Will racism disrupt Black Lives Matter rally in Johnson City?

Tony Casey • Updated Aug 4, 2015 at 9:23 PM

Johnson City’s Dennis Prater knows exactly what he’s up against in helping organize this Saturday’s Tri-Cities Black Lives Matter March for Equality.

Prater and other organizers have been concerned about Facebook posts and messages about possible counterdemonstrations and threats of disruption.

“One Aryan Nation Under God,” “#whitelivesmatter,” “#whiteunity,” “whiteunity,” and “AryanRenaissanceSociety” are some of the phrasings posted by members of a group allegedly counterorganizing through social media. Black Lives organizers fear the posts represent actions from white supremacists.

“(We) have a small army ready to blow their little party out of the water...in the proper way...the white,” reads one posting by Surgoinsville’s Rebecca Barnette, with others calling to bring as many white supremacists as possible. She called herself a local representative of the White Lives Matter and Aryan Renaissance Society groups, which, she said, promotes the white race.

Barnette said she will not be in attendance for this weekend’s Black Lives Matter March in Johnson City, but has joked about being there in the past. Her Facebook page contains conversations with others in support of the Confederate battle flag and other comment chats where many racial slurs including the phrase “moon cricket” are used to describe black people.

“I define racist as someone who takes pride in what they do and who they are,” she said, going on to say that believes she falls within that definition.

“Yes, I do,” she said. “Yes, I do. Because, in my opinion, the way the public views racists as a hate-mongering group. I prefer racialist. I don’t hate anyone. I just promote my own.”

Prater sees these kinds of postings like Barnette’s “little party” comment as a threat, which go directly against what he and the other organizers of the rally are trying to accomplish. He questions how serious the threats are, however, saying that people act differently on the internet than they do in public.

“We'll see how many show up,” he said. “They say intimidating things on Facebook, but they won't actually show up.”

Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois said police will look into any possible threats and plan accordingly, but his department always strives to promote the ability for groups to peacefully assemble.

Barnette, who is originally from this area, said she had received what she perceived to be death threats from the organizers of the Black Lives Matter group. She specifically takes issue with what she says is an economic drain that Mexicans, immigrants and black people have on this country.

As a homemaker, who admits to having reaped the benefits of government assistance in the past, Barnette said she has taken the time to organize a White Lives Matter demonstration in the Tri-Cities area in the coming months.

In early July, following Dylann Roof’s shooting of nine members of a black church in South Carolina, the Confederate battle flag was taken down from its display on the state’s capitol amid a lengthy debate around the country. Roof’s social media profiles showed him to support white supremacist causes, all while using the Confederate battle flag as one of his symbols.

Following that national news, there have been nationwide rallies for and against the flag in question, bringing the topic of race to the forefront.

Prater says it’s no coincidence that those who support the Confederate battle flag and white supremacists are on the same side against those in the Black Lives Matter movement. He says there’s a thin line between the groups, if any, because they’re very much the same.

“It's no coincidence,” Prater said. “They claim it's not about hate, but then why are they are showing up to our rallies with Confederate flag. It shows what they're about.”

In Prater’s eyes, the battle flag resembles hate and likens it to the level of the “n-word.”

While attempting to gain traction and solidarity for the upcoming rally, Prater said, he and the other organizers had learned of pro-Confederate and white supremacist groups pretending to be allies of the Black Lives Matter March so they could bring in the flag, which was denied.

Prater welcomes their attendance, but said the flag has no place at a Black Lives Matter rally.

In the wake of recent high-profile police brutality stories in national news, Prater and his co-organizers put their heads together to try to generate a national conversation on a local level, where they believe the topic of race needs to be discussed.

“It's because black people are suffering from police brutality to a greater degree than anyone else, have their churches burned down and so on,” Prater said. “There is a new conversation about race relations that have opened in the U.S. Of course all lives matter, but we want people to know that black lives matter, too.”

The last bit is the part he believes has been forgotten but consistent with the way black people have been treated since before the formation of the United States of America.

Some things Black Lives Matter movement seeks to accomplish include opposition to what they consider systematic police brutality against people of color, more oversight over law enforcement officers, the end of for-profit prisons which benefit from the war on drugs, investment in living wages and education, an opposition to white supremacy and a respect for all humans.

With such a message of equality and widespread respect for all, Prater said the conservation can lead to the world becoming a better place. To get there, organizers for the Tri-Cities Black Lives Matter March for Equality may have to shake off the charge of Confederate flag supporters and those who operate with the goal of “white pride” in mind.

Through online postings, several members of those groups are calling for a “three pronged counter offensive,” from Elizabethton, Kingsport and Jonesborough. One organizer of the counter rally says they will wait on the outskirts of Johnson City before overwhelming the Black Lives Matter group from different angles.

The Black Lives Matter march will consist of many like-minded individuals to talk about those race and economic-related topics, having members of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branch to speak to the group.

The march is set to begin on West Walnut Street near the entrance to East Tennessee State University at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

For more information about the rally, find the organization’s Facebook page: Tri-Cities Black Lives Matter March for Equality.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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