MURFREESBORO, Tennessee–The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, Murfreesboro Police Department, and the Tennessee State Police ensured a peaceful “White Lives Matter” rally held in this growing Nashville suburb on Saturday with an overwhelming presence that kept a white nationalist group and counter protesters completely separated.
Several hundred law enforcement officers conducted a well planned textbook case study in crowd control that will likely become a model for law enforcement agencies throughout the country dealing with rallies scheduled by extremist groups who face widespread opposition to their views, from the general public as well as from other extremist groups.
Tennessee law enforcement officers followed the basic principles of “Crowd Control 101” by keeping the competing groups separated through the use of an overwhelming police presence that communicated the rules of assembly and enforced them vigorously, fence barriers, well planned security control and containment, helicopters, drones, and officers on horseback.
The League of the South, a white nationalist group, had secured a permit to conduct the rally, whose purpose they described as “a heritage assembly paying respect to the fallen of the Civil War,” from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Murfreesboro Square, but by 1:20 p.m., no one from the group had showed up, and the square was a heavily secured virtual ghost town.
Earlier in the day, the group had conducted an unpermitted but legal sidewalk rally event in nearby Shelbyville. At that event, one man was arrested. There were conflicting reports as to the group with which the man was associated.
Around 2:oo p.m., a handful of League of the South members–witnesses put the number at anywhere from half a dozen to thirty— showed up in the permitted area that faced the east counter-protest area, separated by two fence barricades on either side of a ten foot part of the road in which armed law enforcement officers attired in riot gear– a sort of man-made protective moat–stood and began talking for about 45 minutes.
The content of their message was apparently difficult to hear and was interrupted by cat calls and shouts from the counter protesters in the east counter protest area on the other side of the protective moat.
The counter protesters in the east counter protest area were part of the 1,000 total counter protesters at the rally.
At that time, 2:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., there were about 300 counter protesters in the east counter protest area, 200 in the west counter protest area, 100 waiting to get through security in the west counter protest area entrance, and 400 waiting to get through security in the east counter protest area.
At 2:45 p. m., the handful of League of the South members who had been exercising their First Amendment rights left the permitted area, and apparently left the city as well.
Around 3:00 p.m. a spokesperson for the League of the South issued a statement that the main event with its featured speakers had been cancelled. “On Twitter, he said long security lines in Shelbyville delayed the group. He also accused Murfreesboro of being a ‘lawsuit trap,’ ” The Tennessean reported.
The leaders of the League of the South–who were given every opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights to peaceable assembly and freedom of speech in Murfreesboro on Saturday–apparently did not want to do so on this day at this location, after causing local law enforcement agencies to spend what will likely end up being hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds.
A number of the counter-protesters, however, did not hesitate to exercise their First Amendment rights, as several dozen of them waiting to go through the security entrance to the east counter protest area chanted “F*** Donald Trump.”
The Murfreesboro Police Department announced at about 3:45 p.m. that there were no arrests at the rally and the crowds had largely left the square.
In anticipation of a vigorous showing from counter-protesters, the City of Murfreesboro Police Department closed down roads for several surrounding blocks and designed a well-run security gauntlet that separated the opposing groups by at least ten feet at all times.
Barricades of fences, yellow police tape, large trucks, and law enforcement officers armed and dressed in riot gear were set up in the outer perimeter, extending at least a quarter mile in all directions from Murfreesboro Square.
Police divided the interior perimeter into four separate areas:
(1) A tight square at the center which consisted of the three story Rutherford County Court House and the lawn that extended for about ten yards to the surrounding street, which was the permitted area where members of the League of the South were allowed to deliver their message. This inner square was surrounded by a continuous fence barricade that was about four to five feet high.
(2) A moat on the street on the other side of the fence barriers that defined the inner square in which more than 100 armed Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department law enforcement officers attired in riot gear formed a continuous line, with about six feet of spacing between each officer. A second fence barrier separated the officers stationed within the moat from the protesters on the other two areas
(3) Between the second fence barrier that defined the edge of the moat, a set of barricades and more police officers formed a line of demarcation that extended from the moat to the retail stores on the other end of the street. This barricade ran north-south and separated the counter protester area into two separate areas–the west counter protester area, which could only be accessed after passing through a heavy security screening entrance point about a quarter mile southwest of the Courthouse and
(4) The east counter protester area, which could only be accessed after passing through a heavy security screening entrance point about a quarter mile southeast of the Courthouse.
In a brilliant display of advance strategic planning of crowd control, it was not possible for counter-protesters to move directly from the west counter-protest area to the east counter-protest area.
In order to move from the west counter-protest area to the east counter-protest area, you had to exit the west counter-protest area and walk a circuitous half mile route and go once again through security screening, this time at the east counter-protest security screening entry point about one quarter mile to the south east of the Rutherford County Court House.
Law enforcement had an overwhelming and forceful presence at the event.
In addition to the hundreds of law enforcement officers attired in riot gear who manned the various fence barricades, at least a dozen law enforcement officers were on horseback, and about that same number–a dozen–were stationed as shooters on the rooftops of the businesses that surround Murfreesboro Square.
In addition, several helicopters, as well as several police drones, constantly flew over the event.
About thirty Antifa protesters, clad in black, many initially wearing masks, concentrated in the east protest area. The masking-wearing protesters were told directly and forcefully by law enforcement to remove their masks, as it is a violation of Tennessee law to wear a mask at such events, and that if a single Antifa member refused to remove their mask, the entire event would be shut down.
All Antifa protesters complied with that directive in fairly short order, though there were several reports that they did so under heavy protest.
The Tennessee law enforcement handling of the event was in stark contrast to the way the Charlottesville, Virginia Police Department and Virginia State Police forced the competing white nationalist and far left/Antifa counter-protesters into direct contact in the August 12 rally in Charlottesville.
The cancellation of that event by Charlottesville authorities on “unlawful assembly grounds,” combined with law enforcement’s failure to keep the two groups separated, led to hours of violence that ended in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.