Nearly two weeks after the death of a counter protester at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., activists in Tennessee are gearing up to protest and counterprotest the possible removal of a Fort Sanders monument.
Rallies that are being billed by some as right wing or white supremacist are being planned for Knoxville, as well as in other locations like San Francisco and Berkeley, California.
Confederate Monument Protest
The City of Knoxville's communications and government relations director said the event is locally organized and that there are no indications yet that white supremacist groups from outside Knoxville will attend Saturday's rally. However, the Facebook event listing shows members of the newly reformed local white nationalist group Confederate 28 along with other members of local affiliate groups plan to protest Saturday.
The majority of protesters unaffiliated with these groups have said they plan on protesting the removal on other grounds such as preserving history.
Mayor Burchett Reacts
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett released a statement Wednesday ahead of the protest, saying the white supremacists aren't welcome.
“As out-of-town white supremacists and neo-Nazis head toward East Tennessee, I ask everyone of faith to pray for the safety and well-being of our community, our law enforcement and everyone involved, and for the healing of our nation," Burchett said. “The racism and hatred of these white supremacists and neo-Nazis don’t reflect our values, and they are not welcome here.”
In an interview with 10 News, Burchett elaborated on his statement.
"Any time that a group says that another group doesn't deserve the same rights as they have, I don't feel very welcoming to those kinds of people," Burchett said. "I really don't care what group it is that's out there, I just don't want a bunch of folks agitating or inciting violence in our community."
A cached version of the Confederate 28 Facebook page describes itself as "a brotherhood of nationalists seeking to defend Western Civilization and the Southern Culture" and had less than a dozen people stated to attend the protest. The page has been taken down as of Wednesday as Facebook continues to crack down on hate speech on its social media platform by banning white nationalist pages.
Confederate 28 is a Tennessee division of the UK-based neo-nazi organization "Blood and Honour," which derives its name from a motto in German used by Hitler youth movement, "Blut und Ehre."
The Facebook event for the protest was organized by Tom Pierce, the leader of another affiliated white nationalist organization known as the "South Knox Ten Milers."
A counterprotest is planned on the same day, going under the name of “Knoxville against white supremacy.” The counter protest site calls the rally a “version of a KKK supremacy,” and asks marchers to show up in Fort Sanders and hour before the Confederate 28 event.
A Kindness Rally is set for 1 p.m. in the Krutch Park Extension of downtown Knoxville. The rally is intended to give people who seek an outlet to express support for their fellow Knoxvillians a peaceful, safeand supportive place to gather.
Tyson House at UT Knoxville will also offer a place of peace and healing. Their common room and chapel will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Throughout the day Tyson House will be offering prayer on the hour as well as have clergy on-hand for personal counsel and prayer. Water and snacks will be available.
Road Closures & Law Enforcement
The Knoxville Police Department will close 17th Street at 6 a.m. The closure will be from Cumberland Avenue to Highland Avenue. Side streets connecting in that stretch of 17th will also be blocked.
Temporary no-parking zones will be posted along adjoining streets and enforced by towing ahead of the demonstrations.
If you live within the the street closures, you will be allowed to leave your home or apartment as needed.
Mayor Rogero has asked that all participants "on any side respect each other’s rights", and "respect the role of law enforcement in maintaining peace and discouraging aggressive behavior."
“Our officers will be there to maintain order and ensure that everybody is free to speak their piece,” Mayor Rogero said. “These are volatile times, and I strongly urge everyone to refrain from antagonism. We can have these discussions as a community without resorting to angry rhetoric or violence.”
According to a release from the city, guns and other weapons and masks or shields will not be allowed for people entering the designated demonstration areas near the Confederate soldier memorial.
In compliance with state law, the areas will be subject to wanded security checks, according to KPD.
No water bottles, drink containers, coolers, liquid beverages or food items will be allowed in the demonstration zones. Water will be provided to participants on site. Only required medical items will be allowed into the demonstration zones.
Fort Sanders Monument
The Fort Sanders monument, which honors Confederate soldiers and Tennessee veterans, has been controversial, becoming a target of vandalism with petitions asking for it to come down. Others have formed counter petitions to keep the statue in place.
On Wednesday, someone wrote "racist" on the monument with black marker.
Someone wrote "racist" on the confederate monument in Fort Sanders. Last week people threw paint on it. Protests planned for this Saturday pic.twitter.com/Dwm6cQnw0f— Marc Sallinger (@MarcSallinger) August 23, 2017
Some city council members said they'd prefer keeping the monument where it stands, but others such as Mayor Madeline Rogero have not taken a stance on it and are consulting with local historians and scholars on the issue.
Other officials said removing the monument would need widespread support from lawmakers because of state laws protecting such landmarks, saying The Tennessee Historical Commission would have to come to a majority vote on the issue.