You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
It’s a cold Saturday morning in Murfreesboro.
The air is dark, the clouds low lying and angry.
We pull into the media parking lot barricaded on 3 sides by thick Orange barriers.
Police cars are omnipresent.
There is a sense of anticipation, that something uneasy is about to happen.
We pull into a parking spot, amidst other media vehicles.
From the periphery a police officer approaches. He is serious as he taps on our window. The officer is a young man, wearing tactical gear. He is big like a football player, covered by padding and Kevlar bullet proof protection. He has an AR-15 assault rifle slung over his shoulder. The weapon is dark and foreboding cementing any doubt that what is happening here today is deathly serious.
“You media?” he says in a no nonsense tone.
He hands us a sign in sheet. It asks for our name and phone number. There are already 15 names ahead of us signed in.
I will come to learn later that every officer here has been instructed to write their blood type on their arm in permanent marker.
The prevailing attitude here is prepare for a race war and hope for something less.
There is a mist in the air as I exit the vehicle and walk toward the building where the media briefing is assembling. There is a stiff breeze from the north. I am wearing 3 layers of jackets, but it feels like tiny needles pricking my skin with icicles.
I hate the cold. I hate this morning. I hate that I am here to cover hate.
The city public information officer stands at the podium. He looks disgusted. I am not sure whether the fact that his city is holding what is suppose to be the largest White Nationalist rally since Charlottesville is bothering him, or whether he is sick of looking at us.
I recognize the local news crews. But there are a lot of new faces here. There’s a crew of 7 people from NBC News based out of Miami. They are loud and entitled. They have arrived in 2 large black Suburbans with Florida tags.
National Media is always pompous. They walk around with an air of entitlement.
Note to self. Kick their ass at every opportunity.
I watch as the NBC sound guy blurts a question.
“Can I bring this in?”
I look at the man. He is holding a back pack with audio equipment. He opens the satchel. It is an electrical menagerie of cables and cords and dials.
I stare at my iphone. I can record anything he can record with almost the same clarity. What a Jack Wagon.
I hate being here. I hate seeing these media jackals from another location invade my neighborhood.
I turn my back and stare at the stark scene. The color has been washed from the morning. The buildings are gray. The sky is white. The streets a dirty black.
I watch a SWAT armored personnel carrier motor down the street. Men wearing battle helmets hang off the side of the fortified vehicle.
I turn back to the briefing. I realize that Freedom of speech doesn’t know borders. I know that Hate groups have driven here from across the USA.
We’ve been broadcasting this event for weeks. It’s unnerving to me that we have publicized this demonstration, giving it notoriety that it does not deserve. I have been doing this most of my adult life. I have only covered 2 rallies like this. But this rally is different. Perhaps because someone died in Charlottsville. Perhaps because the event was so badly handled by the city and the police. Perhaps because the end result flushed across the presidency like a toilet overflowing.
The public information officer tells us what we can’t do. We can’t bring in a tripod. We can’t bring in a back pack. We can’t bring in water. We can’t carry guns, knives, or explosives.
I roll my eyes, scanning the roof tops. I see officers taking up fortified positions. They are poised, but relaxed. They are simply in position. The event is not scheduled to begin for another 3 hours. Like me, they are preparing for something. But what?
My trusty photog and I take up position in our news vehicle. The heat is cranking and we are listening to Puddle of Mud, a band that made their name in the early 90’s. The group, full of angst and lust is currently cranking out a Stones classic, Gimme Shelter.
The sound is powerful, almost cinematic as I gaze upon the parking lot.
I quickly surmise that nobody wants to be here. Not the cops. Not the media. Not the citizens of this promising little town.
But for whatever reason the White Nationalists have chosen this place to vomit their stench.
The bewitching hour approaches and we exit the car. We carry only what we can strap on our bodies.
We have a camera, a TVU, a microphone.
We walk around the down town quadrant, normally brimming with business. It is quiet, ugly, filled with barricades, orange pylons, and dump trucks blocking routes into the center of the square.
We arrive at the media staging area. There are 50 officers standing before us. They are ready for war. They are padded like middle line backers. They are dressed in black. They look ominous like a Navy Seal team ready for battle.
I spot a young TBI agent on the other side of the barrier. She is wearing armor and a black helmet. An AR is strapped across her chest. She rests her gloved hands on the top of the weapon.
“Nice day for a hate rally,” I say with a chuckle.
The young TBI agent smiles. Like me, she is only doing her job.
I look at the normally busy street. Store windows are boarded up. It is reminiscent of hurricane preps in South Florida.
Business owners elected to close up shop on this busy Saturday rather than sustain possible damage to their livelihoods from anarchists who have little regard for anyone but themselves and their poisoned message.
From somewhere in the distance I hear the chants of an organized group. I look down Church Street and see a throng of masked humans. They are screaming something. They are 100 strong, and someone yells, “They’re with Antifa.”
I watch my photog sprint toward them. He is a one man news gathering machine, galloping head first toward a story. I look to the police. They are aware, but not overly concerned. I look to the NBC crew out of Miami. They are scratching themselves, checking their smart phones, oblivious to the news marching right toward us.
I scamper around the parked dump truck blocking Church Street. I approach the black outfitted militants. They are chanting something unintelligible. They are striving for a militaristic cadence, but it is obvious they are schmucks with hoods and black boots who are wanna be something or others.
I catch up to my photog. He is right up on their faces. “Who do you represent?” I shout.
