Photo by Brinley Hineman / MTSU Sidelines
Story by Steve Barnum / Reporter, Anthony Merriweather / Reporter and Brinley Hineman / Editor-in-Chief
Hundreds gathered in Shelbyville, Tenn. on Saturday to counter-protest a white nationalist rally that hosted groups such as League of the South and Vanguard. The “White Lives Matter” demonstrators were scheduled to host another rally in Murfreesboro later in the day, but ultimately cancelled the event.
Counter-protesters showed up in Shelbyville around 8:30 a.m., but were left waiting until nearly 11:30 a.m. for the white nationalists to arrive, despite the rally being scheduled for 10 a.m.
Approximately 150 police officers dressed in riot gear were present at the rally, separating both sides from one another. Among Shelbyville officers, officers from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and members of the National Guard were also present.
In the crowd was an estimated 425 counter-protestors, including members of Antifa, an anti-fascist group.
Lydia Crawley, a 41-year-old Shelbyville resident, was counter-protesting the white nationalists, saying that they do not represent the values that the people of Shelbyville hold dear.
“I think (protesting white nationalism) is more (in line with) Shelbyville (values) than what (white nationalists) are,” Crawley said.
It wasn’t just residents of Shelbyville standing out in the cold, 40-degree weather, protesting white nationalist ideals, though. There were people from neighboring towns and states from differing backgrounds present as well.
Jennifer Samardak, a Nashville resident, stated that she was out, “protesting hateful, evil, vile Nazis and racism and everything that they stand for.”
Samardak was dressed as a clown because she said that she wanted to show the white nationalists just how silly they look to her. She was also holding a sign that read “Shelbyville loves diversity.”
“Part of why we are all here today is to show that there is more to this community and that Shelbyville has a lot of diversity, and they embrace and love their diversity,” Samardak said. “And we are going to keep that alive and maintain that narrative.”
Samardak explained that she felt that lack of education, and making people aware that racism and discrimination are still huge problems that some Americans are facing. She feels that certain tensions can be diffused through proper education and word of mouth.
“I really don’t know what more we can do,” Samardak said, “Sometimes it’s a really hard conversation to have; Especially when your friends and family don’t always see things the same way.”
Samardak then explained how important it is to get out and vote for representatives who actually care about their communities. She also feels that the only way America can progress is through participation.
Chris Irwin, a criminal defense attorney from Knoxville, was at the rally with a sound system aimed at the protesters, playing things like Hispanic dance tunes, Martin Luther King Jr. speeches, Bob Marley songs and allowing anyone to talk on an open mic, civilly, towards the white nationalists.
“I’ve read the constitution,” Irwin said, “I know how the First Amendment is supposed to work.”
When asked why he was counter-protesting, Irwin explained that a protest isn’t where one side gets to spew out ideas unopposed, and that a protest is supposed to be an open marketplace of ideas. He looked around and stated that the white nationalists and the counter-protesters gathering in Shelbyville is pure democracy at work.
“We’re here to debate and argue and let the public decide,” Irwin said, “I’m here because these fools don’t belong in Tennessee, they belong in the dustbins of history.”
Sam Schaffer, a Middle Tennessee State University graduate student in the public history program, was counter-protesting with the political group Middle Tennessee Democratic Socialists of America.
“We believe that there is a better world possible and that it doesn’t involve fascism at all,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer expressed that he and his group were out to oppose the racist and reactionary views of the white nationalists, and to put forward an alternative vision of where the world is run democratically, to envision a world without poverty, a future where we deconstruct militarism and violence and a society in which everyone has healthcare and all the necessary needs in their lives provided for them.
“There’s good people out here in Tennessee and we have a vision for something better than this,” Schaffer said.
“White Lives Matter” protesters feel that their right to exercise their freedom of speech in public is currently under attack. Frank Gilroy, a retired former inventor and a supporter of the “White Lives Matter” rally in Shelbyville, says that he was present for the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and sees a difference in law enforcement’s approach to the situation in Shelbyville, but sees a consistent approach in retaliation from counter-protesters across the board.
“Tennessee cops are kick-ass, great … (Charlottesville) cops were horrible. They made (the violence) happen, they forced that to happen,” Gilroy said. “This is the third rally I’ve been involved in in Tennessee, and everyone has been orderly. Look at how many cops there are, how much money does this cost? Why can’t we just have a rally and these guys stay home? We don’t go to their rallies, we don’t go bust up their meetings, but they want to come bust up ours.”
A recurring narrative among those in support of “White Lives Matter” is the belief that the white population is currently at risk due to newly settling immigrants from other countries. The presence of illegal immigrants, rather than legal, pose a greater threat to the ideologies of “White Lives Matter” supporters and are not necessarily beneficial to the country that they envision. Gilroy, who describes himself as a white nationalist, believes just that.
“We’d like to have the country back, but for all original Americans,” Gilroy said. “That includes American Indians, black people and white people, also. We don’t want to see this flood of immigration coming in here that’s going to change everything that this country is all about.”
To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.