white supremacists

Appalachia Burning: White Supremacists in Tennessee – by Rev. Jeannie Alexander

I’ve been wrestling with how to write about  white supremacists and modern day self-proclaimed Nazis descending upon my beloved home in Middle Tennessee where I stood with a small band of inter-faith women clergy, determined to push back hard – literally – against hate.  It was exhausting, heartbreaking, took weeks in planning, and ultimately was successful. But what the hell does success mean when you’re talking about shutting down white supremacists and Nazis?

It began as a plan, an absurd “dangerous” plan. A small collective of women clergy, and women of faith, came together and decided that we simply were not going to allow a torch march in Middle Tennessee. Some of our collective had been part of the counter demonstration in Charlottesville and bore witness to what was a very calculated, pointed message in an action seen far too many times in the history of this country. A mob of angry white men, with torches, marching through the countryside, with the end result of death, accentuated these days by the echoing chant of “blood and soil!”

And so the decision was made that we would track their movements through the weekend, and should the Nazis and white supremacists assemble for their terror march, this band of women was going to block them with our bodies, in clergy garb. The angry mob was going to be forced to show the world that they were willing to assault female clergy in their frenzy of hate.

In the early planning stage there were men involved with our little collective. When a decision was reached that the direct action was going to be to stop the torch march, they pulled out, called us crazy, and insisted that people were going to get killed.

But you see, that’s just it; people have already been killed. A torch march historically has a specific purpose, and that is to strike fear and terror into the hearts of the targeted population/individuals, with the end result being death; typically the torture and deaths of black bodies by lynching, or Jewish bodies, queer bodies, Communist, Anarchist, or the bodies of race traitors and sympathizers. Really, anyone who the “master race” identifies as “inferior.”

As anyone else knows who was tracking the racist chatter, a torch march was off and on again throughout the planning of the White Lives Matter event, and certainly throughout last Friday.
We spent Friday in small collective worship and preparation to basically have the shit kicked out of us. Some folks will say this is pointless, and what good does it serve? But our thinking was this – someone has got to say “No!” and for too many centuries it’s been black and brown bodies paying the price of fear and hate.

It was cold and windy as we walked through the historic neighborhood of Murfreesboro’s downtown toward the square. It was almost Halloween, and all I could think was that the scariest thing was actually happening, that we were walking through the night in this beautiful quiet neighborhood, toward an interfaith service, because we had credible information that there was a plan to disrupt the service with a torch march. It is 2017, and we had literally spent our day planning and preparing to disrupt self-identified Nazis. What world are we living in? The 1850’s, 1930’s? Have we become so numb, deaf, and blind to history?

Businesses on the square appeared ready for a disaster with boarded up windows and doors. A local pastor who had joined us explained that the windows were boarded up out of fear of counter demonstrators, not the white supremacists and Nazis.
Let that sink in and tell me please, why in the hell aren’t we all Antifa? Given the hard bloody lessons of history, why are we not all anti-fascist? What the hell have we sold our souls for when politicians can flippantly assert that people stridently opposed to Nazis and fascists are the same as Nazis and fascists?

And so, we spent Friday night on the move, and there was no torch march.

We proceeded Saturday to Shelbyville with not enough sleep. As everyone knows, the overwhelming counter demonstration drown out the hate rally pretty effectively.  Amidst all of the chanting, screaming, and playing of La Bamba from our side, I listened carefully to the speeches from the other side of the bridge.

I listened to the horrific sick screams of “Black Lives don’t matter!” and “I am a fascist! I am a Nazi!” and taunts of “Hey guys, where’s Heather Heyer, I don’t see Heather Heyer over there, do you?” And I also heard fear: a fear of the other, an anger expressed in asserting that other people flee from their countries to “avoid their problems,” and a corollary fear asserted in the statement “We don’t have anywhere to run!”

