Updated at 4:51 p.m. on Oct. 27 : Sidelines incorrectly reported that Murfreesboro Loves plans to attend the rally on the Murfreesboro Square on Saturday. Sidelines regrets the error.
Photo by Andrew Wigdor / MTSU Sidelines
On Saturday, Oct. 28, the League of the South, a Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group, will be gathering on the Murfreesboro City Square for a “White Lives Matter” rally. Since the announcement and subsequent permit application from the League of the South, many Murfreesboro residents, officials and groups have spoken out against the group and their assembly. While the League of the South is the group that filed the application to assemble with the City and Rutherford County, there are reports that they will be joined by three other white nationalist groups, the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Worker Party and Vanguard America.
In the words of its own members, the League of the South does not categorize itself as a white supremacy group or a hate group. In fact, they don’t even label themselves as racists. However, their mission and their message has been made abundantly clear. In an essay published on the group’s website, Michael Hill, the League of the South president, wrote, “If the scenario of the South being overrun by hordes of non-white immigrants does not appeal to you, then how is this disaster to be averted? By the people who oppose it rising up against their traitorous elite masters and their misanthropic rule. But to do this we must first rid ourselves of the fear of being called ‘racists’ and the other meaningless epithets they use against us.”
The League of the South was founded in 1994 and promoted the goal of Southern secession. The group’s first meeting took place 29 years after the American Civil War, in which Southern secession was first proposed. The group is now estimated to have over 10,000 members. It is unknown exactly how many of those members will be in attendance on Saturday. However, there have been reports that area hotels have had bookings from around the country for Saturday.
A joint statement from the City of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County was released Wednesday, which detailed the safety procedures that will be in place for counter-demonstraters and residents.
A portion of the statement reads,
“While the views of the League of the South are not from this community and do not represent those of the City and County, the First Amendment provides a right to free speech and a right to peaceably assemble, and, thus, neither the City nor the County can legally prohibit the event. The City and County, however, have carefully planned various measures to preserve and promote public safety, before, during, and after the event.”
The statement also relayed that the Murfreesboro Police will be closing the square to all pedestrian and vehicle traffic at 3 a.m., and drivers are to remove their cars from the square and from all streets within a one-block radius of the square by 3 a.m.
Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney A. McPhee released three statements this week regarding the rally. The first of his statements included assurances that the MTSU Police Department and Murfreesboro’s law enforcement will work to protect students and citizens.
“While we are not aware of any plans for associated activities on our campus, we remain vigilant,” McPhee said in the statement. “While we detest actions and behaviors that are contrary to our True Blue values, we also respect the First Amendment, which allows the freedom to express all views – even those that may be repugnant to what many of us hold dear.”
McPhee also stated that local authorities are encouraging residents to stay away from the downtown area.
In his second statement, McPhee announced that two on-campus events, the Contest of Champions band competition and the Expanding Your Horizons science event, were canceled due to the protests and rally. He also relayed that all dormitory doors will lock at 5 p.m. on Friday and will open again at 8 a.m. Monday. In McPhee’s third statement, he continued to assure that law enforcement will take immediate action against any form of threats or assault. He also stated that all parking on Military Memorial, which is in between McCallies Dining Hall and Forrest Hall, and in the Jones lot will be closed off after 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.
According to MTSU Police Public Information Officer Patrick Fajardo, the department will have modified procedures to provide additional protection to students this weekend.
“The MTSU Police Department will be running a modified schedule, which will result in a larger officer presence during this weekend,” Fajardo said. “The best things for students to do is to go about their normal business and to remain vigilant and aware of any suspicious behavior.”
Fajardo also advised that students and residents stay away from “hot zones,” such as the square.
Similarly, city officials are advising Murfreesboro residents to avoid contact with the rally. Local business owners on the square have been advised to close their shop doors on Saturday and to stay away.
Some officials, such as Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland, have made the message clear that the League of the South’s presence in the city is unwelcome. McFarland released a short video statement, titled We Are Murfreesboro, last Friday. The statement was voiced by six local pastors and McFarland in the video and condemned the actions of the participants of the coming “White Lives Matter” rally. One of the pastors involved in the video, Corey Trimble of the Experience Community Church, told Sidelines that the video was meant to send a message to both participants of the rally and Murfreesboro residents.
“I think it was important for us to make a video that shows that we are a good city,” Trimble said. “We are a pretty healthy city. We are a pretty racially diverse city, and I think its good to remind ourselves that all these people coming in do not represent Murfreesboro.
Trimble believes that it was critical for Christian representatives in Murfreesboro to be united against the rally and the values of the League of the South.
“Christian leaders in the past have always stepped up in social justice issues,” Trimble said. “They have stepped up and voiced that there was an inequality or an injustice. I think it was very important for the Christian community to stand up, and I think it was even more important for black and white pastors to stand up together and say, ‘We don’t welcome this kind of rhetoric and hate.’”
Vincent Windrow, the assistant vice provost for student success at MTSU and pastor at Olive Branch Church in Murfreesboro, was another speaker in the video.
“I believe in a united front,” Windrow said. “Murfreesboro is an imperfect but good place to live. I was born and raised here and would like to see the city progress economically, socially, educationally, politically and spiritually, not regress.”
Windrow stated that people in Murfreesboro needed to see that there was a united front against racism and hate.
“The aim of the video was to interject a peaceful and expanded approach to what can be a violent interaction,” Windrow said. “The extension of grace to everyone, regardless of whether we agree or disagree, has a way of humanizing even those who promote a less than humane message of intimidation and domination of black people … Solidarity is critical to maintaining calmness when chaos could very easily reign.”
Other Murfreesboro residents are also rebuking the Saturday gathering. Upon the announcement of the “White Lives Matter” rally, a group, called Murfreesboro Loves, was formed.
The group does not plan to gather on the square to protest.
“We didn’t want people from outside of our community, these white supremacists, driving the narrative for what happens in our community on Oct. 28,” said Jason Bennett, a Murfreesboro Loves member and co-founder of the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol. “In Charlottesville, that’s what happened. They set the narrative, and they set the tone.”
Bennett said that Murfreesboro Loves first met about two weeks ago. The group included pastors from local churches, members of various organizations and Murfreesboro residents.
“We sat down, and, in about three hours, we came up with a plan,” Bennett said. “It’s been really easy to push a different narrative to what (the white supremacists) are bringing.”
Bennett acknowledged that it was not the first time that Murfreesboro has seen gatherings from hate groups.
“This group, The League of the South, has been organizing different rallies and armed protests in our area for years,” Bennett said. “We’ve always had a response to these guys. We’ve learned over the years how to respond to them.”
The League of the South organized a rally in downtown Murfreesboro only two years ago. According to reports by the SPLC, which actively tracks hate groups across the country, the number of white supremacists, extremist and hate groups rose to 917 in 2016 from the 892 groups that were identified in 2015. There were 38 hate groups identified in Tennessee in 2016, including a Murfreesboro chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
“We’ve all seen these people before,” Bennett said. “We’ve been countering these people for years … We’re gonna have a really good time Saturday … How we do it is not going to be an action against them but rather something that spotlights who we are and who we want to be. We want them to see that this is who we are.”
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