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#Knoxville Report Back: Counter Protests Against Fascist Traditionalist Workers Party

Despite the rain, hundreds of Tennessee residents and antifascist groups including Knoxville Radical Alliance, Mercy Junction, Middle Tennessee based antifascists, and multiple DSA chapters (Charlottesville, Northern Alabama, and Knoxville), gathered in Knoxville, Tennessee on February 17th to protest neo-Nazi leader Matthew Heimbach & his Traditionalist Workers Party coming to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville campus.

Submitted to Enough is Enough by Middle Tennessee Autonomous Network.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of  these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

Knoxville Report Back: Counter Protests Against Fascist Traditionalist Workers Party

Despite the rain, hundreds of Tennessee residents and antifascist groups including Knoxville Radical Alliance, Mercy Junction, Middle Tennessee based antifascists, and multiple DSA chapters (Charlottesville, Northern Alabama, and Knoxville), gathered in Knoxville, Tennessee on February 17th to protest neo-Nazi leader Matthew Heimbach & his Traditionalist Workers Party coming to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville campus.


In the previous 1-2 weeks students had been in a tagging feud with the TWP at a rock on campus. TWP members had been writing things like “no refugees!” And “MLK was a commie pervert!” as well as drawing fascist symbols. The students were not pleased by this. Eventually antifascists stepped in, writing “Appalachia Is Antifascist!”


Antifascist activists & local protesters gathered in the Humanities Building Ampitheater, and made it clear that they refused to go into the designated protest area. The police planned to keep protesters in a separate section requiring a full security check and compliance with a list of prohibited items, from masks to food/water to umbrellas and made it clear there would be no bathrooms available as well. Basically a big kettle. The crowd then began their march, chanting “Hey cops, hey fascists, get the fuck up off our campus!”


As the crowd rounded a corner, a guy wearing a Nordic Resistance Movement shirt approached the northern Alabama DSA members, asking who they were with, to which the DSA replied “against nazis!” which made him visibly upset. As the black clad antifascists arrived, he began to back up. When multiple antifascists confronted him about his NRM shirt and fashy haircut, he nervously claimed that he just came out to observe and mumbled something along the lines of “I just got this when I was in the marines..” When the antifascists informed him how having a cream cut and wearing fascist symbology at a fascist rally makes him look like a fascist he backed away, before leaving the area to later hide behind the police lines. The antifascists then merged back into the crowd with their comrades and continued walking.

The protest was a diverse crowd, including a right wing libertarian wearing a Gadsden (“Don’t Tread On Me”) flag as a cape who was overheard telling a news reporter “I’m a libertarian and I’m proudly marching here with liberals, and even communists, because we both agree that bigotry has no place in our communities.” The long line of protesters continued marching down the street, eventually crossing a pedestrian bridge that overlooked traffic, where Knoxville Radical Alliance hung two massive banners over the road; “NO NAZIS IN KNOX!” and “FUCK WHITE SUPREMACY”.


One banner was left up for a while until the cops took it down and put up a sign that told people not to hang up banners. Middle Tennessee based antifascists held their “All You Fascists Bound To Lose” Woody Guthrie themed banner over the side of the bridge for traffic to see while the protest crossed the pedestrian bridge.


The crowd of protesters gathered on the sidewalk and up the hill across the street from the designated protest zone by Buehler Hall where Matthew Heimbach was set to give his speech. Shortly after the protesters peacefully gathered, a hoard of police with face shields and batons came marching down the street, along with SUVs covered in riot cops. They began to attempt to slowly surround the peaceful protesters, gradualy adding police to thier numbers at the edges of the protest area, including National Guard. Police in face shields holding batons tried to intimidate the protesters by creating a police line on the sidewalk while demanding the protesters leave room for people to be able to walk, forcing the protesters up against the hill’s retaining wall, which made many of the moderate-left / student protesters realize finally that the police aren’t on their side as evidenced by a few people’s shocked expressions. This was monumental as the moderate-left in Knoxville have historically worked alongside the police to create these protest zones. The bulk of the protesters then quickly joined the anarchists in anti-police chants such as “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and “I don’t see a riot here, why are you in riot gear!?


One especially fierce activist in a hijab was having none of it, and was walking up and down the sidewalk yelling at the cops using a megaphone right in their faces. Respect. The anarchists called the cops class traitors and told them “History will remember you in the same way that we all remember cops from the civil rights era”, and “You’re protecting fascists & targeting people protesting fascism, are you proud of yourselves?” A very few of the cops began to look ashamed of themselves, one almost on the verge of crying, but most of them either laughed or got visibly angry. There was also quite a bit of light-hearted cop heckling, including mocking their sirens and oinking.

Noticing that the police to the side of the protest area were trying to discreetly and slowly close in, which would corner the crowd between a building & a fence, an antifascist activist took a megaphone and alerted the large crowd that police were trying to surround and kettle them, and that they should spread out and show them that it won’t be an easy feat. The crowd immediately spread out all over the hill, which made the cops to the side of the protest area back off and get closer to the building, some leaving all together.

