White Lives Matter Group Protests Juneteenth Celebration in Tennessee

White Lives Matter, a group of white nationalists, held protests Saturday in Franklin, Tennessee, disrupting the city's second annual Juneteenth celebration.

Approximately 10 young white men wore matching white shirts with matching logos, and black skull balaclava face coverings, according to the Williamson Homepage. The men also held up signs that read "Stop White Replacement" and "It's ok to be white."

Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19, commemorating an important moment in African-American history when Union soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to control the state and inform the remaining slaves that they were free. There were 250,000 enslaved people in Texas at the time, according to a report by the nonprofit organization The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Meanwhile, the City of Franklin said in a statement on Saturday that another group also crashed the Juneteenth festival.

"This afternoon, festival organizers asked two different groups to leave the downtown Franklin Juneteenth Festival," the statement read. "One group was carrying signs that read things like 'White Lives Matter' and 'Stop White Replacement.'"

The Franklin Police Department had no prior information that the groups were planning to protest the celebration, a department spokesperson told the Williamson Homepage.

"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," the city's statement added.

White Lives Matter Group Protests Juneteenth Celebration
White Lives Matter, a group of white nationalists, held protests Saturday in Franklin, Tennessee, disrupting Juneteenth celebrations. Above, police stand between protestors during a White Lives Matter rally on October 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images

Protesters in both groups were also distributing flyers saying that they are demonstrating because "the anti-white system is committed to our spiritual and physical genocide." The pamphlets were handed out to festival attendees before the police arrived, according to local news station WMSV-4.

The group's ideas stem from the "Great Replacement Theory," which is a racist conspiracy that claims that white people are being replaced by people of color and minorities. The theory is believed to have incited a series of mass killings in recent years, including the Buffalo, New York, shooting where a white teenager fatally shot 10 Black people at a grocery store.

The nonprofit Global Project Against Hate and Extremism explains the theory as 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 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 nonprofit added.

On Saturday, one protester handed out a flyer at the festival that stated that the group is different from the White Lives Matter group that protested in Shelbyville, Tennessee, in 2017, according to the Williamson Homepage.

The White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville in October 2017 saw high tensions between demonstrators and counter-protesters, but no violence erupted, CBS News reported at the time. The area where the protests were held had a heavy police presence, and only one person was arrested after he jumped a barrier, trying to approach the rally.

Though the Franklin protest on Saturday sparked outrage among community members, some passersby in vehicles honked in support of the group, according to the Williamson Homepage.

White Lives Matter organized marches last year across the country, but some of those rallies were poorly attended or canceled altogether. In some instances, they were outnumbered by counter-protesters.

Newsweek reached out to the City of Franklin's media office and the Franklin Police Department for comment.