A woman’s voice from somewhere in the pack yells out a cadence.
The group moves to the police line. I watch the officers fill the void and block their entry into the zone.
A sergeant with the Murfreesboro police department is polite but direct.
“You have to enter through the south side,” he says pointing to the other end of the square.
The leader, never clearly identified to me, barks out a command to her ratty group of masked, anti-protesters, and files around the building. I will never hear or see this group again.
An hour passes. The event is suppose to run from 1 pm – 4 pm. It is now 1:15 pm.
“OK, media, this way,” a masked officer says.
Several dozen of us enter the orange coned perimeter and approach 2 lines set up as a security check point.
I get to the front where a Sheriff’s Deputy directs me to empty my pockets and take off my coat. This is not as easy as it sounds. I am wearing 3 coats. I begin taking off layers and dumping them on the table as another officer shakes my clothing and searches my pockets. I empty everything into a tray similar to that found at the county courthouse. I step through the line and the officer passes his wand over me.
My watch beeps. “That your watch?,” he says.
Since I have no titanium in my wrist, I nod yes.
And like that, I am through.
I walk to a fenced perimeter designed for the White Nationalists. There is a confederate soldier and a large area surrounded by historical buildings and flower beds.
I see 3 white men standing by themselves. One of the men with close cropped hair is draped in a Confederate flag. The group is quietly huddled.
My photographer and I approach. “Hey guys, can we talk to you?”
The man with the flag nods.
“What brings you here?”
The man tells me he is not racist, but he is concerned that white people losing their rights.
He is an odd looking man. He has a long red beard straight from the Civil War Collection. His hair is thinning on top. He is draped in the American Flag.
I thank him for his words. I ask his two friends if they want to say anything. They both decline.
The clock is ticking and the time is fast approaching for the protest to start.
The White Nationalists are nowhere to be found.
I scan the area, surrounded by make shift barriers held together with metal ties. Journalists outnumber protesters 5 to 1.
On the other side of the barricade is the street. It is filled with law officers in heavy combat gear. I watch as mounted patrols move ominously along the periphery of the fence. The horses are 7 feet tall and they are a commanding presence. Every officer has a helmet, a vest, a club, and a high powered weapon. Some officers face the White Nationalist side of the fence. Some officers are facing the anti-demonstrators, a group that is much louder and much larger.
This group is easily 200 strong. They are armed with signs of peace that condemn Nazis and hate.
That’s when I see the agitator. He is a white man with a flannel shirt and trucker cap. He is a caricature of what a white supremacist might look like. He is standing at the barricade, clutching a bible and egging on the counter-protesters.
“I can’t hear you,” he screams. His words are mustard gas, lobbed across the protective zone of cops, falling down on the anti-hate groups like a foul stench.
The agitator will tell me he is pro-white, and not racist.
But he is feeding into every stereotype of intolerance that exists.
The counter-protesters chant Nazi Go Home. Nazi Go Home.
The agitator stares at the group of white and black protesters. They hate him as much as he hates them. It is ugly, revolting. He takes off his shirt like a drunk in a bar room brawl.
Somewhere from the other side a voice challenges his manhood, his very existence.
The agitator reaches a boiling point and starts yelling at someone, at everyone collectively.
“Mother F**** this and Mother F***** that he screams.
He takes his flannel shirt and throws it down on the ground.
He screams out his address in case someone wants to come to his house to fight.
He is drunk on stupid. He is high on his own sense of self importance.
He calls everyone in the other group a faggot. He threatens men and women alike. He is spewing hatred and intolerance, his words are like gasoline dancing in fire.
One man with one twisted vision has incited more than 200 people across the police line that separates these two groups that left to their own device would anhiliate one another.
“Why are you fighting everyone by yourself?” I ask, standing one foot from the man.
He is frothing at the mouth. He has no answer that is rational.
“There’s more of us than they will ever know,” he says.
Just then, a mounted police officer strides to the barrier where the man is standing.
The cop leans down and in a stern voice says; “I need you to tone it down.”
There is a pause.
“Or you’ll be asked to leave,” the officer says.
The agitator understands.
He picks up his shirt and bible.
He smiles a fiendish smile as if to let the counter-protesters that his officer of fighting all of them in his driveway is still on the table.
Just then, I feel a tingle on my thigh.
I look down.
There is a nickle. Someone from the other side has thrown a nickle. I suppose they were aiming for him, but instead hit me.
The agitator backs away from the fence, and walks from the hate zone amidst a chorus of boos.
90 minutes pass and it becomes obvious the other side is not coming.
“The security restrictions are ridiculous,” a White Supremacist who attends the rally with his young children will tell me.
“It’s no harder than going through TSA,” I say.
“They treat us differently,” He counters. “I mean they took away my lighter. It’s ridiculous.”
I look at the man who brought a 5 year old and 7 year old to a hate rally.
“I want them to formulate their own opinion,” he will tell me.
I stare at the man. Inside I am shaking my head.
The rally ends and I leave this sinister place.
I am glad the other side cancelled. I am glad nobody got hurt.
As I get into the news car, the sky has turned blue. The sun is shining and the color has been restored to the buildings on the square.
I turn on the radio and listen to Puddle of Mud play a Neil Young Classic “Old Man”
“Old man, look at your life. I’m a lot like you were.”
I think about the words of this classic song.
It means that generation after generation, somethings never change.
As the officers remove their combat helmets and walk away from the square, I hope I never have to cover another event like this again.