White nationalists stage anti-refugee protests in Tennessee

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn., Oct 28 (Reuters) - About 300 white nationalists and neo-Nazis held back-to-back rallies in two small Tennessee cities on Saturday to protest refugee resettlement in the state, which sued the federal government over the issue earlier this year.

The "White Lives Matter" rallies in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, organized by some of the same groups involved in a Virginia march that turned violent in August, drew an equal number of counter-demonstrators and a heavy police presence.

The protesters started in Shelbyville, then traveled about 35 miles north to Murfreesboro for a second rally. Both towns are near Nashville, center of a metropolitan area has become home to refugees from Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere.

RELATED: White Nationalists protest refugees in Tennessee

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A protester shouts during a White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A protester shouts into the microphone during a White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Protesters arrive at a White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Counter protesters line the street across from a White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Counter protesters line the street across from a White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Police officers from throughout middle Tennessee prepare for a White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Police officers from throughout middle Tennessee prepare for a White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Local residents write on boards installed to protect a business during tomorrow's White Lives Matter rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, U.S. October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Local residents write on boards installed to protect a business during tomorrow's White Lives Matter rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, U.S. October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
SHELBYVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 28: A person is arrested during a White Lives Matter rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Lives Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)
SHELBYVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 28: Counter-protestors demonstrate during a White Lives Matter rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Lives Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)
SHELBYVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 28: Counter-protestors demonstrate during a White Lives Matter rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Lives Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)
SHELBYVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 28: A person tears up an anti-fascist flag during White Lives Matter rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Lives Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)
MURFREESBORO, TN - OCTOBER 28: Sheriffs officers in riot gear stand guard during a 'White Lives Matter' rally on October 28, 2017 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Live Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations.(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SHELBYVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 28: White Lives Matter protestors demonstrate during a rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Lives Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)
SHELBYVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 28: A man gestures during a 'White Lives Matter' rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Live Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations.(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SHELBYVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 28: People hold signs during a 'White Lives Matter' rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Live Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations.(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Atmosfere as Shelbyville prepares for a "white lives matter" rally residents call on passerby's to say 'Boo to Hate' in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Illinois, US on 27 Ocotber 2017, a day before White nationalist groups will gather in Tennessee for 'White Lives Matter' rallies. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
SHELBYVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 28: People hold signs during a 'White Lives Matter' rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said state and local law enforcement officials would be out 'in full force' for the two white nationalist rallies. The event billed as a White Live Matter rally is hosted by Nationalist Front, which is a coalition of several white supremacist organizations.(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Atmosfere as Shelbyville prepares for a "white lives matter" rally residents call on passerby's to say 'Boo to Hate' in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Illinois, US on 27 Ocotber 2017, a day before White nationalist groups will gather in Tennessee for 'White Lives Matter' rallies. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Atmosfere as Shelbyville prepares for a "white lives matter" rally residents call on passerby's to say 'Boo to Hate' in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Illinois, US on 27 Ocotber 2017, a day before White nationalist groups will gather in Tennessee for 'White Lives Matter' rallies. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Atmosfere as Shelbyville prepares for a "white lives matter" rally residents call on passerby's to say 'Boo to Hate' in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Illinois, US on 27 Ocotber 2017, a day before White nationalist groups will gather in Tennessee for 'White Lives Matter' rallies. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People prepare for White Lives Matter demonstration, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, United States, on October 27, 2017. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People prepare for White Lives Matter demonstration, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, United States, on October 27, 2017. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People prepare for White Lives Matter demonstration, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, United States, on October 27, 2017. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People prepare for White Lives Matter demonstration, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, United States, on October 27, 2017. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People prepare for White Lives Matter demonstration, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, United States, on October 27, 2017. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People prepare for White Lives Matter demonstration, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, United States, on October 27, 2017. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People prepare for White Lives Matter demonstration, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, United States, on October 27, 2017. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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"We don't want the federal government to keep dumping all these refugees into middle Tennessee," said Brad Griffin, a member of a group known as the League of the South who has written about his desire to create a white "ethnostate."

Saturday's rallies were organized by the Nationalist Front coalition, which embraces groups considered neo-Nazi or neo-Confederate by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

To help keep the peace, Shelbyville police used temporary fencing to separate the white nationalists from counter-demonstrators. Anyone seeking to enter the area was searched. Guns, backpacks, sticks and other items that might double as weapons were banned.

The white nationalist demonstrators gathered behind a half dozen white shields emblazoned with red crosses. Counter-protesters carried signs with slogans including "Don't Hate" and "Veterans for Peace." Two lines of police, some in riot gear, stood between the two sides, who shouted at each other.

One man was arrested for disorderly conduct, but there were no injuries, local media said. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Later in Murfreesboro, where protesters were prohibited from carrying shields or wearing masks or helmets, the rally remained peaceful, the city said on Twitter.

RELATED: Torch-carrying white nationalists chant Nazi slogans in march on campus

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Torch-carrying white nationalists chant Nazi slogans in march on campus
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Torch-carrying white nationalists chant Nazi slogans in march on campus
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: A White Supremacist helps another after he was hit with pepper spray during a clash between counter protestors and Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacist groups after they marched through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Young men hold up torches on the steps of the Rotunda as other Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: A group holds up a flag on the steps of the Rotunda as other Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA - AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists march through the University of Virginia Campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Local officials and faith leaders had denounced the gatherings, fearing they could inflame racial, ethnic and religious animosities in the state.

Over the last 15 years, about 18,000 refugees have been resettled in Tennessee, less than 1 percent of the state's population, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

The state filed a lawsuit the federal government in March saying it had been unduly forced to pay for refugee resettlements. It was the first state to bring such a case on the basis of the 10th Amendment, which limits U.S. government powers to those provided by the Constitution. Other states have filed similar suits on different legal grounds.

"When they say refugees, what they really mean is Muslims," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, referring to Saturday's protesters.

He noted that a Murfreesboro mosque has been a source of controversy and vandalism for years.

"Tennessee is one of the states that has seen a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in recent years, particularly since the election," Hooper said.

President Donald Trump has sought to ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries since he took office and called during his 2016 election campaign for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

(Additional reporting by Chris Kenning; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown)

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