Two Middle Tennessee communities, fearful of a repeat of this summer’s violent clashes in Charlottesville, were bracing for possible confrontations Saturday between white nationalist groups and counter-demonstrators at a pair of White Lives Matter rallies.
In Murfreesboro, wary business leaders boarded up windows downtown while locals turned out for a prayer vigil Friday night only two blocks from the rally site.
The first rally was scheduled in Shelbyville, Tenn., at 10 a.m. CDT, although officials in the town of nearly 22,000 people were closing the area ahead of time. Demonstrators and protestors were then planning to caravan 25 miles north to Murfreesboro for a second rally.
Organizers of the White Lives Matter rallies have said they aimed at protesting refugee resettlement and immigration to Middle Tennessee, specifically noting the presence of Somali and Sudanese people in the region.
Murfreesboro, with a population of over 130,000, has approved a permit for a rally from 1-4 p.m. CDT on the inner circle of the courthouse square. Officials began clearing the square of vehicles Friday night.
Locals turned out Friday evening for the “One Community Prayer Vigil” just two blocks from the site of the rally.
“We express our opposition tonight prayerfully and peacefully,” said Pastor Noel Schoonmaker, of the First Baptist Church. “The cross is a symbol of love, and we send love to immigrants and refugees and other targets of white supremacists. Hateful ideologies are antithetical to the teachings of Christ.”
The Rev. Joy Warren, of First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, said the vigil was being held in the midst of “fear-mongering,” noting that refugees being targeted by the rally had come to the United States seeking stability after hardship.
“We see them in your image, dear God,” Warren said in a prayer.
The white nationalist demonstrators were expected to include the League of the South, along with such affiliate groups as the National Socialist Movement, Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard America, all collectively known as the Nationalist Front. All are also classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as white nationalist and white supremacist groups.
The counter-protesters include the loosely organized anti-Fascist group commonly known as Antifa, local faith leaders, interfaith and community organizers as well as other anti-racist organizations.
Officials have said they expect counter-protesters to outnumber rally attendees by as much as four times.
The clashes in Charlottesville,. Va., in August left a 32-year-old woman dead after a speeding car driving by a white nationalist rally goer slammed into a throng of counter demonstrators. Nineteen people were injured.
Doug Stanglin is reporting from McLean, Va., Stephanie Ingersoll, Daily News Journal, is reporting from Murfreesboro, Tenn. Contributing: Natalie Allison, Daily News Journal
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