Law enforcement in both cities made painstaking efforts to keep the groups separate. Late in the day, officials said the events had been largely peaceful.
About 160 white nationalists, led by the League of the South, descended on Shelbyville to hear a series of speeches from group leaders Saturday morning. But at several points they were drowned out by more than 400 counterprotesters across the street, who sang, chanted and played Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech over a loudspeaker.
Kat Chambers of Jackson, Miss., drove six hours to join the counterprotesters.
“I don’t want Nazis on the street of my country, not my state, not your state,” Chambers said.
White nationalists had previously said the events in Middle Tennessee were intended to protest an influx of refugees. Thor Henderson, a grand officer in Georgia for the International Keystone Knights, a Ku Klux Klan group, said he was marching to bring awareness to the September shooting at an Antioch church.
One woman was killed and seven others were injured in the church shooting; the suspect, Emanuel Kidega Samson, is a legal U.S. resident from Sudan.
“We’ve been here marching for the white peoples’ rights,” said Henderson. “We just bring awareness to the stuff that’s going on and maybe we can wake up the general public and just open their eyes.”
Law enforcement from across the state collaborated with Shelbyville police to oversee the rally. Barriers kept the groups on sidewalks at opposite sides of a four-lane road while officers watched from the median.
Shelbyville police arrested one man, identified as John Gill Anderson, 20, of Bell Buckle, Tenn., and charged him with disorderly conduct, according to Lt. Brian Crews.
Crews said Anderson was cited for “threatening behavior.”
In an interview, Anderson said he was a counterprotester who had come into the white nationalist section of the rally in hopes of “a productive conversation or argument.”
As the Shelbyville event drew to a midday close, attention turned to Murfreesboro, where around 600 counterprotesters had gathered in advance of the rally. A crowd of around 300 gathered on Church Street, chanting “Murfreesboro loves” and “black lives matter” while they awaited a caravan of white nationalists en route to the second rally in the downtown square.
Instead, only around 30 white nationalists came to the square. Counterprotesters overwhelmingly outnumbered them there — Murfreesboro officials said as many as 1,000 participated throughout the day across the city.
As the second rally petered out, the League of the South announced it would not be coming to Murfreesboro. A spokesman said on Twitter the group considered the Shelbyville rally a success.
The counterprotesters in Murfreesboro were largely led by a new group called Murfreesboro Loves. The group formed just a few weeks ago, when 20 to 30 people came together to discuss ways to counter the white nationalists, said Dionne Rogers, 45, one of the founders of the group.
They came up with a hashtag and a graphic designer volunteered to create an image to add to the group’s Facebook page. In the short time since, they have made buttons and T-shirts and gained thousands of followers on Facebook.
“We went from a hashtag to a movement,” Rogers said. “Our feeling is love is action.”
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