The moderate-left / student organizers led the crowd in a number of chants and heard testimony from a few students. A student came up to the black bloc and asked if she could use their megaphone. They were happy to let her and she gave a beautiful short speech about white privilege and how Heimbach was only being protected because of it. Antifascists also led the crowd in some chants and at one point played the songs “The Day The Nazi Died” by Chumbawumba and “All You Fascists Bound To Lose” by Woodie Guthrie while they sang along. The crowd shouted “God Is Love!” And when they finished, the antifascists started shouting “Jesus Was Antifa!” An antifascist activist helped another protester rip up a confederate flag, then they used a can of axe body spray as a flamethrower to burn it.


At every area that the group occupied, large amounts of people who passed the protest by car honked and raised their fists in solidarity, as well as a few who shouted “Fuck nazis!”

The cops were continuing to try to surround the protesters, lengthening their lines and adding to their numbers along the back side of the hill. In reaction, a large portion of the crowd decided they would head back east towards the pedestrian bridge to regroup and avoid a kettle. While the rain started to pour harder, organizers in the eastern protest group were informed that the anarchist Christian group Mercy Junction, who were at the western edge of the protest, were planning to take the streets at 2:00. In solidarity the break off group also took the streets shouting “Take the streets!”.


Before they could establish a presence in the street, a police squad car attempted to run the antifascists over and the police line on the ground came quickly at the protesters with batons at the ready, forcing the group to split in half back onto the sidewalks on either side of the street. The cops backed off, and the crowd eventually regathered on the north side of the street with the protesters who had run across.

The march continued back east towards the pedestrian bridge near Clement Hall where the original banners had been dropped. The crowd then occupied the bridge, dropping banners again & shouting chants, as people driving below honked and raised their fists out the window in solidarity. The organizers were then informed that members of Mercy Junction had been arrested for blocking the road while holding a sign and singing “This Little Light Of Mine” and needed support. The group went across the bridge and turned around to head back towards them. To avoid the police, instead of going back down Cumberland Avenue, the protest turned down and fully took White Avenue, chanting in the pouring rain “AK47, send ’em all to piggy heaven!”, and “Oink Oink, Bang Bang, fascist cops have got to hang!”. The protest group that had been left with Mercy Junction had started to march and met back up with the other group at 13th and White Ave. They shouted “Whose streets? Our streets!” And “Nazi Punks Fuck off!” as they marched towards the police parking garage on 11th Ave that Heimbach and his TWP goons had parked.


The crowd circled around the police parking garage, looking for a way in that wasn’t blocked off and guarded by cops, eventually stopping to occupy the front of the police station across the street from the building where Heimbach was giving his speech. Suddenly a line of police ran towards the crowd brandishing their batons and forming a line in front of them. The antifascists formed their own line to confront the police and then began encircling the police line, forcing the police to retreat onto the hill and leaving the path clear for protesters to advance. As more police began to appear near the back of the crowd, protesters began moving forward, although some decided to hold their ground at the police station. At one point half of the crowd started walking while the other half lagged behind, so the police formed a line between both crowds. That’s when the crowd that had left turned around and headed towards the police. The police, realizing they were about to be surrounded on both sides, all ran for higher ground once again. One cop in particular who was wearing riot armor reminded the crowd of Walter White from Breaking Bad, so the crowd shouted things at him such as “Hey Heisenberg, how about that blue stuff?” The crowd was then able to re-unite and remained there in the pouring rain. Cops walking in lockstep holding batons at the ready were mocked by an antifascist who entertained the crowd by singing the imperial march into a megaphone.

Later, protesters were seen swarming around the exits of the parking garage with rows of police on every level (likely afraid the protesters would climb into the lowest level & go after the TWP.) A guy walking his dog tried to pick a fight with the antifascists, but wouldn’t approach them. It’s obvious he didn’t know who antifa were, because he looked at the unmasked protesters to ask “Are these good guys or bad guys?” As the guy walked away he pointed to his calves and yelled “Bro, look at these calves, bro!” as if trying to prove a point.

Very few people showed to Heimbach’s speech despite him claiming that he had a full house reserved, likely because it was obvious that there was going to be a lot of pushback. It’s especially egregious that UT Knoxville wouldn’t cancel the event despite Heimbach’s history of violence including TWP’s assault on an interracial couple in Brentwood following the Shelbyville demonstrations. He made the excuse that a lot of people showed but police wouldn’t let anybody in due to security concerns that he claimed were heightened by antifa ( We literally only saw 4 people waiting to get in, and in attendance were no more than 25 people.


Despite the huge cost in tax dollars, overwhelming reaction from the community and clergy, the college allowed to Heimbach to come speak with protection from an unreasonably large police presence. But despite not actually getting to confront Heimbach or the TWP because they were hiding in their fortress behind the cops, the massive amount of resistance from the community should be a lesson to Heimbach, the TWP, and the rest of the alt-right that they are not welcomed here. They should have learned that from being repeatedly run out of every other part of Tennessee. Overall the antifascist resistance won the day and showed clearly that Knoxville will not tolerate fascism in their community.

Middle Tennessee Autonomous Network, February 2018.

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