Over the weekend, the neo-Confederate secessionist group, the League of the South, held demonstrations in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee to protest what they believe to be the demographic displacement of Southern white people by immigrants and Muslim refugees.
Traditional Youth Network leader Matthew Heimbach was supposed to attend the rally, but the League uninvited him after Imagine 2050, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League revealed that he’d aligned himself with several neo-Nazi groups. Although the League says they dissociate themselves from Nazis, their message of white Southern pride is equally dangerous and just as racist.
During the rally, League members objected to “native” Tennesseans supposedly being pushed out of their homes as part of a larger government plan to force diversity onto traditionally white communities. They held signs that read “No Jihad in Tennessee!” and “It’s wrong to replace us!” The groups focused the protest on two main areas: the Tyson foods plant in Shelbyville and the government’s refugee resettlement program.
League protesters voiced their frustration that the Tyson Foods plant located in central Tennessee has been hiring undocumented workers and attracting immigrants to work in the plant and settle in the state. However, the League appears to be more concerned about the alleged breaking up of white communities than the human rights violations against the workers employed by the meat processing giant.
Tyson employees regularly report the horrors they endure at the plants such as unsafe working conditions, low wages and no benefits, unprofessional attitudes, and excruciating repetitive motions. Additionally, workers are often denied restroom breaks and are forced to urinate on themselves on the line. The appalling conditions immigrant workers endure at the Tyson plant appear to trump any complaints by the League and the alleged forced diversity they have to participate in.
The second tier of the League’s protest was against Tennessee’s refugee resettlement program. League of the South chairman, Michael Cushman, told The Tennessean he was not against the refugees, many who are from Somalia, but he still doesn’t want them here.“Somalis have a country and that’s Somalia. That’s their homeland. We have ours and that’s the South. … We’d like to see a free South,” Cushman said, adding he and the group would like to secede from United States and become their own state made up of “‘Anglo-Celtic’ (read: white) elite.”
Unfortunately, the League’s anti-Muslim sentiment echoes larger cultural attitudes in Tennessee which has recently become a hotbed for Islamophobia. Most notably was the call to halt construction of the Murfreesboro Islamic Cultural Center where protesters, many belonging to the anti-Muslim group ACT! for America, claimed the mosque had ties to terrorism and called in a bomb threat against it.
The call to end the refugee resettlement program in Tennessee is a cause backed by nativist, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobia groups. A committee was formed to stop the resettlement program by trying to make states stop paying for the program because they claim it puts a financial and social burden on places such as Tennessee. Anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum advertise the meetings and committee members. Additionally, Don Barnett of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) – the anti-immigration research organization founded by John Tanton – is present at those meetings, having spoken out against the resettlement program in the past.
Despite Tennessee’s increasing Islamophobic and anti-Muslim activity, hundreds of counter-protestors showed up at last weekend’s rally to say the League does not speak for all of the state. While holding up signs advocating for peace and diversity, the counter-protesters aimed to show that many Tennesseans embrace immigrants. One group present at the rally, Tennessee Anti Racist Network, made a point to ensure the League was as uncomfortable as possible, pledging to continuously work to disrupt the group’s hate mongering.
Similar to the counter-protesters in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, we must continue to show nativist fringe groups such as the League of the South that they do not represent the values of our nation and that we celebrate and embrace our society’s diversity.