TDEC: No permits yet for any demonstrations Sept. 29

Published 3:58 pm Tuesday, August 28, 2018

With the League of the South tentatively scheduled to host a rally next month in Elizabethton, officials with Tennessee State Parks were recently able to provide insight in what steps have to take place for any event to occur.

It was announced late last week that the League, a southern nationalist, white supremacist group, has intentions of hosting a demonstration on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton to “draw attention” to the toppling of the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus and to protest “the change of culture” in the Tri-Cities, primarily in Johnson City.

With the event garnering attention all across the region, TDEC Communications Director Eric Ward recently explained the process of obtaining a permit to demonstrate or have an event at the park.

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“Different permits are required under certain circumstances,” Ward said. “We have a Special Use Permit for most uses of the park outside facility reservations. Our rules require an assembly permit for group demonstrations and other public assemblies.”

Ward confirmed that Tennessee State Parks requires an assembly permit for groups of 25 people or more and that as of Monday, Aug. 27, no group or person has applied for a permit on Sept. 29. The director added that recent state law prohibits the department from providing specific information as it relates to “any group’s use of or reservations at the park.”

The announcement of Sycamore Shoals State Park being the potential site of a rally came as a surprise Friday to several throughout the area. LOS Tennessee Chairman Tom Pierce confirmed the group intends to hold a rally early Friday morning. Officials at the state park added they were made aware of the intentions of a rally to be held the same day.

As of Monday, City Manager Daniel Estes confirmed the city has not been contacted by the organization in regards to the event. Estes also added that due to the event being held on state property, all approval and permitting will have to go through state officials.

“The City of Elizabethton will coordinate with state authorities in their efforts to protect life and property so that participants can peacefully exercise their free speech rights,” Estes said via email.

Since the announcement, citizens from across the region have taken to social media to show their displeasure for the anticipated demonstration.

A counter protest group was created on social media by “The Overmountain Man” Facebook account. According to information on the Anti-Hate Counter-Protest: Sycamore Shoals State Park event page, nearly 900 have pledged support to attend while over 1.1K have expressed support for the counter protest.

Concerns about the demonstration stem from a long line of events that the League has participated in. Deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the League has several state chapters and participated in different well-document protests, including Charlottesville, Va., which turned deadly, and most recently serving as an anti-protest group to the Knoxville Pride Rally.

Pierce added the group wants to hold the rally in Elizabethton near Fort Watauga because it holds “deep symbolic meaning” and that the League wants to raise attention about Johnson City “becoming a diverse and anti-traditional town.”

“It’s changing the culture in the area and that was one reason we picked the area,” Pierce recently told the Elizabethton Star.