White Lives Matter group members give their side of the story, Lee pacifist club protests in

White Lives Matter group members give their side of the story, Lee pacifist club protests in

Police on alert at the white supremacist rally in Shelbyville, TN.

Courtesy of Jay Luzardo

Last month, Shelbyville, TN erupted into loud shouts of opinions and direct insults as white nationalist group "White Lives Matter," organized by The Nationalist Front, marched through the streets—in protest against what they describe as white genocide and “white guilt."

Peacemakers, the pacifist club at Lee, also traveled to Shelbyville to participate in a non-violent protest of the group's message. 

While standing on the sidewalks bordering the parade, members of Peacemakers held up hand-made signs that read, “I need to be able to tell my children that I did not stay silent” and “Diversity = Beauty.” They also led spirited chants of, “A Jew died for you” and “No justice, no peace.”

Liam Wheeler, head of Peacemakers and junior anthropology major, said advocacy for national diversity was the heart the Peacemakers’ mission while in Shelbyville.

Courtesy of Jay Luzardo

“We have to take a stand against this kind of stuff because the world is watching. What are you Christians doing to fulfill the gospel of love and peace that Jesus talks about?” Wheeler said. “Racist hate and extremist violence…this is the kind of stuff we need to stand against.”

The organizers of the group, the Nationalist Front, is a collection of white nationalist organizations, including League of the South, the Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard America and the National Socialist Movement.

The police appeared intent on preventing a violent outbreak like the one in Charlottesville, VA, keeping the two groups separated by metal fences and a line of armed officers with a K-9 Unit between them.

According to City of Shelbyville officials, the White Lives Matter rally was originally intended to be a sidewalk-only protest, which requires no prior police approval. However, with the scope of the rally and the assured presence of opposition, Shelbyville police shut down the intersection of Highway 231 and Lane Parkway.

White Lives Matter advocates gathered at 10:30 CST before having to go through two security checkpoints. The leadership of the Nationalist Front appeared to take the security seriously, demanding that all comply with the police.

“Helmets and shields are the only thing that’s approved here. No weapons of any kind. Y’all know this,” one of the rally leaders said. “If they find you with a weapon, I don’t know what the result is going to be, and I’m not saying it won’t be arrest.”

Several White Lives Matter ralliers spoke to Lee Clarion on the condition they remain anonymous.

Courtesy of Jay Luzardo

While the Nationalist Front presented the rally as a unified voice of White Lives Matter, many advocates had differing opinions. Some were marching for what they said was protection of white rights.

When asked what he wished the public knew about the rally and the people participating, one White Lives Matter advocate said he wanted the American people to know the reality behind the White Lives Matter movement.

"I think I can speak for almost all of us—we don’t really have any hate in our hearts. It’s more so just being there for our people and making sure that we survive,” he said. “It’s love. People view it as hate, but I don’t see any hateful symbols around here. We actually made it a point to not bring any hateful symbols, because it shouldn’t be about hate but about love.”

But some of his fellow advocates didn't follow the no-hate-symbol decision and brought versions of the Nazi flag and symbol to the rally. Others, however, stood with the man's viewpoint, saying the misunderstanding around what the group is actually advocating has been intentionally convoluted by the media. He maintains that culture is now intent on demeaning the white race.

Courtesy of Jay Luzardo

“This is overall a White Lives Matter movement, but also, we feel like we’re being genocided and we’re being replaced,” he said. “We’re being systematically replaced. Our birth rates are down, and our death rates are up as non-whites are being imported in every day.”

One woman said she was marching with the Nationalist Front for the white children of America.

“I want people to understand that it’s okay for you to say you’re white and to not be judged by it,” she said.

When confronted with these statements, Liam Wheeler said they were nothing but lies.

“That is absolutely false,” Wheeler said. “These guys are very, very hateful, and they are proud of it, as they say. … All of them are registered hate groups, extremist hate groups, by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is definitely about hate.”

Wheeler also said he was appalled people with these belief systems were part of Tennessee and centralizing in Shelbyville to protest their ideologies.

Courtesy of Jay Luzardo

“I feel disgusted that there are literally neo-Nazis in our state, in the middle of Shelbyville, Tennessee,” Wheeler said. “They might make it sound like it’s a fight against forced multi-culturalism or white genocide or something silly like that. But this is definitely a fight of supremacy over whose skin color or culture is better.”

His fellow Peacemakers said they agreed with him. Lucas Yanes, sophomore nursing major, said he felt anyone on the White Lives Matter side was lying to themselves when they say they rally out of love.

“That’s pretty much the definition of racism, that singularity,” Yanes said. “‘I love my race, but not any other race.’ Why would you say that? We’re all the same blood on the inside. We are all together as one people, and we’re better as one people. Why would you segregate yourself like that?”

White Lives Matter advocates and counter-protestors like Peacemakers caused police to block off all lanes of a highway intersection before the rally.

With police stationed throughout the empty intersection—including three mounted officers and two armored trucks—the two rallies and protestors never met.

Vanderbilt University sophomore Lyn Risch said she came to protest the rally because it was the right thing to do.

“I think it’s really important to show that when people like this think they can come to our towns, no matter where they are in the United States, that there are people who will stand up to them. I think silence is violence and it’s never solved anything before. We need to have a dialogue,” Risch said. “Listen to the people around you. Immigrants are not here to hurt you. Refugees are not here to hurt you. Black people are not here to hurt you.”

No violence developed during the protest, though each side hurled insults and chants at each other from a safe distance. The rally disbanded around 1:00 CST.

Homecoming draws crowd for Volley For A Cure

Homecoming draws crowd for Volley For A Cure

Humans of Lee: Rachel Tolliver, professor and eyewitness to Civil Rights aftermath

Humans of Lee: Rachel Tolliver, professor and eyewitness to Civil Rights aftermath