White Lives Matter, a white nationalist group, protested Franklin's second annual Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, causing outcries from some community members at the festival and online.
The group of at least 10 people appeared to be younger adult white men wearing matching white collared shirts with matching logos, as well as black skull balaclava face coverings. They held signs with slogans including "Stop White Replacement" and "It's ok to be white."
According to a City of Franklin news release, they were one of two groups who crashed the celebration. That news release can be read in full below.
"This afternoon, festival organizers asked two different groups to leave the downtown Franklin Juneteenth Festival," the statement reads "One group was carrying signs that read things like 'White Lives Matter' and 'Stop White Replacement.'
"The other group, who said they were there to be a buffer between festival-goers and the other group, included people who were armed and wearing ballistic vests. Both groups left the area when asked. There was no violence and were no arrests after Franklin Police Officers intervened."
Franklin Police Public Information Officer Charlie Warner said in an email that the armed group in vests told officers that they were present in support of the Juneteenth event, and added that FPD had no information prior to the event that the protesters were planning to demonstrate.
The group spent much of their time on the corner of Fifth Avenue South and Main Street, eventually taking a group photo at Williamson County Memorial Park at Five Points.
The Williamson Home Page attempted to get a statement from the group, but the protesters declined to comment, with one protester urging others not to speak.
The group departed Five Points around 2 p.m., eventually breaking into smaller groups and dispersing throughout Franklin.
While some community members expressed outrage online and in person, the group did receive some encouragement by passersby in vehicles who honked in support of the group.
One protester provided a flyer with information about the group, which claims to be seperate from the White Lives Matter group that protested in Shelbyville in 2017.
The Home Page will not publish the flyer, which read in part that they are protesting because they claim “the anti-White System is committed to our spiritual and physical genocide."
These are ideas found in "The Great Replacement" conspiracy theory, which is described by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism as dangerous rhetoric espoused by white supremacists.
"The Great Replacement conspiracy theory is a white supremacist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant concept that posits white people are being replaced by immigrants, Muslims and other people of color in their so-called 'home' countries," the organization shares.
"The conspiracy often blames the 'elite' and Jews for orchestrating these changing demographics. The Great Replacement was conceived of by a Frenchman, Renaud Camus, who popularized the idea in his 2011 book Le Grand Remplacement. The concept spread like wildfire in Europe, particularly through the sprawling transnational white supremacist group Generation Identity and its social media accounts."
The 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Va., in part featured white supremacists who marched on Great Replacement ideologies. Just recently, a 2022 mass shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y. grocery store was carried out by a self-described white supremacist.
Fox News show hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram have come under fire for sharing variations of these ideas on their nationally televised programs, as have numerous elected officials, per GPHAE.
While the group in Franklin Saturday claims to be an "initiative" that is "apolitical," the flyer in question also says “do not wear swastikas," a symbol of the clearly political Nazi regime that ruled Germany in World War II. That symbol continues to represent far-right fascist political ideologies and is generally only worn by someone who is aligned with the views of Nazism.
A representative from the Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition, who hosted the Juneteenth festival, chose not to comment on the presence of the protesters.