The dawning of a cool, slightly crisp fall morning revealed all the beauty that Cumberland Mountain State Park (CMSP) has to offer. A beautiful day, it would appear.
Plans at a favorite destination in Crossville this weekend included a trail clearing, an outdoor wedding, a fundraising run and a baby shower in the basement of the state park restaurant.
Also on Saturday’s agenda at the state park was the collision course of two polar opposites exerting their First Amendment rights — a summit of white supremacists and a gathering of protesters heckling them.
With the exception of an incident or two, the day went off without a hitch. No one went to the hospital. No one was bloodied. The meeting was held and the hecklers were heard. And another beautiful fall day dawned over CMSP on Sunday.
It was the second consecutive year Stormfront and associated groups held their summit on the Plateau. The timing was particularly raw on many fronts, coming on the heels of the violence in Charlottesville, VA. Stormfront was present at that Unite the Right rally that turned deadly.
In addition to Stormfront, members of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Traditionalist Worker’s Party were present. License plates revealed attendees traveled from Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Local protesters were also joined from others areas, including Cleveland, TN; Knoxville and East and Middle Tennessee communities. Protest organizers said they would have had more attendees if they had been given more time to organize.
Although it was hard to keep up with numbers because of comings and goings, about 30 protesters and 30 summit attendees were present at any given time.
One incident occurred before members of the media and most of the protesters had gathered. A young local man meandered into the recreation lodge and exchanged words with early arriving supremacists. That discussion came to a sudden stop when the protestor was revealed to the attendees.
A foot chase ensued, with the protestor running from the lodge, through the parking lot and onto the road to the lodge. Close behind were three supremacists on foot and others in a car. The chase suddenly ended when a park ranger happened up on the scene. “He (the protester) sure was glad to see me,” the ranger related later.
Later in the day the mother of the young man challenged Roper and his followers to come out and face her for “assaulting my son.” No assault report was filed. No face-off took place.
A more humorous incident occurred at the state park restaurant parking lot where the summit was originally scheduled to be held. Around mid-morning a vehicle showed up in the parking lot with several “white sheets” in the back. When the vehicle pulled up to the park restaurant veranda area, city and county police and park rangers were more than casually curious and quickly moved toward the vehicle.
“No, no,” the gentleman driving the pickup protested. “These are tablecloths for the wedding reception.”
There were some tense moments which usually came when attendees took a break and some would wander to the parking lot across from where the protesters were staged. Park rangers set aside a protest area, a media area and an area for the summit attendees. The media area was in the middle and more than one protestor assumed that those in the middle “must be” with the supremacists. This would cause some to shout uglies toward those they perceived as being “on the other side.”
Most of the verbal venom was saved for those attending the summit. Shouts of “You’re just a pimple on the rich man’s butt” and “Hello, Nazis. Why are you hiding your faces? Are you ashamed?”
The hecklers also suggested that while those present were attending the summit, their children were at home listening to “hip hop.”
Roper and other leaders of the summit seemed amused by the attention, possibly even liking it. Roper was asked if the heckling over the megaphone and the shouting from the demonstrators was disrupting their meeting.
“No. We can’t even hear it,” Roper said. He added that the day-long schedule of meetings was going on as planned.” Missing was former national Klan leader David Duke and dozens of others Roper had promised would attend.
An older woman attendee walking to her car during a break said to no one in particular, “I bet none of them have a job.” Knowing several of the protesters, a reporter took notice that those with whom he was acquainted were all gainfully employed.
There was a brief confrontation between a Crossville man and the protesters that culminated in him shouting something about former President Clinton to the gathering. Motioning gestures were made for the man to cross the parking lot to where the protesters were gathered but park rangers quickly moved in and diffused the situation by asking the man if he was an attendee or an onlooker.
The man hesitated a moment and then indicated he was with the white supremacy group. Rangers politely escorted him to the recreation lodge.
Many of the protesters challenged attendees to engage in dialogue to discuss their difference in ideologies. One of the summit’s “security” men — one of three dressed in black — did give a Nazi salute to the protesters. There were incidents of hand signs being exchanged.
Early afternoon park rangers approached the protesters and asked that they consider stopping use of the electronic megaphone because of complaints from golfers at the adjacent Bear Trace Golf Course and because of the disruption it could be having to the wedding and the baby shower.
Protest organizer Chris Irwin responded that the group did have a First Amendment Right to protest but he also sympathized with those in the wedding party and the golfers who had paid for their rounds of golf.
He agreed to use loud voices as opposed to the megaphone and the rangers thanked him for his spirit of understanding and cooperation. This, however, did not reduce or change the rhetoric shouted at the attendees who were reminded throughout the day they were not welcomed in Cumberland County.
As the afternoon wore on, the numbers dwindled and the event ended peacefully with all present exhibiting their rights to do what they were doing.
A day of planning by state park rangers, Crossville and Cumberland County law enforcement, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, TBI and FBI resulted in a good day with no major incidents. State park rangers were at the forefront throughout the day and did an admirable job.
For the sake of us all who love and hold Cumberland County so dear, we can only hope the supremacists can find another location next year for their summit and we, as a community, can get back to weddings, baby showers and just enjoying nature in the fall.