An estimated 200 white nationalists descended on Shelbyville, Tennessee today under the Nationalist Front: a coalition of white nationalist groups including leaders like the Traditionalist Worker’s Party, the National Socialist Movement, and the League of the South. This rally is significant because, with 200 attendees, it’s drawn a relatively large number of white nationalists for an alliance event. While the size is paltry compared to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August–which reportedly included a throng of alt-right followers of Richard Spencer, and ended when a counter-protestor was mowed down by a car–it still marks a growth of white nationalist coalition events which previously averaged between 50 and 60 attendees.
“Many groups are unifying,” a longtime observer of nationalist groups tells Jezebel. “The larger numbers and media attention are bringing more people out to the streets. The addition of the suit wearing intellectual alt-right is pulling in the closet white nationalists who aren’t necessarily about the hoods and swastikas.” Still, according to various news reports, counter-protestors outnumbered nationalists by nearly two to one.
More extreme groups are also moving away from overt symbolism. Since its rebranding and removal of swastikas in 2016, National Socialist leader Jeff Schoep had said that he would like to move the party “into the mainstream and out of the so-called fringes.... [of] American politics” and has made a concerted effort to unify KKK, skinheads, and nationalists. Klan groups have similarly participated in a re-branding (or un-branding).
Shelbyville was chosen, according to the League of the South, the town has seen a growth of racial diversity with the arrival of 18,000 refugees to Tennessee since the early aughts. Today’s rally in Shelbyville ended in “a lot of shouting,” but peacefully, the Wall Street Journal reports, and most businesses in the downtown area closed or boarded up their windows in anticipation of violence. According to USA Today, counter-protestors, including ANTIFA, nearly doubled the white nationalists in size, chanting “Black Lives Matter” while some white nationalists did the sieg heil and chanted “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan referring to a territory defined by a single race.
Nationalists were supposed to move to Murfreesboro, which granted them a rally permit, but the head of the League of the South’s PR tweeted that that portion has been cancelled, which means that they did not meet the long lines of counter-protestors who’d already cued up in Murfreesboro’s square.
Tennessee governor Bill Haslam has also come out strong against the participants.“If you’re part of the white supremacist movement you’re not somebody that we want in Tennessee,” he said.
The Tennessean has a livestream of the event now.