Nazi Fail: Community Swamps ‘White Lives Matter’ in Middle TN

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“antiracists assembled in the opposing protest pen, a pretty diverse group with clergy, bikers, anarchists, and lots of pissed locals, all coming together to tell the Nazis they weren’t welcome.”

October 28th in middle Tennessee was supposed to be the big comeback for white supremacists after their epic fail in Charlottesville. In fact, before they realized what an awful PR move it would be, these fools were actually calling this rally “Unite the Right 2.0.” Ultimately they went with the title “White Lives Matter.” They picked this region of TN for a few reasons. They hoped to stir up racial resentment against the area’s large population of refugees, many of whom are Muslim. They wanted to capitalize on a recent shooting at a church by a Sudanese man, implying it was an anti-white terror attack, never mind that he was a member of the church. Most importantly, they chose this part of TN because they believed the local population would be sympathetic to their cause. Boy were they wrong.

The Nazis’ first stop was Shelbyville, TN a town of about 20,000 people an hour south of Nashville. The local and state governments had done their job to create an atmosphere of fear and telling people to stay home, resulting in a town festival being canceled and pretty much every local business closing for the day, many even boarding up their windows. In addition a highly militarized police force was deployed with snipers on rooftops, MRAP armored vehicles stationed on corners, police drones, and every 3rd or 4th cop carrying an assault rifle. White supremacists were to rally in a protest pen on one side of a 4 lane boulevard, counter-protestors on the other.

About 150-200 racists representing National Socialist Movement, the KKK, Vanguard America, League of the South, Traditionalist Worker Party, Nationalist Front, and Anti-Communist Action assembled in a parking lot a block from the entrance to their protest pen, after much standing around, they set out to march triumphantly to their rally, only to be stopped at the police checkpoint into the protest pen where they waited… and waited …and waited, while police searched each person for banned items.

Meanwhile across the way antiracists assembled in the opposing protest pen. It was a pretty diverse group with clergy, bikers, anarchists, socialists, liberals, and lots of pissed locals all coming together to tell the neo-Nazis they weren’t welcome in middle TN. All told there were at least 600 people there to oppose the white supremacists. The government fear mongering had failed. Folks chanted, danced, and sang for well over an hour while the fascists slowly trickled through their checkpoint. Eventually enough of them got through that they again assembled and marched triumphantly for about 100 yards, only to be stopped at another checkpoint, where they were again searched and only let through one at a time.

Thanks to the militarized police state, the Nazis had been standing around in the cold, doing nothing for an hour and a half to two hours before they actually made it to their official protest pen. Once there they seemed very low energy, having a hard time mustering up solid chants, and taking forever to get their sound system running.

All the while antiracists were having a grand ol time, chanting “We will replace you”, “Go Home” and so on. A loud sound system added to the mix where folks took turns trolling the fascists interspersed with playing “La Bamba”, “Hit the Road Jack” and MLK speeches. In the end Shelbyville was pretty uneventful, no attempts were made by antiracists to intervene, but it was clear that Nazi morale was low and that it was not an empowering event for them. They did manage to muster some numbers but they were still greatly outnumbered in this small Southern town where they thought they’d have support.

Round 2

Next stop was Murfeesboro a much larger town with a university and closer proximity to Nashville, where the white supremacists had planned an afternoon rally. Murfeesboro was the scene several years back of multiple racist protests against a new mosque being built, resulting in vandalism and even an arson attack against the construction site. Again, the neo-Nazis thought they’d find fertile ground for their ideas. Wrong.

Before even getting to Murfeesboro, folks driving into town from Shelbyville were greeted by 100-200 people lining the street in front of a strip mall with antiracist signs, singing and chanting. Upon arriving in downtown Murfeesboro, we were again welcomed by a militarized police force, choppers flying overhead, armored vehicles patrolling, and cops tooling around in souped up golf carts toting assault rifles.

The police had cordoned off five or six block area around the town square, not allowing anyone to enter except through two checkpoints, one for racists, and one for the rest of humanity. As a result hundreds of people were wandering around the perimeter in small groups trying to figure out how to get in.

It seems like most folks with a more confrontational mindset by and large chose to hold back on Shelbyville and focus energy on Murfeesboro, which manifested in a 100 strong black bloc that marched together to the police checkpoint and eventually entered the protest pen with hundreds of others. Hundreds more antiracists never even made it into the pen before word came out that the neo-Nazis had cancelled their Murfeesboro rally, offering a weak excuse that it was a “lawsuit trap.”

