the police department said in a statement.
The rallies have been organized to protest the resettlement of refugees in the state, a movement which was likely sparked by a mass shooting at a Tennessee church nearly one month ago, which went largely unreported on by the mainstream media. The gunman was a 25-year-old refugee whose family emigrated from Sudan more than 20 years ago.
The shooting has put Nashville’s vibrant immigrant community, including about 5,000 refugees from Sudan, on notice as some residents become increasingly wary of the foreigners.
In recent years, in part due to the welcoming reputation of its churches, Nashville has also seen an influx of Kurdish, Somali, Burmese and Congolese refugees, said Gatluak Thach, executive director of the Nashville International Center for Empowerment, which helps newly arrived refugees.
The city struggles with many of the same cultural debates that have a driven wedge between residents in other areas of the country. In January, for example, Nashville’s Metro Council withdrew a proposal to restrict local cooperation with federal immigration officials due to statewide opposition.
Prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer has been invited to speak on Saturday.
In a blog post earlier this month, Matt Parrott, a leader within the white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party, called Charlottesville a “historic victory” for white nationalists, but said the Tennessee protests have been “planned with an eye toward minimizing the threat of antifa violence and the legal entanglements which marred Charlottesville.”
“As this tumultuous year draws to a close and winter approaches, it’s imperative that we close out with a show of strength, a show of resolve, and a show of clarity,” he wrote. “We ask all participants on any side to respect each other’s rights and respect the role of law enforcement in maintaining peace and discouraging aggressive behavior.”
The City of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County issued a joint statement this week distancing itself from the views of the white nationalist protesters, but said they had filed the necessary permits to hold the rally.
Residents were cautioned to avoid the public square where the rally is set to take place.
Pepe makes his appearance at the White Lives Matter rally in Tennessee. Meanwhile, Jeff Schoep of the NSM arrives with shield-bearers. pic.twitter.com/op2AlkL2Bk
— Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) October 28, 2017
— Circa (@Circa) October 28, 2017
Photos: White Lives Matter rally underway in Shelbyville. Protest also planned in Murfreesboro. https://t.co/wAYk4zRpNo
— Tennessean (@Tennessean) October 28, 2017