KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Protests are being planned over social media in Knoxville over a Confederate monument in Fort Sanders.
Petitions began circulating online last week calling for the removal and the preservation the statue. During that time, the statue was vandalized and someone came by to clean it up.
Now, there are posts calling for a protest this Saturday at 1 p.m. near the monument along 17th Street, hoping to keep it right where it is. Some posts are showing up on white supremacist forums.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett released the following statement about the planned protests:
As out-of-town white supremacists and neo-Nazis head toward East Tennessee, I ask everyone of faith to pray for the safety and well-being of our community, our law enforcement and everyone involved, and for the healing of our nation. The racism and hatred of these white supremacists and neo-Nazis don’t reflect our values, and they are not welcome here.
The monument was erected in 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as a way to remember Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Fort Sanders.
Because there are concerns white supremacist groups will be protesting for the monument to stay where it is, a counter-protest is also being planned beginning at noon on Saturday.
“It’s nothing like Charlottesville. We’ll be clearly kept apart, but they’re going to be able to clearly hear us and it’s a chance for Knoxville to say, ‘Not in our town,’” said counter-protest organizer Chris Irwin.
During his interview with WATE, Robert Ballard came to look at the monument and the two began arguing, sharing their beliefs. Ballard says the people who want to keep the historical monument in place are different from hate groups, they’re two entirely different worlds, he insists.
“Do I stand with any of these hateful organizations that want these monuments preserved? No, but I’m an American citizen and these matter to me. I have the right to say you cannot erase my history,” he said.
Irwin says Knoxville police are preparing for 3,000 protestors and 17th Street will be closed from White Avenue up to the top of the street.
Organizers add no weapons will be allowed and protesters on either side will not be able to open carry. Police officers will be on both ends of the sidewalk screening protestors.
There will be a barrier in the street, made up of officers and bike racks, so that no one can antagonize or harm another demonstrator. Those wanting to keep the monument will be on one side of the street, while counter-protestors will be stationed across.
“White supremacists are largely disarmed. They’re great at violence in the night, and burning crosses, and terrorizing African American populations. But in debate, in argument, and discussion they suck,” said Irwin.
“Will I be here? I don’t know. Would it matter? Would my voice be heard with ANTIFA standing across the street screaming at me? Would anyone listen to what I had to say?” asked Ballard.
Some groups being linked to Saturday’s protest include Confederate 28, which has been disbanded, as well as the Traditionalist Worker Party. Neither of those organizations, nor people from East Tennessee who may be connected have responded to questions or messages.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has also weighed in on protests sweeping the South.
“White supremacists said they’re coming into East Tennessee next weekend. They have a constitutional right to assemble, but the constitution also guarantees that we are all Americans without regard to race. Their views are wrong, their views are not welcome. and we need to say that loud and clear,” said Alexander.
The Knoxville chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy says they are aware of the protest but say they have absolutely nothing to do with it. UDC Knoxville chapter added in a statement they are devastated by the recent vandalism.
City leaders say they have determined the statue is on a city-owned right of way. They’re now studying its background and consulting local historians.