Their last minute cancellation was greeted with cheers throughout the crowd as the small group of unaffiliated racists in the opposing pen who failed to get the memo left in frustration and defeat. The more plausible reasons for their no show were that they saw they were going to be vastly outnumbered in Murfeesboro, and/or they were so late in getting their Shelbyville event going they simply didn’t have the time to get to Murfeesboro in time to remobilize. So much for running those trains on time.

All told it appeared that at least 1,000 people mobilized in Murfeesboro against the white supremacists. Aside from a few mild altercations with lone racist trolls the event proved to be pretty uneventful and ended with people celebrating the Nazi’s failure.

On both Friday and Saturday antiracists mobilized in different locations in response to rumors that the fascists were having a torch march. In the end, they never materialized and it is unclear if the word on torch marches were just rumor, or the Nazis decided to not carry them out when they realized there would be opposition.

Unfortunately the fash couldn’t resist unleashing a little bit of violence before it was all said and done. Saturday evening, after their failure of a day, a group of about 20 white supremacists, including Traditionalist Worker Party leader Matthew Heimbach, verbally harassed and then attacked an inter-racial couple in a bar on the outskirts of Nashville. A video of the assault clearly shows a woman with blood running down her face. The violence inherent in white supremacy can only be held back for so long it seems.

Reflections

“A decade ago it could be difficult to pull together 100 or 200 people to protest Nazis in a large lefty city, now we are turning out much larger numbers in small rural communities.”

  • The Alt-Right’s big comeback rally was overall a failure and likely did them more harm then good. They were able to mobilize a slightly larger crowd than they had in Pikeville, KY back in April but nothing close to the numbers they turned out in Charlottesville. While 200 neo-Nazis is still too many neo-Nazis, it should be noted that this was a national mobilization for them with people coming in from as far away as South Dakota, Nebraska and the West Coast, with Matthew Heimbach even giving an order (whatever that means) requiring all Nationalist Front members to attend. Their movement is not totally dead but they clearly have not found a way to regain the momentum after the shit-show that was Charlottesville. Furthermore the painfully slow roll-out of their Shelbyville rally, the miserable weather, the visibly low energy of their crowd, and the cancellation of their second protest certainly will not help with morale within their ranks.
  • The racists’ aspirations to use these rallies to gain sympathy and new recruits amongst the locals was by and large a flop. The communities of Shelbyville and Murfeesboro turned out overwhelmingly against them and the cancellation of multiple community events in response to the rallies only fueled resentment against outsider white supremacists coming into their communities and ruining their weekend. Additionally the over the top police reaction in response to the threat of counter protests made it exceedingly difficult for any potential recruits to join their rallies.
  • For those more organized for direct disruption they may have missed their opportunity by not having a go for it in Shelbyville. Before going into the protest pen the Nazis were milling about in a parking lot for at least a half hour with the nearest gaggle of cops a block away. Numerous individuals were walking in and out of their midst totally unimpeded. For whatever reason direct engagement was not attempted there. Even if opportunities for disruption seem unlikely, it is still important to show up, because the fact of the matter is, one can rarely predict what the scenario will be on the ground, and often times the police state is not as organized as we think they are.

“let’s make sure we to enter into these mobilizations in ways that build our power. “Stop the Nazis” shouldn’t be our only metric for success. We should also be using these mobilizations to build new relationships and networks with folks that we might not otherwise come into contact with, grow trust between affinity groups, share needed skills to newcomers, and expose more and more people to the joys of taking collective direct action.”

  • Despite the campaign of fear by the State and the calls from government officials, some liberal groups, and faith communities to ignore the fash, hundreds upon hundreds turned out to protest these white supremacists in an area that is not exactly a leftist enclave. As the events in Gainesville, Charlottesville, Boston, and beyond have shown, mass antifascist mobilizations are not only effective in derailing the white supremacist movement, they are also appealing to a large swath of the public. A decade ago it could be difficult to pull together 100 or 200 people to protest Nazis in a large lefty city, now we are turning out much larger numbers in small rural communities. It is important that we attempt to prevent racist mobilizations from happening in the first place, but it is equally important to do the work to turn the entire local community against them too.
  • The Nazis are unfortunately not going to give up on holding these rallies for the foreseeable future. We need to keep responding, but let’s make sure we to enter into these mobilizations in ways that build our power. “Stop the Nazis” shouldn’t be our only metric for success. We should also be using these mobilizations to build new relationships and networks with folks that we might not otherwise come into contact with, grow trust between affinity groups, share needed skills to newcomers, and expose more and more people to the joys of taking collective direct action to defend their communities from white supremacy in all its forms, whether it’s dressed up in a Klan robe or an ICE uniform.

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