Shelbyville, Tennessee is a town of a little over 21,000 people. It has a large number of Check-Into-Cash stores, no high end restaurants and—like most towns of its size—a good portion of the domestic life of its residents revolves around the local WalMart.
It also happens to be the place that I happily call my home.
Until I came to Maryville College, I have lived in or around Shelbyville for the entirety of my short 27 years on this planet. I worked five years in a grocery store, and I have met and interacted with a large swathe of the local population. Needless to say, I am familiar with the place.
It is a docile town that rarely makes local, let alone, national news.
It is surprising, therefore, that on October 28, I stood at the intersection of Lane Parkway and N. Cannon Boulevard in
Shelbyville and witnessed a shouting match between nearly 100-200 white nationalists, and nearly 300-400 community organizers intermingled with Antifa activists.
The event was slated officially as a “White Lives Matter” (WLM) protest.
To my right, were a handful of reporters from Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, and to my left were reporters from all the local new stations. Somewhere in the mix, there was also a news crew from a news network in Asia.
The reason for the groups coming was to protest a wide variety of problems. These ranged from President Trump’s failure to act with more urgency on his anti-immigration platform, as well as the “White Genocide” that they claimed was happening in towns like Shelbyville.
According to the League of the South, the event was organized to call attention to the underreported Antioch, Tennessee, church shooting—which left one white woman dead and whose alleged perpetrator was a Sudanese immigrant—as well as the large Somalian immigrant population in Shelbyville.
The white nationalist organizations consisted of five groups: the League of the South, the Traditionalist Workers Party, the National Socialist Movement, Vanguard America, and the Anti-Communist League.
The town had taken every possible precaution to make sure that Shelbyville would not be another Charlottesville.
Police had liberally placed crowd control barriers on both sides of the protest areas, law enforcement was present in force, both sides had to go through two separate metal detecting stations, no one was allowed to bring bottles of water into the areas, and the intersecting streets were closed for nearly one-third of a mile in both directions.
Perhaps the oddest deterrent was that, since all the local businesses were closed out of fear of property damage, there was nowhere for anyone to use the bathroom. No one had ordered any portable toilets for the event. Perhaps the view by the police was that people’s bladders would ultimately overpower their convictions and prejudices.
After I arrived at the protest, it took nearly an hour and a half for the white supremacists to appear. They had waited for all their members to make it through the metal detecting stations before any of them appeared in the main protesting venue. They came into their designated area in force, carrying “White Lives Matter” signs as well as banners showing what groups were present.
The WLM protesters had barely settled in their area when Brad Griffin, who goes by the pen name Hunter Wallace and is the head of Public Relations for the League of the South, started addressing the protesters and counter-protesters through a microphone the group had brought.
For the remaining two and a half hours, the two crowds shouted profanities and insults at one another. Derision was met with derision, and no love was lost between the two groups.
If one of the two groups was labelled more civil or respectable than the other, then I can assure you that whoever said that must not have gone to the same event I did. Many of the counter-protesters acted just as vilely and disrespectfully as their enemies on the white supremacist side.
The counter-protesters, however, had more moderate leadership than their opponents. At the beginning of the counter-protest, the man who possessed the microphone and speaker for their side offered speaking opportunities to anyone who wished to speak. He only had one proviso: no one use profane or disrespectful language.
On the WLM side, however, the speaker quickly morphed from a supposedly concerned citizen for Southern whites, into a blatant and unapologetic racist.
At one point, near the end of the Shelbyville rally, the counter-protest side began chanting “Black Lives Matter” repeatedly. This was meet with Griffin launching into a blistering tirade. “No!” he said. “Black lives don’t f—ing matter! White lives matter! We built this f—ing country! White lives matter!”
Only one person was arrested at the Shelbyville event. The man was a counter-protester arrested on the WLM side. The man claimed he had gone to that side in hopes of starting a dialogue with the protesters. He further stated that he was attacked unprovoked, and then arrested by police who had not seen the whole episode. At least one eye-witness claims that the man was actually attempting to break down a crowd control barrier when he was arrested.
The protest in Shelbyville ended peacefully. Afterward, the white nationalists got back onto their busses to start the trek to their second stop, the town of Murfreesboro just north of Shelbyville.
While I was waiting to be let into the counter-protest area in Murfreesboro, the news broke that Brad Griffin had called the second protest off. He tweeted out that the Murfreesboro rally was “a lawsuit trap.”
The counter-protesters immediately claimed victory over the white nationalists, and cited their large numbers as the reason for their win. Perhaps they were more triumphalist than triumphant, but the group felt vindicated nonetheless.
Shelbyville and its people, as well as its immediate small town neighbors, showed out in force against the protest.
Things like this never happen in either Shelbyville or Murfreesboro. As a native of that region I can say with all certainty that we Shelbyvillians hope it stays that way.
So, for Antifa and WLM, I, a native Shelbyvillian, would like to say on my town’s behalf: Good Riddance and Don’t Come Back!