Southern nationalists planning to lead rallies in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville are banking on Republican ideas and protection to spread their views, a burr under the saddle for state lawmakers in the controlling party.
The League of the South, built for a second Southern secession and largely considered a white supremacist organization, is set to rail about America’s downfall Oct. 28 – if all goes as planned – in these two Middle Tennessee towns. Rutherford County still hasn’t approved a permit.
Their targets, which shifted from a heritage assembly paying respects to the Civil War dead, will be refugee resettlement and immigrant workers, most likely the people doing jobs few others want. (Seriously, who wants to climb up on a roof at 6 o’clock in the morning carrying two bundles of shingles?)
Why the switch? Tennessee’s Heritage Protection Act, passed and updated within the past few years, makes it exceedingly difficult to remove any type of historical monument related to wars, in this case the Civil War, which remains a glorified cause for many Tennesseans more than 150 years later.
So, with no move afoot to move the Confederate monument from the Public Square in Murfreesboro or the Sons of Confederate Veterans monument at its foot, why bother erasing the plight of those forlorn Southern sons forced to retreat from the Battle of Murfreesboro (Stones River for Yankees) just three days after storming Union encampments and claiming victory.
No, instead of trying replay the Charlottesville, Virginia, horror where neo-Nazis and other white nationalist groups teamed to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, they’re going to hammer refugees.
And after Emanuel Samson, a Sudanese immigrant, was arrested for the Antioch church shooting that claimed the life of a Smyrna woman, they found a renewed sense of urgency.
“This is exactly what we warned of four years ago,” says Brad Griffin, spokesman for the Alabama-based League of the South.
The group rallied in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville in 2013, highlighting the perceived threat of Islamic jihad and the danger of refugee resettlement. In the wake of the Chattanooga military installation attack and numerous European terrorist incidents, Griffin points toward a report that Samson might have been retaliating for the Dylan Roof church shooting in South Carolina where nine people died.
Of course, several other groups are expected to join the League of the South when it convenes, including the Traditionalist Workers Party and National Socialist Movement, today’s Nazis, setting the stage for clashes with counter-protesters.
So why not go rally in Antioch or elsewhere in Davidson County? Because, according to Griffin, the league doesn’t want a repeat of “chaos” in Berkeley, California, or Charlottesville.
It prefers Republican-leaning states and red counties, “a place where we can count on police to enforce the law,” Griffin explains. In short, the group doesn’t want to go to Antioch because it’s afraid the mayor might tell police to “stand down and not enforce the law.”
“Previous events in Tennessee have been peaceful because police have done their jobs,” Griffin adds.
But Griffin, at least, says his organization is not a white supremacist group.
“We do not believe white people are superior,” he says, adding his group believes “white people have declined.”
Of course they have, after being forced into segregated schools, having to share locker rooms, classrooms, seats on the school bus and, horror of all horrors, neighborhoods.
Never mind all the Spanish-speaking peoples, Asians, Arabs and those dratted Jews who moved here to escape persecution in Europe. It’s a wonder a white man can get a job anymore, what with everybody stepping on his territory. Or was this the Indians’ territory? Oh well, Old Hickory got rid of them. And if these up-and-coming rally boys get their way, the Muslims will be next.
How it fits
Not only did the Republican-controlled Legislature make it damn near impossible to get rid of the bust of Confederate hero Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol or from a Memphis park, it’s also trying to stem the flow of refugees into Tennessee, a move that dovetails with the vision of President Donald Trump.
The Heritage Protection Act requires a two-thirds vote of the Tennessee Historical Commission to move those types of monuments. And the Capitol Commission, which controls the grounds of the State Capitol, couldn’t even muster a majority vote to shift the Forrest bust to the state museum, in spite of his checkered career as a slave trader and first KKK grand wizard. It must be noted that title likely evolved from his nickname as Wizard of the Saddle.
Meanwhile, the state filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging the legality of the Refugee Resettlement Program in Tennessee and seeking a court’s declaratory judgment that the federal government is no longer complying with the Refugee Act of 1980, straying from it on several fronts: shifting the cost of administrating the program to the state, failing to consult with Tennessee on refugee placement and violating the 10th Amendment dealing with separation of powers to states.
The Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center volunteered to take the Legislature’s case in 2016 after Attorney General Herb Slatery declined to get involved.
Middle Tennessee Republicans aren’t exactly enthused with these groups coming to rally in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, and probably know little about them.
But lawmakers make no mistake about their feelings on refugees, immigration and Confederate monuments.
“The Obama Administration de facto, if not outright, just really believed in open borders, and I do not,” says House Majority Leader Glen Casada, a Franklin Republican. “I think there needs to be limits. If you’re coming into this country, you need to bring a skill set with you. You need to be educated, a doctor or something that our economy needs.”