They don’t even know that they don’t have to run. Run from what? From hope? From our oldest richest tradition of offering sanctuary to the tired, sick, hungry and oppressed? In additional speeches some white supremacists claimed not to be Nazis, others proudly claimed to be Nazis; and still, others spoke of low wages, an inability to make ends meet, an abhorrence of private prisons, and a lack of healthcare. This was followed by an extolling of Trump and his promise to drain the swamp.

What we were faced with in low numbers on the other side of the bridge was this: poor whites being led and whipped into a frenzy by out of town urbane racists, a narrative that was utterly contradictory and disjointed resulting in an allegiance to fear and hate, supported by a false cultural and historic narrative that Jewish Communists run the world and integration is impossible, that the rich narcissistic pig in the White House actually identifies with them, and some pissed off little god is on their side.

When white supremacists were bemoaning the abuse of workers and low wages, and a lack of healthcare, while in the same breath castigating communists and spewing capitalists rhetoric, I was quite frankly left speechless, a rarity. Why the hell aren’t they communist, I wondered; and have they ever read Grapes of Wrath, because there sure were a lot of upside down twisted Tom Joads across the bridge from us.

I looked across the lines of militarized police, and deputized militia, into the faces of my enemy, and I saw Appalachia burning in their eyes. Standing behind the metal fence barricade with my feet rooted in the earth, I felt Appalachia running through my own veins. Some of those people across the line were my blood people too; and I cannot deny that the same God who created them created me, and what is holy and divine in me has still got to be able to see what is holy and divine in them if there is any hope for resurrection and restoration for any of us. I could feel their fear along with their misplaced anger and rage, but I could feel no sympathy. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is genocide. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is black bodies swinging from trees. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is brown bodies trapped behind a wall – caged in CCA camps – or dying of heat exhaustion trying to cross a desert to find a better home for their children. I have seen the enemy, and if I do nothing then the enemy is me. There is no neutrality in this oldest of wars.

After the showing in Shelbyville, the Murfreesboro Saturday afternoon White Lives event never even occurred; although later in the night a roving band of angry cowardly white supremacists beat a woman in Brentwood.

This weekend we could not have functioned and operated without enormous support behind the scenes from legal observers, medics, and movement chaplains. They were with us Friday night before any crowds appeared, and they gave us the courage to do what we all felt deeply convicted was the right action, but nonetheless was a frightening action.

And after this weekend, what? I am sad. angry, and determined. I am grateful for this beautiful small collective of humans, who have just begun our journey together. I am full of hope, and moreover, I hope that you will join us in future resistance. And because I am an unruly ill-behaved woman, I really love our battle cry of “Shabbat Shalom motherf***ers!”

Jeannie Alexander

Rev. Jeannie Alexander is the director of No Exceptions Prison Collective, a legal and educational advocacy organization with and on behalf of prisoners and their families. No Exceptions works through a combination of litigation, legislation, and grass roots movement building in collaboration with prisoners, free world individuals, houses of worship, and other like-minded organizations.No Exceptions’ primary focus areas are sentencing reform, and internal prison conditions.She is also a co-founding resident of Harriet Tubman House, an interfaith community dedicated to restorative practices in earth stewardship and human rights.She served as the Head Chaplain at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution for three years until September 2014. Prior to that, she was the volunteer chaplain for two years. As chaplain, she facilitated the creation of an unprecedented number of programs for insiders, both in minimum security and on death row, and developed interfaith communities in prison based on a model of liberation theology. She has been a professor of Philosophy, Ethics, and Religion. She is a writer with essays published in the book And The Criminals With Him, and she has two forthcoming books: a of poetry titled Folklore, and an examination of faith, life sentences, and the cultural and moral costs of caging humans for life, titledRedemption?

One thought on “Appalachia Burning: White Supremacists in Tennessee – by Rev. Jeannie Alexander”

  1. Im blown away and sent a link to my tribe for this article. I introduced this article with the following words:
    This is raw, heroic and hopeful…at least in my part of the universe

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