Posted on January 10, 2018

Inside a Confederate Rally in Memphis, from Morning Cigarettes to Evening Beers

Abdul Aziz, Splinter, January 9, 2018

The first participants of the Dixie Freedom Ride arrived just after 9 am on a bitterly cold Saturday in the parking lot of a Walmart SuperCenter in Southaven, Mississippi. {snip} But at 10:30 am, a group of about 15 Dixie Freedom Riders were still huddled in a circle, puffing on cigarettes and preparing to drive a few miles north to Memphis, where they would protest what they considered the illegal removal of two Confederate monuments.

Last month, the Memphis city council voted in favor of transferring ownership of two public parks to a recently formed non-profit organization called Greenspace, Inc, who bought them for $1,000 each. Within hours of the vote on December 20, the city had removed statues of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Confederate general (and early Ku Klux Klan member) Nathan Bedford Forrest.


“We’re hoping to bring the African-American community and the white community — you know, all communities together as one,” said Confederate supporter Renee Land as she waited in the Walmart parking lot Saturday morning. “We don’t want our history removed. If you’re going to remove that statue, then let’s just go all over entire United States to remove every statue we have.”

“The Confederacy, the history has been twisted on that, but we’re all Southerners,” Sessions said later. “No matter what color you are, we’re all Southerners. It’s not about racism. It might have been about racism hundreds of years ago when the slave ships come across the Atlantic, but it’s not anymore. The white supremacists have hijacked the Confederate flag and it has been seen as a symbol of hate, but it never intentionally was.”

Billy Roper of The Shield Wall Network, who also showed up in Memphis that day, has a different view. {snip}

The way he saw it, the Shield Wall Network was here to nudge the Confederate activists in the right direction. “My job is to be as extreme as I can be legally,” he said. “My radical flank works to make Confederate 901 more radical and extreme.”

At one point during the day, Billy Roper and a group of about a dozen supporters managed to post up just outside of Health Sciences Park, formerly known as Forrest Park. Once there, they unfurled a banner: “Diversity = White Genocide.”


The violence some community members feared never materialized as counter-protesters from Take ‘Em Down 901, the NAACP, and other city and civic leaders urged residents not to engage, instead calling for a day of community service.


By 3 pm on Saturday, only a small pocket of anti-racist activists had come and gone. Neither the protesters nor the counter-protesters had the opportunity to lay eyes on one another. The Confederate 901 caravan never drove into the city, opting only to make a continuous loop around the I-240 for two hours before stopping at a rally point to disband outside of the city.


But the protesters couldn’t completely relax. They’d received a number of threats on social media during the day, they said. A Springfield XD handgun sat on the nightstand, a remnant of the tension earlier that day.

“The night that the statues came down, I was angry,” said George, a Confederate 901 organizer, who didn’t want to give his last name. “I’m a real big history guy and a big fan of Nathan Bedford Forrest. I’ve even been up there to clean the statue and I’ve put flowers on his grave for the past four or five years. I have a great respect for him.”

“I know how inner-city Memphis is,” added James Del Brock, co-founder of the Hiwaymen. “I’ve drove through a lot of it. I’ve drove through it with my motorcycle and battle flag. I’ve always wanted to know, because I’m a white person, how to reach into the inner city without getting shot.”


Overall, though, the mood was hopeful. A man who would only identify himself as Phillip and the founder of Confederate 901 says the group is seeking 501c3 status. They recently received a $10,000 donation from a single donor. “The money is coming in,” he said proudly