KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Special rules, road closures and extra police are some of the steps the City of Knoxville will take to keep a planned protest, over a Confederate monument, from getting out of hand.
No one in East Tennessee wants to witness the violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. The city will set up designated demonstration areas on Saturday in the Fort Sanders neighborhood. Protestors will be scanned by a metal detector to get in and no masks or shields or face-coverings of any type will be allowed.
The city is asking protestors to not bring poles or sticks, as well as no guns or knives and nothing that could be used as a weapon.
Roadblock signs are already up in Fort Sanders, some who work in the area are planning to stay away this weekend.
“Very shocking. I hope it settles down soon,” said April Crusco.
At the core of the argument is a monument erected in 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, honoring soldiers who died during the battle of Fort Sanders.
On Thursday, Rod O’Barr with Sons of Confederate Veterans spent his day cleaning the monument.
“It’s been vandalized three times in the past seven days,” he said.
Initially green pool paint was thrown on the monument and O’Barr says black paint was also splattered. Then he made a discovery early Thursday.
“Someone came and wrote the word ‘racist’ on the monument,” he said.
The City of Knoxville says Knoxville police, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, and Tennessee Highway Patrol all have officers mobilized and ready.
“I’d hate to see something like Charlottesville happen here,” added Crusco.
O’Barr hopes this protest doesn’t happen because there’s concern there will be guilt by association, “We want no part of that, we don’t want to be associated with that. We want to see the monument respected but we don’t want that kind of negative attention drawn to it.”
Right now the city does not have an official list of groups that will be protesting in Fort Sanders because permits are not required. Chief Policy Officer, Bill Lyons, says they believe the group which called for the protest, Confederate 28, will be in Knoxville but they’ve not received word if groups like ANTIFA or any other will be demonstrating.
Confederate 28 initiated the protest by posting on an online forum called Stormfront. The Southern Poverty Law Center did not identify Confederate 28 as an active hate group in 2016, though they’re still compiling 2017 numbers.
Stormfront on the other hand, according to SPLC, is a popular forum for white nationalists and other racial extremists.
Counter-protestors noticed the post online and took a screenshot.
“It was just stupid. The thing is when you post to that website with your account that you presumably had to sign up to get, it’s hard to make that even a logical coherent argument,” said counter-protest organizer Chris Irwin.
Confederate 28 has disbanded and their website has been deleted. A Confederate 28 member, George Valois, sent a statement to our newsroom, declined an interview, and added he doesn’t believe any former members will be in attendance.
“They will be there,” said Irwin.
In the statement from Valois, the group describes their push for a protest about a Confederate monument in Knoxville as conservative activism to stir outrage.
“We’re monitoring all the social media and online sites, and KPD of course is, to keep track of all groups that may come and especially get a sense of any malicious intent,” said Lyons.
Irwin described those who are counter-protesting as, “Citizens. Citizens of Knoxville.”
City leaders are hoping and expecting this weekend’s protest to be peaceful.
“I think what we learned [from Charlottesville] is keep the hostile, combatant people apart, number one, and number two keep anything that can be used as a weapon out of the area.”
Those are the two tactics, Lyons says, our East Tennessee officers will be using to keep the peace.
“If they want to come, we’re going to do everything we can to protect their right to be there and say what they have on their minds,” he said.
Irwin says his fellow demonstrators are not afraid of white supremacy groups who may show up on Saturday.
“We just want to engage in our first amendment rights, because that’s where the truth is going to come out,” Irwin said.