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UPDATE: White nationalist group moves planned rally to Elizabethton, will have presence at Johnson City pride event

Nathan Baker • Updated Aug 23, 2018 at 7:18 PM

A white nationalist rally originally announced next month in Johnson City was moved to Elizabethton, organizers say, but the group’s state chapter now plans to place protesters at an upcoming LGBTQ event in the city.

Tom Pierce, chairman of the Tennessee chapter of Neo-Confederate group League of the South, said Thursday afternoon an upcoming demonstration originally planned Sept. 29 in Johnson City will be held at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

The change of venue came after League representatives and Johnson City City Manager Pete Peterson could not settle on an appropriate public place for the group to assemble, Pierce said.

In an emailed statement earlier Thursday, Peterson said the League’s members had a First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, and city staff was in conversation with the group to find a location that will best ensure public safety.

The national organization, named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, encourages Southern secession from the federal government and the establishment of a Christian theocracy governed by a caste system ruled by whites with western European ancestors.

“We were going back and forth with the city manager, working on getting a location in the city, but it wasn’t very promising,” Pierce said. “We couldn’t agree on a good location where we could invite people, and we didn’t want to be corralled off. It mutes our message.”

That message is the opposition to a shift in the South toward multiculturalism, he said. To the League, the growing agency of people of color and individuals in the LGBTQ communities represents a threat to the power they believe their ancestors handed down to them through birthright.

Pierce said the wrong side won the Civil War, or “the second war for independence,” as he calls it, and the effects were seen in the forced racial integration of schools and the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriages be recognized, regardless of state laws to the contrary.

Some of the League of the South’s Tennessee members will also travel to the area on Sept. 15 to protest the inaugural TriPrideTN event in Johnson City organized by the local LGBTQ community. Pierce said they will set up along the event’s parade route with Confederate and Tennessee flags in protest of the group’s message of inclusion.

More members should be on hand for the Elizabethton demonstration, which Pierce said was in part a response to the destruction earlier this week of “Silent Sam,” a monument to Confederate soldiers on the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and other public monuments to the Confederacy.

In a post on the group’s website denouncing the toppling of the statue by protesters, the group blamed the demonstration on radical leftists and communists and called for “decent and right-thinking Southerners and others of goodwill” to take part in the Sept. 29 demonstration to perform their “civic duty to uphold both (their) cultural inheritance and law and order in the South.”

League of the South members were present at a “Unite the Right” rally last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, held to protest the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The racially charged rally turned deadly when a white supremacist rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring others.

Two weeks later, the League showed up in Knoxville to demonstrate, but media reports said they were vastly outnumbered by counter-protesters. The group has also been active in Nashville and Shelbyville.

Pierce said he doesn’t anticipate violence at the local rally, but said group members will be prepared.

“You might need a shield, and if somebody wants to wear a helmet, they can,” he said. “We would definitely be high on some people’s target list.”

The national League of the South is led by founder Michael Hill, a former college professor who has defended slavery and segregation and espoused racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views in his writings and speeches.

The League’s membership dwindled to near extinction in the early 2000s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but an increase in militaristic and radical rhetoric and alliances with similar groups in the last decade seems to have added to its numbers.

Pierce said he has witnessed the group’s membership grow, and said they “have a lot of support out there” from non-members.

Reported earlier at 3:27 p.m.

A white nationalist group plans to hold a public demonstration next month in Johnson City to protest the destruction of a monument to Confederate soldiers this week at the University of North Carolina.

On its website, Neo-Confederate group League of the South blamed the toppling of the university’s “Silent Sam” statue on radical leftists and communists and called for “decent and right-thinking Southerners and others of goodwill” to take part in a public demonstration set for Sept. 29 in Johnson City to perform their “civic duty to uphold both [their] cultural inheritance and law and order in the South.”

City Manager Pete Peterson, through a spokesperson, confirmed that the group has expressed an intent to hold a gathering in the city. He said a permit is not required to peacefully gather in a public space, but city staff has “had conversations with them about doing so in a location that will help us best ensure public safety.”

“The First Amendment affords all people this right to free speech, whether it is in line with our values or otherwise,” Peterson said in an email.

Johnson City spokesperson Keisha Shoun said a group representative told city staff the League plans to gather at 9 a.m. and they expect approximately 40 people taking part in the demonstration. They plan to wave Confederate and Tennessee flags and display the League’s banner.

The League, classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was founded in 1994 and encourages Southern secession from the federal government and the establishment of a Christian theocracy governed by a caste system ruled by whites with western European ancestors.

It’s led by founder Michael Hill, a former college professor who has defended slavery and segregation and espoused racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views in his writings and speeches.

The League’s membership dwindled to near extinction in the early 2000s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but an increase in militaristic and radical rhetoric and alliances with similar groups in the last decade seems to have added to its numbers.

In the last few years, the group has become more active, taking part in demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white nationalist allegedly injured and killed counter-protesters with his car and a black man was beaten by white supremacists, and at rallies in Shelbyville, Knoxville and Nashville in Tennessee.

At the Knoxville rally two weeks after the deadly events in Charlottesville, local and national media reported the white nationalist demonstrators were significantly outnumbered by counter-protesters.

Requests for comment from the League’s national and Tennessee chapter leadership were not immediately answered. The post announcing the September demonstration said details of the event would be posted later on the group’s website.

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