As a white nationalist organization and a counter-protest group solicit online RSVPs for concurrent demonstrations next month at an Elizabethton state park, officials say no one has yet filed the required applications to use the park’s land.
In an email, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesperson Eric Ward said as of Tuesday, no group or person has applied for a special use permit for Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, where neo-Confederate group the League of the South announced plans to hold a demonstration on Sept. 29 in protest of the destruction of a Confederate monument in North Carolina and against a shift toward multiculturalism in general.
The League, labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its white supremacist views, encourages Southern states to secede from the United States in hopes of establishing a new, Christian-based government ruled by white people of western European ancestry. Members took part in the deadly demonstrations last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, and have staged other white supremacist rallies across the state.
In response to the destruction of “Silent Sam,” a statue previously erected on the University of North Carolina campus to memorialize Confederate soldiers, the League announced the Sept. 29 demonstration in Johnson City, though the venue was later changed to Elizabethton. The group’s state chapter president, Tom Pierce, told the Johnson City Press last week he expects more than 40 people to attend.
For any group larger than 25 to use the park’s land and facilities, they must first apply for and receive a permit, Ward said. The special use permit informs park rangers how the space will be used and if any special services, including security, will be needed.
Thom Gray, a Carter County resident, said he is planning a protest to counter the white nationalist group’s demonstration, and he’s in the process of getting the proper permits.
“We intend to be peaceful and respectful of the park and the history it represents,” Gray said Tuesday. “We intend to show the world that what the League of the South espouses, what it stands for, are not the values of Carter County, Tennessee, or Sycamore Shoals.”
Gray’s grandfather, Tom, and grandmother, Alma, were involved in establishing the park at the site of the first constitutional government west of the Appalachian Mountains, and he said the League’s perverted views on Civil War history would be a disservice to the park if they were allowed to demonstrate unopposed.
An “Anti-Hate Counter-Protest: Sycamore Shoals State Park” event page Gray posted on Facebook last week has 866 users marked as going and 1,100 marked as interested.
He said word of the counter protest spread fast, and it’s only continued to grow more rapidly.
Gray said he plans to meet with park officials this week, and he will follow any permitting processes required of the counter-protest group. Once the event is underway, he said the group plans to follow any rules laid out by park officials, and they will eschew violence to avoid similar confrontations to those seen in Charlottesville.
“I went to law school in Charlottesville, and I know friends still there who were personally terrorized when groups like the League of the South invaded,” he said. “I don’t want to see what happened to my adopted hometown to happen here.”
Should any large groups show up on Sept. 29 without the required permits, Ward said park officials “will have a strategy in place to ensure public safety and security on park grounds.”