Hundreds turn out to protest white nationalist event on UT campus

Local News

Hundreds of people showed up to the University of Tennessee campus Saturday to protest a planned event by a white nationalist group.

Hundreds of protesters speak out against white nationalists

The university’s Progressive Student Alliance organized the protest in reaction to Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, who spoke on campus as part of a college lecture series.

“I consider the entire white supremacist organization to be a terrorist group,” said one protester. “They have committed violent crimes and aside from that, they are racist and they hold Nazi ideologies to be true in their minds, it’s insane.”
University of Tennessee police estimate around 250 people attended the protests.

Protestors originally planned to end their march on the hill in front of Ayers Hall, but decided to stay across Cumberland Avenue to avoid police checkpoints. Some yelled profanities at police officers while also condemning Heimbach for hate speech.

“We’re sort of indirectly supporting this because of all the security and everything so no, we don’t want them here, we don’t want security here, we don’t want any part of supporting this guy so I think they go hand in hand,” said a protester. 

Protestors say the main goal was to fight for a welcoming campus for all students, regardless of color, religion or background. 

“Well, I think everyone should feel safe to come to school personally,” said a protester. “No one should ever feel like there are people on this campus who are pro white supremecy.”

Six people were cited at the protest for blocking Cumberland Avenue. UT police said they were taken out of the roadway in handcuffs, but eventually given citations and released.

Traditionalist Worker Party speaks on campus

The Traditionalist Worker Party kicked off the first of a series of campus lecture tours in Buehler Hall at UT. 

Party Chairman Mathew Heimbach pumped up members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, the TWP, moments before his lecture.

“We’re taking back our streets, we’re taking back our community. We’re taking it back,” said Heimbach.

The controversial group’s march across the 11st Street pedestrian bridge was fast, as a heavy police presence protected TWP party members protesters assembled below.

Once inside Buehler Hall, the space rented for several hours, the national socialist chairman was quick to mention reaction to their presence on campus. 

“The question is are you free if you have to go through a security checkpoint? Are you free if people threaten to kill,” he said.

Heimbach’s lecture was titled “Socialism or Death.” His appearance was was meant as an open forum for people interested in the party’s cause, but only an estimated 45 party members filled the lecture hall that could seat several hundred people.

Heimbach’s one hour and 40 minute lecture was interrupted often by applause. TWP said about one third of those listening to the speech were local, the others were from out of state. No university students were inside the hall.

“Students… We wanted to allow them to join us. But people wanted to kill us,” said Heimbach.

Leaving Buehler Hall was a different matter. It was noisy as protesters lined the street below the pedestrian crosswalk. Jeers were exchanged between the groups. 

The loudest protest was made as the white supremacist group speeded away in their cars for an after party rally at an undisclosed location.  

Campus safety

Numerous law enforcement officials were on hand for today’s event. Those officials had the daunting task of keeping peace in a highly-charged atmosphere.

UT Police Chief Troy Lane said the plan was to be proactive and not reactive.

“I’m unaware of any property that was damaged, we had no medical issues. For my part, it was successful,” he said.

Lane said six people were detained and cited for obstructing a highway.

Lane’s team of 40 officers worked with Knoxville Police Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol and Knox County Sheriff’s Office. Nearly to 200 officers total worked to keep the peace.

Some protestors directed their chants at officers who were there to protect them.

“You have to be ready for the worst I think that’s why we had so many people here, you want to be prepared for the worst. When things starts flying through the air, God forbid worse, that’s not the time to run back to the car and grab your equipment and with the weather frankly I don’t blame them for bundling up as best you can,” said Lane.

Chief Lane said the original safety plan changed when roughly 250 protestors chose not to enter the security check point on the hill.

“We pretty carefully selected this location because we felt we could make it secure, the fact that people chose not to come into the secure area, I can’t help that,” said Lane.

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