This Saturday, a range of avowed white-nationalist groups plan to descend on the Tennessee cities of Shelbyville and Murfreesboro for “White Lives Matter” rallies many fear could turn violent like the demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.
In preparation, Shelbyville, a city of just over 20,000, announced Wednesday evening that it would implement extensive security measures for the event there, which lacks a permit. Attendees will have to enter a designated protest area through checkpoints. Police will screen them for prohibited items: masks, bottles, torches, laser pointers and guns, among others.
Murfreesboro, with a population of more than 100,000 people, announced similar precautions for its rally, which does have a permit. The mayor, Shane McFarland, condemned the demonstration. On Thursday morning, Mike Browning, a spokesman for the Murfreesboro Police, said, “we’ll have sufficient security to prevent weapons from getting into the safe zone,” but declined to offer specifics. Browning said the security measures will cost the city “in the thousands of dollars.”
To ban guns from the rallies, Shelbyville and Murfreesboro officials had to go further than issuing a public notice. State law requires municipalities in Tennessee to set up cordons and screen with a metal detector everyone who enters the designated demonstration area. The 14 other states that allow cities to completely bar guns from protests don’t place the same burden on local governments.
Organizers of the rallies noted that guns were banned, though they originally encouraged followers to familiarize themselves with local firearms law and to come equipped with helmets and shields in anticipation of any possible fighting. An updated event page later eliminated mention of firearms law and helmets or shields.
No militias have formally lent their support to the events. After Charlottesville, the Three Percenter militia movement resolved to not participate in any more rallies associated with white supremacy. Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia said that with heavily armed paramilitary groups offering protection to white nationalists at the August rally, police had been reluctant to enter the fray for fear of becoming targets of violence themselves.
On the Occidental Dissent website, organizers wrote: “We desire to hold two peaceful demonstrations. The Nationalist Front chose to hold this event in Middle Tennessee in order to AVOID any type of clash with violent Antifa protesters.”
While both cities plan to ban weapons from the tightly controlled protest areas, the state allows permitted open carry of handguns elsewhere and recognizes a wide range of out-of-state weapons licenses. Tennessee bans open carry of long guns, permitted or otherwise.
Middle Tennessee State University, located in Murfreesboro, announced it would lock its dormitories and cancel at least two events, a high school marching band competition and a science festival.
One particularly sensitive site, the Murfreesboro Islamic Center, sits well outside that city’s safe zone. Since it was first planned in 2010, the community and worship center has been the target of vandalism and threats. The city would not comment on security plans for the Islamic Center, which itself did not immediately respond to requests for comment.