Opponents outnumbered white nationalists Saturday in peaceful “White Lives Matter” rallies in Tennessee that were punctuated by taunts and chants from both sides.
In Shelbyville, the site of the first rally, some 200 white nationalists — met by nearly twice as many counter protesters — carried a Confederate flag and chanted for closed borders and deportations at a mid-morning gathering.
As Brian Culpepper of the National Socialist Movement took the microphone to speak, counter protesters played Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech over their own speaker system, largely drowning out Culpepper’s words.
At one point, counter protesters’ shouts of “Black Lives Matter” were met by white nationalist chants of “blood and soil.”
The two sides, however, were kept well apart as law enforcement officers funneled them onto sidewalks on opposite sides of a four-lane road.
The protesters showed up here and in Shelbyville, 25 miles south, despite comments by Gov. Bill Haslam that “these folks” were not welcome in the state. The rallies had raised fears in the community of a repeat of the Charlottesville, Va., rally in August that turned deadly.
In Murfreesboro, a town of 130,000 people, wary business owners had boarded up windows downtown and residents held a prayer vigil Friday night near the rally site.
On Saturday afternoon, about 600 people — but only around 30 white nationalists — lined Church Street, one of the city’s busiest corridors, as counter protesters chanted “refugees are welcome here” and “this is what democracy looks like.”
When the formal rally kicked off, the demonstration largely fizzled as the outnumbered white nationalists faced counter protesters across a downtown square with only a 15-foot gap between them.
After exchanging taunts, with counter protesters chanting “Nazis go home” and “shame,” most of the crowd dispersed within a half hour.
Organizers of the rallies had said they aimed at protesting refugee resettlement and immigration to Middle Tennessee, specifically noting the presence of Somali and Sudanese people in the region.