Says Republican Rep. Dawn White of Murfreesboro: “I have voted to protect historic monuments in the past and will continue to protect historic monuments. We cannot erase history and we must study history, learning from history, and I don’t believe erasing history is going to change anything.”
But do they feel uncomfortable with these white nationalist groups aligning themselves with Republican issues?
White points out she hasn’t spoken with the League of the South or really understands why it’s planning to rally, but notes, “If they’re coming here for racism or (as) white supremacists, as a Christian, that to me is 100 percent a sin. And it’s pure evil to be a racist or to align yourself with white supremacist groups.”
Casada has a different take, saying neither Black Lives Matter nor White Lives Matter are relevant.
“American lives matter,” he asserts. “If you start looking at the color of your skin, all of a sudden, I think that’s, by definition, a racist. If all you’re worried about is black lives or all you’re worried about is white lives, I think by definition you’re a racist. And I just disagree.
“I want to take care of Americans and Tennesseans.”
Casada defends Nashville Mayor Megan Barry in light of the League of the South spokesman’s stance that she would “stand down,” saying, “I know the mayor personally, and she’s just not that kind of person. She will protect everybody’s property and lives, and I would just disagree with that statement on his part.”
Senate Speaker Pro Tem Jim Tracy and Rep. Pat Marsh, both Shelbyville Republicans, downplay the situation – to a point.
Asked if he’s concerned the League of the South is aligning itself with Republican-backed ideas, Tracy says, “I just think they’re using that as a platform. I think they’re really not aligning themselves, but they’re using that as a platform to get attention.”
Says Marsh: “I guess, since you mentioned it, it probably does lean toward more of the Republican point of view, from what I understand. But I’m sure there are a lot of Democrats that feel the same way.
“We all want to be treated fairly. I think Republicans and Democrats want everybody to be treated fairly and not one side be given a preferential treatment, and if there’s problems here, it’s going to be caused by both sides, not just one side, because more than likely it’s going to take two sides to cause trouble.”
Marsh says he believes the group is choosing Shelbyville because it likes small towns and won’t run into as many “radical people” as it would in a big city, or at least people who would come out and cause trouble.
“I’ve heard the groups that are trying to come in are pretty civil, and they say they’re gonna follow all rules and regulations. They’re not going to cause any trouble. What concerns me is the other side, we don’t know who’s coming, and I think some of them could be very radical and wanting to cause trouble,” Marsh says.
He adds, “I think all both sides are looking for is a little PR that you’re gonna give ’em and the TV stations are gonna give ’em. I think that’s the only thing they’re looking for.”
Nevertheless, law enforcement is preparing, according to Marsh and Tracy, and state troopers will be involved with local authorities to keep the peace. Streets will be closed around the rally site and the rally groups will be separated by officers on foot and horse.
“I guess what they’re going to do is sit on one side of the street and cuss the people on the other side of the street,” Marsh adds.
With those thoughts ringing in our ears, the question is whether people should confront these groups or stay at home and watch the Southeastern Conference college football game of the week. After all, a little shouting isn’t going to change their minds.
But one of the sins of the 20th century was for good people, those who knew better, to sit on the sidelines and allow the Ku Klux Klan to get away with murder. That’s why, at long last, the state Legislature has a task force delving into civil rights crimes. It did take until 2017 to put this group into motion, but it’s better late than never.
It’s not too late, either, for a Republican leader in the state Legislature to stand up and denounce these groups. After all, they’re not coming here to spread love and charity, even though their website says a lot of things about Jesus and Christianity.
They’re following the lead of our president, who in the wake of the Charlottesville disaster laid as much blame on counter-protesters as the alt-right protesters who started it all, as if to say it’s OK to salute the Nazi way.
To be sure, he denounced evil. Yet President Trump made so many pronouncements it’s hard to keep up with them, and in saying there were “good people” on both sides, he gave approval and set in motion the rallies set here for late October.
The question is: What will “good people” do?
Consider this: Suppose you’re going to downtown Murfreesboro to rally in favor of keeping the Confederate soldier monument on the Public Square. After all, you’re the great-great-grandson of a Confederate captain, and even though you deplore the concept of slavery and believe in equal rights for all, you’re still pissed off because you think President Abraham Lincoln ordered an invasion that led to the plunder of Southern homes.
The problem is when you show up, all kinds of neo-Nazis, skinheads and racist groups are waving Confederate flags and shouting hateful slogans. Are you going to join the march or turn around and go home?
At the same time, if you’re passing legislation and pushing state policies that give these groups a foothold in mainstream politics and culture, well, that’s just messed up. You’ve been hijacked, even if it was unintended.
So, what are you going to do? Will you join the march or sit silently?
Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Nashville Ledger, Knoxville Ledger, Hamilton County Herald and Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.