This weekend, various strains of white nationalists gathered in Shelbyville, TN to protest the presence of refugees in the state. They were met at every turn with much larger groups of counter-protesters, but the Somali community in Shelbyville, drawn there by the plentiful jobs at the poultry factory, was still apprehensive. Much fewer worshipers than usual gathered at the unmarked mosque for prayers on Friday.
The “White Lives Matter” protest began in downtown Shelbyville on Saturday morning, where white nationalist prayers were said and a narrative of white victim-hood was presented. One such prayer began, “consecrate my sword and strengthen the arm that wields it.” The prayer was led by Michael Hill, the founder of the League of the South. The men and women in the crowd wore SS insignia, Confederate flags, and Make America Great Again hats. Nazi salutes were thrown in response to cries of “Amen” and “hail victory!” Across the street, counter-protesters sang pop songs and played a recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech. A planned afternoon protest in Murfreesboro was cancelled, due to the large and rowdy crowd of counter-protesters waiting there.
The final event of the day was to be a vigil to be held at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, where eight people were shot in September by Emanuel K. Samson, brought to the US as a refugee from the Sudan as a child. While the police have yet to determine a motive for the shooting, which left one person dead, the white nationalists held up the event as a sign of the dangers refugees present. However, police gathered in advance of the vigil, and the white nationalists scattered. Some ended up at a sports bar, where they got into an altercation with a white woman and her African American boyfriend.
The congregants of Burnette Chapel Church of Christ do not align themselves with the white nationalists, and called the police on them when some showed up on Sunday morning with a banner saying, “Defend America + Save Our Faith … Refugees Kill.” The church mostly wants to return to normal, as much as possible. “We don’t really know how deep this thing is going to go, how dangerous it’s going to get,” Broderick Chunn said. Chunn has volunteered to lead services while the pastor, who was shot in the chest, recovers. He continued, “We have to be careful how we treat one another. We have to love each other.” The congregation includes people of color, although all the victims of the shooting were white.