Eight men wearing the colors of the Proud Boys hate group – at least two of whom were armed – initiated a violent confrontation with protesters outside a white nationalist conference near Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday afternoon.
The presumed Proud Boys arrived at the state park in apparel featuring colors, slogans and symbols associated with the hate group, but refused to answer Hatewatch's questions about their affiliations. They parked their four cars - illegally - close by the area that park authorities had set aside for protesters, boxing them in at the bottom of a hill.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, leader of the antifascist activism and research group One People's Project (OPP), approached them alongside several other antiracist demonstrators. The group in Proud Boys gear immediately began advancing on protesters and confronting them, apparently in defense of the latest American Renaissance conference being held at Montgomery Bell State Park this weekend.
In one violent incident outside the conference venue, a man wearing a t-shirt bearing the Proud Boys slogan “Fuck Antifa” hit a protester on the head with an expandable baton.
Minutes previously, Jenkins had asked the men if any of them were armed. The man with the folding baton replied, “Don’t worry about what the fuck we are. We’re here for a barbecue. Now get the fuck away from us or someone’s going to get fucking dropped.”
The protester who was hit with the baton, who identified himself only as “Bart,” was soon after slapped by another man sporting Proud Boys-branded clothing who was carrying a hatchet on his hip.
“Bart” was later seen bleeding from the head as protesters attended to his injuries.
The men in Proud Boys gear also verbally abused protesters and directed homophobic slurs at them.
OPP posted a short video of one part of the confrontation on Twitter.
In another incident, a man in a blue denim vest threw a lit cigarette at a protester. The protester told Hatewatch the man spit on him as well.
Park rangers arrived some 20 minutes into the confrontation, instructing the presumed Proud Boys to move their cars from the vicinity of the protesters – where they were illegally parked – to a nearby parking lot.
Officers questioned the presumed Proud Boys in the parking lot but made no arrests, telling protesters that they would need to produce video footage of any violence for officers to obtain an arrest warrant.
The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, and have been regularly involved in politicized street violence in the years since. Several of the group’s leaders have been tried and convicted for their role in the Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol.
The American Renaissance conference has been held annually since 1994, and hosted by white nationalist Jared Taylor. Taylor founded the conference, as well as a defunct journal and current website of the same name, and the nonprofit New Century Foundation which is the publisher of the website.
Hatewatch contacted Taylor for comment on the incident but received no immediate response.
Hatewatch also contacted Montgomery Bell State Park for an update on any potential arrests, and was directed to a Tennessee State Parks spokesperson. That spokesperson did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.
OPP, the antifascist group, has organized annual protests at Montgomery Bell State Park against American Renaissance near the conference's regular venue in the park’s lodge since the white nationalist group relocated there in 2012. But the group has been organizing in an effort to counter American Renaissance’s activities since the 2000s. The park and its facilities are state-owned and operated by Tennessee's Department of Environment and Conservation.
Since 2018, protesters have had restricted access to the grounds of the facility, after a confrontation in 2017 between a protester and conference attendee that ended with both people arrested.
Following the incident in 2017, law enforcement officials limited antifascist protesters’ access to the Montgomery Bell Inn, the hotel and conference center where American Renaissance holds its annual conference.
Since then, police protection for the annual conference has reportedly involved officers from multiple agencies at times, including officers from the Tennessee Department of Corrections, which is not normally tasked with crowd control.
Jenkins of OPP told Hatewatch after the confrontation, however, that “the police presence was low” in 2022.
“There was no one here. And all of a sudden, these knuckleheads ignore the sign and drove down here,” he said, referring to the presumed Proud Boys’ decision to illegally park their vehicles.
Photo by Hannah Gais for SPLC