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National

White Nationalists Descend On Tennessee, Outnumbered By Counterprotesters

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back to the U.S. now, where white nationalists gather today in Tennessee for their biggest public display since the violent marches in Charlottesville, Va. The name of the rally was White Lives Matter. So far, the demonstrations have been peaceful. Chas Sisk with member station WPLN reports that the message is an in-your-face mix of white supremacy and calls to partition the United States.

CHAS SISK, BYLINE: Somewhere between 100 and 200 demonstrators arrived all at once in the town square of Shelbyville, Tenn., in a caravan of cars, some from as far away as the Rocky Mountain states. Dressed in black and arrayed behind a phalanx of shields, they marched to the protest zone. And organizer chanted an anti-immigration slogan.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Closed borders.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Closed borders.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: White nation.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: White nation.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Now we start the deportations.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Now we start the deportations.

SISK: The rally was put together by a group called The League of the South which advocate secession. Other organizations also took part, including American Nazis. Unlike in Charlottesville, demonstrators were not rallied around a single cause like a border wall or Confederate statues. Instead, the goal appeared to be simply a show of strength. And Harry Hughes, who calls himself a National Socialist from Arizona, says being provocative was the point.

HARRY HUGHES: We come out. We're dressed in uniforms. We, you know, have symbols and things. That gets people's attention. They look and they listen.

SISK: There were probably double the number of counter-protesters. Darlye Lamont Jenkins drove all the way from Philadelphia to confront white supremacists.

DARLYE LAMONT JENKINS: And I think it's important people should know about who they are and what they're about. And once they find out who they are, they respond to them in an adverse way towards them.

SISK: The choice of location appears to have symbolic meaning. Shelbyville has been divided by the presence of East African refugees who settled in the area to work in meat processing. A second rally is in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where construction of a mosque riled the community several years ago. It's also where the local university has debated renaming a building that honors Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. The early leader of the Ku Klux Klan is from the region, a fact not lost on white nationalists. For NPR News, I'm Chas Sisk in Shelbyville, Tenn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.