MURFREESBORO, Tennessee—The largest gathering of white supremacists since Charlottesville is coming to terrorize refugees in Tennessee. In a pair of towns, locals are preparing for back-to-back rallies by members of the so-called alt-right scheduled for Saturday.
Along the central square in Murfreesboro, workers nailed sheets of plywood over glass storefronts in anticipation of a riot. Police officers milled around in front of the courthouse. No barriers had been erected yet, but Murfreesboro has a little more time to prepare for their afternoon rally than the much smaller town of Shelbyville, population 20,000, with its morning invasion of hundreds of racists to start at 10 a.m.
The rallies would be the first effort by the alt-right to come together at a single event since the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. Participating right-wing organizations include the League of the South, the Traditionalist Worker’s Party, National Socialist Movement, Vanguard America, and Anti-Communist Action. Each of those organizations has espoused views and policy positions that are either racist, anti-Semitic or openly pro-Nazi.
Those same groups were present at the Charlottesville rally that resulted in an intensely violent riot that sent dozens to the hospital and culminated in a car being driven into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 18 others. That car was driven by James Fields, whom Vanguard America denies was a member of their group but who was dressed in identical clothing to Vanguard America, carried a shield with the Vanguard America logo, and stood in a line with Vanguard America members during the protest.
The stated purpose of Saturday’s rallies is to oppose the presence of thousands of African refugees who have been resettled in central Tennessee.
“I love it here,” said Tahani, a refugee who was forced to leave her home in Dakar, Sudan, due to the war that has engulfed the region for over a decade. Along with her husband and children, she was sent by the United Nations to live in the U.S. almost exactly a year ago. They resettled in Murfreesboro where her husband works in a poultry processing plant.
Murfreesboro is “very quiet, very peaceful,” Tahani said. “I love the people here, but now I’m feeling scared of what is going on... there’s no difference between Sudan and what is happening here.”
Tahani kept her children home from school today out of fear for their safety. She says that the people in Murfreesboro have been kind to her, almost like a second family. But she doesn’t understand why these alt-right demonstrators are coming here to terrorize her and her children.
“White people, if they go to the rallies to protest [against the white supremacists] would make me feel safer,” she said. “What did the blacks and all the immigrants do to make you hate us so much?” she asked of the white supremacists. “What did we do to you?”
Locals have organized prayer vigils and counter-events aimed at opposing the demonstration. Outside groups like Black Lives Matter and Standing Up for Racial Justice are expected to arrive but it isn’t clear how great their numbers are. On one invite-only Facebook page, over 250 people had joined a group pledging to disrupt and protest alt-right events in the area over the weekend.
The region has a long history of ties to white supremacy and anti-immigrant sentiments. The town of Pulaski, 65 miles from Murfreesboro, was the original home of the Ku Klux Klan. When local immigrants decided to construct a mosque in Murfreesboro starting in 2009, the local government attempted to suppress it until a federal court ruled in support of the Islamic community. Threats of violence forced suppliers to deliver construction materials late at night to avoid threats of violence. Just this year, several men have been arrested for vandalizing the mosque and placing pork around the entrance.
Organizers of the rallies have discouraged bringing weapons. “Do not bring firearms,” wrote a prominent white supremacist blog. But not everyone coming seems to agree.
“The League of the South WILL be armed, heavily so in fact,” wrote Pat Hines, South Carolina Chairman of League of the South in a comment on Occidental Dissent. LOTS is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group and its members have advocated for a white-governed neo-Confederate state.
“I thought America was no discrimination at all, that it was all for freedom,” Tahani said.