White nationalist groups marched through the streets of two Tennessee towns as part of "White Lives Matter" rallies on Saturday. Specifically, they were protesting refugee resettlement in the state.
Police, complete with riot gear, had a heavy presence at both of the rallies, the first in Shelbyville and the second which occurred later in the day approximately 25 miles away in Murfreesboro. Videos shared on Twitter show white nationalist demonstrators chanting "White lives matter," "Jews will not replace us," and the phrase "Blood and soil," which was first used in Nazi Germany. Several protestors wore Confedrate flags draped over their shoulders like capes during the rally in Shelbyville, reports ABC News.
In Murfreesboro, the rally was nearly over before it began. Of the 600 people who showed up on Saturday afternoon, only around 30 where white nationalists. Reports say that the rally died down within about half an hour as counter protestors chanted, "refugees are welcome here" and "this is what democracy looks like."
Demonstrators at both rallies were met by hundreds of counter-protestors, according to USA Today. Law enforcement was able to keep both separate and peaceful for the most part with only one arrest made in Shelbyville of a man on the white nationalist side of the demonstration for what local police Lieutenant Brian Crews called "threatening behaviour."
Michael Hill, president of The League of the South, gave a speech which involved calling opposing demonstrators communists and telling them, "All you people over there – your day is coming. Your day is coming," reports ABC News. "We are here to stake a claim to that which belongs to us," Hill added. "We will not give up until we won this fight."
Counter-protestors chanted "We will replace you," in an attempt to disrupt the rally. They also played Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech over a PA system.
As reported by The Tennessean, about 18,000 refugees have resettled in Tennessee over the last 15 years. This amounts to less than 1% of the state's total population.
“When they say refugees, what they really mean is Muslims,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to the New York Post. “Tennessee is one of the states that has seen a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in recent years, particularly since the election."
Governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam was quick to denounce the rally. "We want to send a really clear message that these folks are not welcome in Tennessee," Haslam told reporters on Friday, reports the Tennessean. "If you’re part of the white supremacist movement you’re not somebody that we want in Tennessee."
Both of the rallies were organised by a coalition of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups called the Nationalist Front which includes: League of the South, the Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard America, and the National Socialist Movement, reports TIME.