A year ago today, white nationalists converged on Charlottesville, Va., for a “rally” that became a violent assault on peaceful anti-racist activists, students and clergy. One white nationalist rammed his car into a crowd and killed an anti-racist protester, while many other peaceful people were injured.
Charlottesville became the reference for raging debates and disputes about the aggressive white supremacist/Nazi movement that has become more active and visible since 2016.
A few days later, state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly a resolution to ”strongly denounce and oppose” the beliefs that underpin white nationalism and urging law enforcement to recognize these and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations. The General Assembly took no action on his resolution for eight months.
In October 2017, white nationalists staged a Shelbyville rally that shut down the town.
In February 2018, WalletHub pronounced Tennessee as the No. 1 state for “anger and hatred.” WalletHub’s results were released the same day as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual Year In Hate report, which listed 37 active hate groups in Tennessee, including neo-Nazi, KKK, racist skinhead, white nationalist and other extremist groups.
In March 2018, Clemmons’ resolution to denounce white nationalists and Nazis came up in a General Assembly subcommittee but was not considered because no one seconded it. A week or so later, House Republican Caucus Chairman Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, introduced a resolution very much like Clemmons’ but without the provision of the initial resolution that urged law enforcement to recognize and pursue white nationalist groups as “domestic terrorist organizations.” Less than a week later, Williams withdrew his resolution before it could be considered.
In explanation, Williams said, “I still believe it is important for our General Assembly to condemn groups that support racism and hatred. … I look forward to working with members on both sides of the aisle on a future resolution which can meet the expectations of all of our House members, as well as the citizens of Tennessee.”
In April, white nationalists held a heavily guarded conference at a Tennessee state park.
In May, white nationalists in Maryville rallied against talks by David Billings about his book “Deep Denial: The Persistence of White Supremacy in U.S. History and Life.”
There has been no further action by the Tennessee General Assembly on the issue. It appears that the reality of Mr. Billings’ title, “Deep Denial,” has paralyzed our Legislature.
White nationalists have announced plans for a rally in Washington, D.C., on today’s first anniversary of the Charlottesville event. It is clear that people motivated by hatred and racism feel free to continue to stoke anger and violence everywhere in the country. This will not end until white people show up and work to dismantle the systems that promote and support racism and bigotry.
The anniversary of the Charlottesville travesty is an opportunity for people of good will to show up and be seen and heard fighting against racism. We encourage readers to join local anti-racist groups such as Blount County United, Blount County SURJ, the NAACP and Blount County Immigrant Outreach.
In November we have an opportunity to elect people who will exercise leadership in Tennessee and Washington. We also encourage readers to ask candidates for elected office what actions they will take to counter racism.