Update: Neo-Nazi group rallies while outnumbered by protesters

photo Policemen gear up for the Nazis to leave the county parking garage after the afternoon rally. (Staff Photo by Kevin Hardy)
photo Here are members of the Hamilton County Sheriff's mounted patrol standing by a few blocks away on Vine Street. (Staff Photo by Tim Omarzu)

Protesters far outnumbered members of a neo-Nazi group in the vicinity of the Hamilton County Courthouse today as about two dozen Nazis showed up for a rally to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Hundreds of people from Chattanooga and the area gathered along Georgia Avenue, some shouting, "Hey, hey, ho, white supremacy has got to go" and "Nazis go home."

Protected by law enforcement and orange barricades, the members of the National Socialist Movement began their rally on the courthouse grounds by shouting a racial slur and thanking Chattanooga for turning out.

Four motorcycle club members sympathetic to the neo-Nazis caused a commotion at about 3:15 p.m. as they walked through the crowd of protesters on Georgia Avenue.

The bikers, who wore leather vests that said Soul Survivor Brotherhood, walked through the crowd once en route to the rally which they showed up late for. But they were turned back by police before they got to the metal detector outside the courthouse.

One biker, who declined to give his name, said "damn right we are," when asked if they were there to support the Nazis. The gray-haired biker, who had a sheath knife on his hip, said he had never been to a Nazi rally before, just Klan rallies.

Protesters surrounded the four bikers the second time the bikers walked through on Georgia Avenue, but police on foot intervened and the confrontation ended quickly with the bikers walking off.

Earlier story

Dozens of local law enforcement officers are swarming several city blocks surrounding the Hamilton County Courthouse in anticipation of today's neo-Nazi rally on the courthouse steps.

The National Socialist Movement is holding its annual rally in Chattanooga at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. The official purpose of the event is to rally against illegal immigration, though the group is notorious for its racist and anti-semitic viewpoints.

"The group is notable for its violent anti-Jewish rhetoric, its racist views and its policy allowing members of other racist groups to join NSM while remaining members of other groups," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center's website.

Lt. Shaun Shepherd with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office said only members of National Socialist Movement will be allowed on the courthouse lawn this afternoon, as they are permitted to be there today.

Sidewalks surrounding the courthouse are blocked off today. Though many prominent black leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have urged people to stay away from the event, protesters of the Nazi group are expected today. Shepherd said officers are encouraging them to use the small Phillips Park at the corner of Georgia Avenue and McCallie Avenue.

Dozens of officers with the sheriff's department and the Chattanooga Police Department are on scene, including a canine explosive-detecting unit. Those with the National Socialist Movement will be escorted to the courthouse and will pass through a security checkpoint, Shepherd said, mirroring security protocol for inside the courthouse.

Meanwhile just down then street, Jazanooga organizers said they cancelled the jazz festival's planned parade down MLK Boulevard because of security concerns regarding the neo-Nazi rally. But music, food and good times are undeterred on the lawn of the Bessie Smith Cultural center.