The Tennessee Guard and state police say they'll be on standby this weekend, if planned protests and counter protests in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro erupt into violence.
Hundreds of white nationalists — and perhaps even more opponents — are expected for the pair of so-called White Lives Matter rallies on Saturday. The events are drawing national attention, with both sides calling on supporters to gather for a show of force.
The Guard, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency are all playing roles in preparations for the rallies. They're letting local police take the lead, but spokespeople say they'll be monitoring the situation closely.
In Murfreesboro, the League of the South has been granted a permit to rally outside the Rutherford County Courthouse. Police now say they will close off a several-block radius around Public Square and tow any cars that are left behind — starting late Friday night. Eric Lamure works at a family-owned smoke shop on the square. Like most businesses, it’s closing for much of Saturday.
"It's unfortunate that it has to happen. We are losing out on money," he says. "It's kind of unfair because they're not even from here. I think the spoken majority doesn't agree with their opinions."
On Wednesday, Rutherford County Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh and interim Murfreesboro Police Chief Michael Bowen issued a joint statement on the rally in that city. They urged people to avoid Public Square.
"The city, county and its partners are committed to both the Constitution and public safety," Fitzhugh and Bowen said. "Be assured, officers will take every step necessary to protect both. The slightest indication of disruption or violence will initiate immediate law enforcement action to uphold the rights of citizens and ensure their safety."
Rutherford County law enforcement said teams of officers will be on hand, with state agencies available. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says they can mobilize quickly, if necessary.
"As I understand it, you actually have to declare a state of emergency to have the Guard come out. We have not done that yet," he says. "But, again, we will have all resources alert and available if something should happen."
Haslam says state officials are well aware of how tensions in Charlottesville, Va., escalated during similar protests in August. Some criticized authorities there for not doing more to head off the violence.
Haslam notes that other rallies, including one a few weeks ago in Knoxville, have gone off without the need for state law enforcement to mobilize. But they're prepared for such eventualities.