The so-called “White Lives Matter” events were held in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, located south of Nashville. The rallies named to mimic the “black lives matter” slogan frequently heard at demonstrations protesting police violence against communities of colour, were organised to protest the resettlement of refugees in the state.
In In Shelbyville, site of the first rally, some 200 white supremacists carried a Confederate flag and chanted for closed borders and deportations, according to USA Today.
Police and law enforcement officials had urged local residents ahead of Saturday’s events to avoid the area where the rallies took place.
The events were organised by Nationalist Front. Its members include League of the South, Traditionalist Worker’s Party, National Socialist Movement and Vanguard America – all considered neo-Nazi or neo-Confederate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
James Fields, who has been charged with murder after allegedly driving a vehicle into anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, was marching with Vanguard America at the August protest, organised to protest a decision to remove Confederate-era statues from the college town.
The group has denied that Mr Fields is a member of the organisaion. The group’s website, says: “The mission of Vanguard America is the preservation and progression of our people, culture, values, and future in the US.
“We stand proudly against those who would seek to undermine our people, nation, and values with the end goal of the destruction and ethnic replacement of our people and our legacy whether intentionally or via pure stupidity and ignorance.”
In Murfreesboro, up to 600 people, many of them anti-fascist or antifa demonstrators, gathered to protest against the white supremacists. Local media said as few as 15 white supremacists were present.
Both sides screamed and chanted at each other, as police, aware of the violence that broke out earlier this year at a neo-Nazi-led protest in Charlottesville, were sure to keep both groups apart. Police said one person was arrested for disorderly conduct at the event in Shelbyville.
The groups say the media ignored a mass shooting at a Tennessee church, allegedly carried out by a 25-year-old man whose family emigrated from Sudan more than 20 years ago.
Brad Griffin, a League of the South member, who has written of his desire to create a white “ethnostate”. “We don’t want the federal government to keep dumping all these refugees into middle Tennessee,” he said
Over the last 15 years, about 18,000 refugees have been resettled in Tennessee, less than one percent of the state’s population, the Tennessean reported.
“When they say refugees, what they really mean is Muslims,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the news agency. “Tennessee is one of the states that has seen a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in recent years, particularly since the election.”
Ahead of the event, police in Shelbyville, said they have made preparations for to ensure public safety.
“Given the recent incidents in our country surrounding protest and counter-protests, the city is taking very seriously multiple concerns regarding the safety of expected protesters, counter-protesters, the public, and the protection of private and public property from damage,” the city’s police department said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in Murfreesboro, Mayor Shane McFarland, posted a video message denouncing the rally, along with a group of faith leaders and featuring the #WeAreMurfreesboro hashtag.
“I think the best thing that I can say as a mayor is we are Murfreesboro and we are one community,” said Mr McFarland.
In March, Tennessee sued the federal government over refugee resettlement in the state, saying it was unduly forced to pay for it. Tennessee was the first state to bring such a case on the basis of the 10th Amendment, which limits US government powers to those provided by the Constitution, though other states have done so on different legal grounds.
Saturday’s rally came more than a week after hundreds protested a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
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