If you truly believe in freedom of speech, you most certainly have an issue with what Tennessee is trying to do to prevent people from protesting the White supremacist American Renaissance (AmRen) Conference in May. But when you see what Tennessee is protecting that will go from having an issue about it to feeling a way!
With the dawn of a new year and a new beginning in the American political landscape, the State of Tennessee quietly made it a little easier for racists and white supremacists to meet, socialize and exchange ideas in peace and comfort, but it could get even easier for them. On January 12, 2021, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) held a public hearing to discuss revisions to its rules governing demonstrations in state parks. The proposed revisions make the process of obtaining a permit to stage a demonstration more difficult and expensive, and gives broad discretionary authority to park managers and others in the TDEC hierarchy.
The rules revisions seem to be in deference to the annual American Renaissance conference, which has been staged at the inn at Montgomery Bell State Park near Burns, TN nearly every year since 2012 (the 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID pandemic). American Renaissance, or AmRen, is the disarming moniker of the forum for the New Century Foundation, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist hate group. The conference has typically been answered by protesters outside the inn, prompting park officials in recent years to mobilize a large, multi-agency law enforcement presence meant to intimidate the peaceful protesters and to provide a cozy and insular environment for attendees, the expense of which certainly diminishes or possibly even negates the revenue windfall to the state brought by the conference.
The New Century Foundation advertises its organizational mission as being to “encourage sensible public policy on race and immigration” and the speakers at the 2019 conference were described on the AmRen website as “the men and women who are leading the fight against censorship, calumny, and dispossession…” While the AmRen site has a pseudo-academic air to it and is tastefully free of the familiar symbols of racism, a deeper dive into the backgrounds of some of the conference speakers reveals some truths about the organization.
Take, for example, Nicholas J. (“Nick”) Fuentes, who spoke at AmRen’s 2018 gathering. Fuentes is a 22-year old college dropout from LaGrange, IL and a rising star in white nationalist circles. A hyperactive presence on radical conservative platforms, Fuentes participated in the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2017. He has openly mused about the possibility of killing globalists and state legislators. He organized a “stop the steal” rally in Michigan in November of 2020, and was present for the Capitol insurrection in Washington, DC on January 6, which he described as “America’s Tiananmen Square”.
Fuentes is the founder and leader of “Groypers” aka “Groyper Army”, a confederation of hard-right activists and internet trolls that includes white supremacists, anti-Semites and misogynists camouflaged in the sheep’s clothing of Christian conservatism. Groypers have attacked traditional American political conservatism and are thought by some to be a driving force behind the alarmingly racist tone taken—or at least tolerated—by the Republican party since the early days of the Trump administration. Fuentes has been declared persona non grata by YouTube, TikTok and several other internet outlets.
A keynote speaker at AmRen’s 2017 conference was Richard Spencer, who was a lead organizer of the Unite the Right Charlottesville march. Spencer’s celebrity as a racist and conspiracy theorist dates back at least a dozen years. As a doctoral candidate at Duke University, Spencer met kindred spirit Stephen Miller who, of course, went on to become a senior adviser to Donald Trump and helped shape that administration’s notoriously racist policies. In 2007, he took a staff position with America Conservative magazine and was subsequently fired for being too extreme.
In 2011, Spencer was named president of the innocuous-sounding National Policy Institute, a white supremacist lobbying group which, like AmRen, has pretensions of respectability. Credited with coining the term “alt-right” and founder and curator of a website by that name, Spencer is an avowed neo-Nazi who has been banned from or denied admission to several European Union countries. He has also been accused of physical, financial and psychological spouse abuse.
The AmRen conference took refuge in the state-owned park after being systematically banished from the hotel conference marketplace when the group’s true nature was illuminated by anti-racist organizations. The State of Tennessee, however, is apparently blind to the possibility of AmRen and its roster of racist cheerleaders being potentially “bad for business.” The conference attendees wear suits and ties, drive high end cars, and many have impressive vanity walls, but they might as well sport Klan hoods and drive pickups with Confederate flags in the rear windshields. Both subsets promulgate the same ideology of racial oligarchy, oppression and white supremacy. The State of Tennessee not only embraces AmRen’s presence every year in publicly owned facilities, but provides the massive police presence that signals to the racists that the State has their backs, and has now taken administrative and regulatory measures to suppress the voices of those who would speak out against it. Equal protection of rights under the law is clearly not for everyone.