It’s about time that we start to recognize that when fascists defend free speech it is only their speech they are concerned about, and it is only theirs that is protected. No greater example of that is how Tennessee responds to the American Renaissance Conference year after year.
BURNS, TN – Much of the American Renaissance (AmRen) conference as well as the protest was truncated, with numbers well below what has normally come out due to COVID concerns and unsurety of the date being kept. The focus however was not so much on the conference itself but rather how the State of Tennessee continues to provide a safe space for those who wish to create violent civil unrest in this country and have been particularly open about it.
The conference was attended by about 200 persons, about half the number that came out just two years ago. It included those who were representing organizations such as the New Order, which until 1983 was known as the American Nazi Party and was founded by George Lincoln Rockwell in 1959, the American Freedom Party and VDARE, who’s founder Peter Brimelow spoke at the conference. Media 2 Rise, a film crew founded by Robert Rundo, founder of the White terrorist organization Rise Above Movement was there working on a documentary and attempted to speak to the small group of counter-protesters outside. Earlier this year, Rundo was in Europe reportedly fleeing charges of rioting stemming from a 2017 altercation with those protesting Donald Trump in Hunterdon Beach, California after those charges were reinstated after a dismissal, but there is a possibility he is back in the country and possibly attended the AmRen Conference.
Curiously, two scheduled speakers were not present. Vincent James Foxx an associate of the so-called “Groyper Movement” who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was not among the list of speakers on the program distributed during the conference, and while two European activists-turned-politicians, Ruuben Kaalep of Estonia and Dries Van Langenhove of Belgium, did not come to the U.S., the reason given being that they refused to be vaccinated, Kaalep did provide a videotaped presentation. It is not clear if Van Langenhove had as well. Both were the subject of concern that neo-fascist, including one facing hate crime charges in their home country would be allowed into the U.S.
After being thrown out of venues in Washington, DC and Charlotte, North Carolina in year’s past the AmRen Conference has made Montgomery Bell State Park Inn home for almost a decade. While the park has expressed it was in the interest of preserving free speech that they allow the conference to continue there – and thereby attracting other White supremacist conferences such as the Nationalist Solutions Conference held in 2018 and 2019 to the park – it has shown it will protect that freedom of speech and other freedoms for the assorted neo-fascists at the expense of not only those protesting them but those local residents who simply are there to enjoy the park. Before the 2018 conference, which was the year after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, which itself was two weeks before the 2017 conference that featured organizers of that rally, all were able to walk freely around the conference hall and even enter the building and patronize the restaurant and other attractions inside. In 2018, the hall was barricaded from anyone not participating in the conference and protesters were encouraged to stand in a “protest pit” two hundred yards away. This year, protesters were directed to an area in the back of the venue.
According to an article about the conference published last week, there has been an effort by the state to selectively enforce the free speech rights, noting that after last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, legislators attempted to criminalize peaceful protests and grant immunity to drivers who run over protesters in the vehicles. Earlier this year, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation attempted to impose rules against protesting in state parks, stating that certain public areas, according to the language in the proposed rules, “are not intended to be open places for free expression by or between citizens.” Those rules had not passed by the time this year’s AmRen’s conference was held.
But the limitations did not seem to end there. During the conference, those entering the park were greeted with signs forbidding weapons on the grounds and warning that visitors would be subject to search. However an email sent to conference attendees noted a more relaxed policy stating that while firearms and weapons were not allowed in the facility, “Attendees with permits valid in Tennessee may bring legal firearms inside the park, but they must be left properly stored in vehicles.” It has been legal for permitted gun owners in Tennessee to bring guns into state and local parks since 2015.
While no date has been set for the AmRen Conference in 2022, those who have been opposing the conference in recent years are making plans to do so again. Over the course of the next year however they do plan to address the disparity in how free speech is defended.