The least of these

"The least of these my brethern," reads a protester's sign from a February rally at MTSU. 

Several local groups are expected to counter-protest if a League of the South rally takes place in downtown Murfreesboro Oct. 28.

Under the newly-formed umbrella group Murfreesboro Loves, the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, Advent Lutheran Church, Veterans for Peace, Rutherford County Interfaith Council and several others are planning a “community action against hate.”

The “family friendly” rally will include a march, prayers, speakers, fellowship, food and more, according to its online event page.

“The Rutherford County Interfaith Council strongly condemns neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate and white nationalist groups coming to our towns and cities to hold hate rallies,” the group said in a Facebook statement. “Their message of hate and bigotry has one purpose – to intimidate and divide our community. These forces of pointless antagonism are not welcome here. Middle Tennessee is – and has been for many years – home to a diverse community from around the state, the country and around the world.”

Jason Bennett of Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, an advocacy group for the homeless, said the group is planning a march from MTSU down East Main Street the same day of the League of the South rally. It is expected to avoid “direct confrontation.”

In denouncing the notion of white supremacy, Bennett said, “My hope and prayer is that we can get enough momentum of non-violent, peaceful counter-action that shows what our county is … so (the rally) fizzles out.”

Bennett contends League of the South and other white supremacist groups try to connect themselves with some of the same ideas backed by Trump supporters, such as cutting off refugee resettlement, in an attempt to recruit more members. Bennett said he understands local right-wing organizations are not going to support the League of the South rally.

Permit pending

Rutherford County and Murfreesboro officials are mulling the Southern nationalists’ application for a permit to rally on the Public Square, an event the group says will focus on opposing refugee resettlement in light of the Antioch church shooting.

Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland condemned the idea of white supremacy during the Thursday night City Council meeting, and Mayor Ernest Burgess said the group’s permit request has not been approved.

If it does come here, the group could attract white supremacist organizations such as the National Socialist Movement and Traditional Workers Party, setting up a showdown with counter-protesters similar to the situation that led to three deaths in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer.

“As mayor of Murfreesboro and on behalf of the City Council, we want to condemn in no uncertain terms the ideology of white nationalists and white supremacists who are planning to bring their ideas to Murfreesboro,” McFarland said at the beginning of Thursday night’s council meeting.

In one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities and the home of MTSU, the largest undergraduate university in Tennessee, McFarland said the city government strives to represent all community residents.

“The city of Murfreesboro and this council are committed to protecting both the constitutional rights we have taken an oath to uphold and to the peace and the public safety of our city. Be assured we will take every step necessary to protect both,” he said.

His words followed the prayer of Vice Mayor Madelyn Scales Harris, who asked that it not be seen as a “threat” but as a way for “your children to come together.”

Burgess said the permit request involves several matters, some of which deal with legal issues, and with the constitutional guarantee of free speech in mind, the county is discussing the situation with its attorneys to determine what is “permissible and appropriate.”

“They have been in contact with us and with the city of Murfreesboro requesting basic permission to have a demonstration. It is under review by all of the parties in the city of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, and we are gathering a bit more information from them, and at the appropriate time we will have our plan in place and we will have our response,” Burgess said.

Whether on a daily basis or in response to this planned rally, the county government is always concerned about residents’ safety, Burgess said.

“At the appropriate time we will have a plan, a comprehensive plan developed that will address all of those issues,” he said.

Why here?

The group is set to rally in Shelbyville on Oct. 28 and filed applications in late September with Murfreesboro and Rutherford to rally in downtown Murfreesboro.

It chose these two cities because Tennessee is a Republican-leaning state and Rutherford is a red county, said Brad Griffin, spokesman for the League of the South, an organization that promotes establishment of a Southern nation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies League of the South as well as the National Socialist Movement, a spin-off from the Nazi Party, and Traditional Workers Party as hate groups. Griffin denies his organization is a white supremacist group.

“We don’t want to go anywhere it’s going to be a Berkeley situation,” Griffin said, noting the group wants to avoid the type of “chaos” that took place in California and Charlottesville during rallies there. The group plans to come here because it wants to rally in “a place where we can count on police to enforce the law,” Griffin said.

The group’s application states the event will be: “A heritage assembly, paying respect to the fall of the Civil War.” But Griffin said because Tennessee’s Confederate monuments are protected by the Heritage Act, which requires a long process for removal of statues and monuments, it will focus instead on opposing refugee resettlement, in light of the Antioch church shooting in which a Sudanese refugee, former Murfreesboro resident Emanuel Kidega Samson of La Vergne, is charged with killing a Smyrna woman and shooting several other people in September.

The League of the South rallied in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville in 2013, warning of the threat of Islamic jihad and refugee resettlement. Griffin points toward multiple Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe, the attack on a military installation in Chattanooga and the Antioch church shooting as evidence refugee resettlement and immigration are causing problems.

“Our message is going to be we don’t want to see this in Middle Tennessee,” he said.

Griffin said the U.S. refugee resettlement program is largely to blame for the Antioch murder, and he pointed toward reports showing Samson opened fire in the church in retaliation for the Dylan Roof church shooting where he killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina.

The League of the South opted not to rally in Antioch or Davidson County, though, because of concerns the mayor there would tell police to “stand down,” creating a situation of conflict with counter-protesters, Griffin said.

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