Tennessee Prepares For White Nationalist Rallies

Originally published on October 27, 2017 11:08 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Residents of two Tennessee towns, Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, are bracing for back-to-back white nationalist rallies tomorrow. The events are expected to draw hundreds of supporters and counterprotesters from across the country. Officials there fear a repeat of the violence in Charlottesville, Va. So local businesses have been encouraged to close down, and neighbors have been asked to stay away. From member station WPLN, Julieta Martinelli reports.

JULIETA MARTINELLI, BYLINE: Murfreesboro is one of the fastest growing cities in Tennessee. Like many in the South, it has a busy town square where locals often hang out, shop and dine. But this weekend, it's probably going to look very different.

ERIC LAMURE: They told the business owners to think about it as a Category 5 hurricane coming through.

MARTINELLI: Eric Lamure works at a family-owned smoke shop on the courthouse square in Murfreesboro. Normally, they make most of their money during the weekend. But they'll be closed tomorrow and warned to board up their windows, which Lamure says feeds into the fear of what both white supremacist and counter-protesters might do.

LAMURE: And that's kind of unfair because they're not even from here. And I think it's - the spoken majority doesn't agree with their opinions.

MARTINELLI: He says many of his customers wonder about the lasting effect on the city, which is home to a large public university. Summer Duke is a senior at Middle Tennessee State. She grew up in a rural area nearby and believes some quietly support the rally.

SUMMER DUKE: It's not like we're a highly progressive part of the world or anything. It kind of like brings out bad sides of people. We wouldn't have a problem with white supremacy in our country at all if that wasn't true.

MARTINELLI: At MTSU, a popular band competition was cancelled, and dorms will be locked down. Administrators promise increased police presence. Both of these cities have had considerable racial tension in recent years. Resistance to building a mosque in Murfreesboro received national attention in 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Islam is not a religion.

MARTINELLI: Opponents marched around the same square where white nationalist groups are scheduled to gather tomorrow. In neighboring Shelbyville, clashes with immigrants and refugees became the subject of a PBS documentary. But residents want outsiders to know those events are not representative of the region.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Boo to hate. Boo to hate. Boo to hate.

MARTINELLI: Laura Aguilar joined a small group called Shelbyville Loves that's been waving signs everyday on a street corner.

LAURA AGUILAR: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTINELLI: She says white supremacists are not welcome. She supports all immigrants, not just Hispanic but also the Somali refugees who relocated to the area. Kimberly Bean has been a woman's rights activist since the 1960s. She really wants to know how white nationalists justify their ideology.

KIMBERLY BEAN: It's not my agenda to chase them out. I would like to have that debate. (Laughter) I'd rather have that conversation. I'd rather know what makes you think these crazy thoughts?

MARTINELLI: Officials are speaking out. The mayor of Murfreesboro put out a video. Even the Tennessee Baptist Convention spoke up. Here's Randy Davis condemning the white supremacists.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

RANDY DAVIS: We don't hold press conferences very often. In fact, in the seven years I've been in this position, this is the very first.

MARTINELLI: Once the rally comes to town, local officials would prefer residents find something, anything else to do. For NPR News, I'm Julieta Martinelli in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

(SOUNDBITE OF EZRA MAE AND THE GYPSY MOON'S "VALLEYS IN THE DUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.