Tennessee towns bracing for upcoming white nationalist rallies

Authorities and city officials in two Tennessee towns are bracing for possible clashes on Saturday when protesters and counter-protesters take to the streets for scheduled white nationalist rallies.

The "White Lives Matter" rallies were organized by white nationalist group League of the South, according to city officials, and are scheduled to take place Saturday in the cities of Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, located south of Nashville. Counter-protesters are also expected on the day of the rallies, officials said.

The rally will focus on issues such as last month’s deadly church shooting in Antioch, Tennessee, illegal immigration and refugee settlement in Middle Tennessee, the Shelby Police Department said in a press release.

Officials are asking that demonstrators on both sides "respect each other’s rights and respect the role of law enforcement in maintaining and peace and discouraging aggressive behavior, said Shelbyville City Manager Shanna Boyette in a video streamed on Facebook Friday.

Residents who live and work near protest sites are encouraged to err on the side of caution and avoid the areas, if possible.

League of the South President Michael Hill informed Shelbyville city officials that the group intended to hold a sidewalk rally on Oct. 28, according to a press release. Such a gathering does not require a permit or approval from the city.

In a statement, Hill instructed protesters to "obey all authorities charged with keeping public order," The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Stand your ground, speak your mind and proclaim your message, but do not initiate physical contact with anyone who opposes you,” he said. “Engage in violence, and at the proper level, only in defense of your own person, that of your compatriots, and your property.”

In downtown Murfreesboro, the League of the South is expected to be joined by other affiliated groups in its rally, the city said in a release.

Murfreesboro is home to Middle Tennessee State University, where resident halls will be locked due to the rally beginning Friday at 5 p..m. through Monday at 8 a.m., the university said in a press release.

"As the sixth fastest-growing mid-size community in the nation and home to MTSU, the largest undergraduate university in Tennessee, the city and county are proud of the community we are building and the diversity of its residents," the city press release stated.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will be present at the rallies and "visible as a show of force and support for local law enforcement agencies," said TBI Director Mark Gwyn in a statement.

Both cities stated that they have a responsibility to protect free speech rights and those who seek to exercise those rights.

"Given the recent incidents in our country surrounding protest and counter-protests, the city is taking very seriously multiple concerns regarding the safety of expected protesters, counter-protesters, the public, and the protection of private and public property from damage," Shelbyville officials said.

A white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August turned violent when a car plowed through a group of demonstrators.

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in response to Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has not declared a state of emergency, but state authorities will be in close contact with local police, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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