The downtown Chattanooga music venue The Signal is facing criticism from community members for its decision to host a private event featuring conservative speakers, including Candace Owens.
The Blexit Foundation, a nonprofit focused on education and dissociating Black communities from liberal ideas, is hosting an event at The Signal next weekend. Owens, a conservative commentator and activist, helped found the organization and was confirmed last week as a speaker at the upcoming event.
Owens announced in September that she would move to Nashville and work for the Daily Wire, a conservative website. She is the author of "Blackout," which argues that "government assistance is a double-edged sword, that the left dismisses the faith so important to the Black community, that Democrat permissiveness toward abortion disproportionately affects Black babies, that the #MeToo movement hurts Black men, and much more."
Owens has said that Black people are brainwashed by the Democratic party. She has been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement and, in front of the House Judiciary Committee in 2019, said white nationalism was not a threat. In March, FBI director Christopher Wray said his organization viewed the threat of violence from white supremacists and militias on the same level as international terrorist organizations, according to The Associated Press.
Historians have repeatedly criticized Owens, saying she promotes misrepresentations or falsehoods.
Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams, who helped organize weeks of local protests against police brutality in 2020, said The Signal's decision to host the event is disrespectful to all people — and especially people of color.
"It was not too surprising because we've been through so much as a community in Chattanooga," Williams said. "But when you have a venue that claims they want to be diverse and blah, blah, blah, you want to give them a chance to prove that fact. And they continue to prove the contrary."
The Signal declined to make a representative available for an interview with the Times Free Press on Friday but said in statement the event is a private rental and opinions expressed during the event do not reflect the position of The Signal.
"Any content provided by this client/event are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything," the company said in its statement. "We get that some people may not agree with Blexit or their views, but as a venue we made the decision long ago to be inclusive of everyone. Sometimes that means we might have shows or events that someone might not agree with, and we respect the public's decision not to support those artists or groups."
Williams said The Signal's decision to host the event shows how an area business will choose profits over people. The type of rhetoric often used by the scheduled speakers puts communities of color at risk, he said.
"If you listen to the rhetoric of Candace Owens and [Blexit] it mirrors hate speech from the Nazis," he said. "It mirrors hate speech from white supremacists. It mirrors hate speech from Jim Crow. It takes in the ideology of white supremacists, like the KKK and the Proud Boys."
On Wednesday, management of The Signal sent a letter to employees to address concerns about the event. The letter, made public by the Chattanooga Holler, said the Blexit Foundation approached the venue about hosting an event.
"It was pitched as an educational/inspirational speaker event aimed to raise awareness of their foundation," the letter reads. " At the time of the pitch, this event had no speakers but they mentioned they were planning on adding some."
Williams disagrees with The Signal's claim that it is inclusive to everyone. The local organizer said he would be hard-pressed to believe the venue would host someone like Louis Farrakhan, the activist and leader of the Nation of Islam, no matter how much money was offered.
The Signal does not promote local artists, and especially not hip-hop, Williams said. He has organized events in the past that have been popular and successful. The Signal is choosing to host the Black voices it agrees with, he said.
Dakin Cranwell said he understands the entertainment and hospitality industries are hurting after more than 12 months in a pandemic, but there has to be a line.
"The ideologies emanating from that movement and its proponents are grossly problematic as well as dangerous to the Black community," Cranwell said in a Facebook message. " The leaders of Blexit are embarrassingly misguided and ignorant on the true driving forces behind the Black Lives Matter movement, the fundamentals of systematic racism and supremely out of touch with their own damaging and unfortunate internalized racism."
Contact Wyatt Massey at email@example.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.