Christopher Mathias, Huffington Post, April 29, 2018
Police formed a tight perimeter around a Tennessee state-owned hotel Saturday, guarding a white nationalist conference inside the building from anti-racist protesters gathered outside.
American Renaissance, a racist Virginia-based organization listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, reserved the 125 rooms inside Montgomery Bell State Park Inn for the weekend conference. Attendees not staying at the hotel arrived there early Saturday morning. Nearly all of them were men. They wore suit and ties — mandatory dress for the event — and didn’t respond to reporters’ questions as police escorted them inside.
Anti-racist protesters arrived a short time later. State park rangers subjected each protester to a metal detector test before allowing them to enter a fenced-off area across from the hotel.
The Inn at Montgomery Bell State Park — nestled in a 3,850-acre state park 30 miles west of Nashville — has hosted American Renaissance’s annual conference since 2012. Privately owned venues had repeatedly canceled or denied reservations to American Renaissance before that, after pressure from anti-racist activists. Legally, it’s more difficult for publicly owned venues like the park’s inn to deny reservations to racist groups.
But this year’s American Renaissance conference was marked by a much larger police presence than in years past. Over 100 officers from local and state law enforcement were in the park Saturday. A handful were stationed on the roof of the inn, looking down at protesters. A helicopter circled overhead. Police rode around on horseback. Police dogs sniffed at cars. At one point, police opened and searched a vehicle that appeared to belong to an anti-racist protester.
At the American Renaissance conference Saturday, the 60 or so anti-racist protesters — from groups including Nashville AntiFa, Anti-Racist Action Nashville, the Tennessee Anti-Racist Network, Women’s March Tennessee and Shelbyville Loves — were kept about 100 yards away from the hotel behind a police barricade. Over 50 police officers stood guard outside the inn.
“Those are the most influential white supremacists in the world meeting at this rural location in Tennessee!” Lacy MacAuley, an anti-fascist activist from Washington, D.C., yelled at the cops. “You all are protecting absolute evil right now and you’re looking at us as if we’re the problem!”
Police also prohibited protesters from wearing masks at this year’s protest. When one young protester briefly wore a bandana around the lower half of his face, police charged at him, grabbed him by the arms and walked him out of the protest pen. Other protesters followed, swarming the police and chanting “Let him go!” and “Shame!”
Police did not arrest the masked protester but forced him out of the protest area. In an act of solidarity, a group of his fellow protesters then donned masks of their own and stared down police for an hour. This time the police did nothing.
American Renaissance denied this HuffPost reporter press credentials to report from inside this year’s conference. (“There will be plenty of media at our conference,” Taylor wrote in an email. “You, on the other hand, have a record of covering any form of racial dissidence, not as a journalist, but as a closed-minded bigot.”)
The white nationalists, whose conference lasts through Sunday, stayed fortified in the hotel. A large contingent of police remained outside, standing guard.