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Russia Exploits Marginal Tennessee March to Absurdly Accuse US of Supporting Nazis


Screen capture from ABC affiliate WKRN-TV's YouTube page, showing the neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe marching in Nashville, Tennessee on February 18, 2024.
Screen capture from ABC affiliate WKRN-TV's YouTube page, showing the neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe marching in Nashville, Tennessee on February 18, 2024.
Maria Zakharova

Maria Zakharova

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

"Here is a clear example of how 'freedom of speech and assembly' is respected and not violated in the United States: the neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe marched yesterday in Nashville from the local State Capitol to ‘downtown’ ... Of course, everyone will remain silent ... Look carefully, no one calls the police: freedom, everyone does what they want. It just turns out that this applies exclusively to the forces of evil - such as neo-Nazism, gender experiments on children, legalization of drugs, Satanism, and so on.”

False

On February 17, a small group of neo-Nazis, called Blood Tribe, marched through downtown Nashville, Tennessee.

Blood Tribe is a marginal neo-Nazi group that formed online in 2021. It has held several marches in the United States, each of which attracted dozens of participants, at most.

Russia used the march to spread its oft-repeated propaganda line that the West supports Nazism.

In a February 18 Telegram post, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote:

“Here is a clear example of how ‘freedom of speech and assembly’ is respected and not violated in the United States: the neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe marched yesterday in Nashville from the local State Capitol to ‘downtown.’” Zakharova wrote.

“Of course, everyone will remain silent. And the White House, and numerous public organizations. Israel will also remain silent. This is supposedly all about something else, and not about Nazism and racism.”

She continued:

“Look carefully, no one calls the police: freedom, everyone does what they want. It just turns out that this applies exclusively to the forces of evil — such as neo-Nazism, gender experiments on children, legalization of drugs, Satanism, and so on."

Zakharova’s accusations are hypocritical and false.

Despite Moscow's "anti-Nazi" rhetoric, Russia has a well-documented history of backing far-right violent extremist movements worldwide.

Analysts for War on the Rocks wrote in March 2022 that "Russia's support to the transnational far right remains a key enabler of the global movement."

The Russian Imperial Movement, a neo-Nazi paramilitary group operating out of Russia that the U.S. and Canada have designated a terrorist group, has been an instrument of political violence in Russia and Europe.

"With the Kremlin’s tacit approval, the group has efficiently built an infrastructure that has allowed it to expand its network and train terrorist operatives, as well as facilitate the Kremlin’s war in eastern Ukraine," the analysis said.

It added that the U.S. neo-Nazi group Base, designated a terrorist group by the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, had "found a home in Russia."

Contrary to Zakharova's claim, the Nashville march was broadly condemned by state and local officials across party lines.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, wrote on X, formerly Twitter:

“Nazism and antisemitism should never be tolerated in any form. As Jewish people around the world continue to face persecution, Tennessee remains unwavering in our support for the nation of Israel and her people.”

State Representative William Lamberth, also a Republican, said:

"Go away Nazi thugs. This is Tennessee and you are NOT welcome here. Btw, why not show your faces so we can all see who you are? I would be willing to bet that none of you are from anywhere near here.”

State Representative Jody Barrett, a Republican, said:

"This is a made-for-clicks, fake clown show. These idiots are either paid performers or low-IQ low-lifes who need to go back home to their mothers’ basements. Either way they are worthy of all the ridicule and scorn we can muster.”

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, a Republican, said:

"Our Jewish brothers and sisters across Tennessee and around the world will always have this Office’s unwavering support against antisemitism.”

Democratic politicians also condemned the march, although some blamed their colleagues across the aisle for fostering a climate where such marches could take place.

State Representative Aftyn Alyssa Behn, a Democrat, wrote on X:

“[O]ur office is closely monitoring the Nazi rally downtown — these groups once relegated to the dark corners now feel empowered to spew their noxious ideology out in the open due to our state’s leadership REFUSING to condemn their speech and actions.”

State Representative Justin Jones, who witnessed and filmed the marchers, wrote on X:

“Just left an event honoring a Black sorority and spoke of the need to unite against the rising tide of white supremacy, only to be confronted by Nazis marching through downtown Nashville.

“This is exactly what my Republican colleagues hate speech is fostering and inviting.”

That sentiment was shared by State Representative Justin Pearson, a Democrat.

The march was small enough for the marchers to leave in a U-Haul box truck, supporting Barrett’s argument they may have been from out of town.

While Zakharova implied that people remained silent and viewed the march as entertainment, police said demonstrators left following a “challenge.”

The group was also reportedly involved in a fight, and video of a man forcefully confronting the Blood Tribe marchers, which Zakharova acknowledged, has gone viral.

Larger counter-demonstrations, and skirmishes, regularly occur at far-right demonstrations in the U.S.

The small scale of the march is likely the reason it did not garner comment from the White House or Israel.

Contrary to Zakharova’s claim, political and religious organizations of every stripe in the United States are free to exercise their right to free speech and assembly.

Most infamously, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to picket military funerals, finding the church was speaking on "matters of public concern.” The Westboro Baptist Church has protested homosexuality for decades and contends that God is punishing the United States for tolerating homosexuality.

Blood Tribe is notorious for disrupting events oriented toward the LGBTQ community. Nazi Germany also carried out a campaign of persecution against homosexuals, which included sending thousands of gay men to concentration camps.

The LGBT community is also persecuted in Russia, and the "international LGBT movement" has been designated an extremist organization in the country, with individuals prosecuted for merely wearing or displaying rainbows online.

Like the case involving the Westboro Baptist Church, legal challenges targeting neo-Nazis holding marches or publicly displaying Nazi regalia also had their day in court — specifically, the 1977 ruling in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie.

The specifics of that ruling are complicated, but, in essence, it upheld the right to publicly display hateful symbols and march in support of related ideologies, on free speech grounds.

Protests on behalf of every political cause, including support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war on Ukraine, are also permitted.

Zakharova’s Telegram post sought to undermine U.S. opposition to a Russia-drafted United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution against the glorification of Nazism.

The U.S. has said that while it “categorically condemns the glorification of Nazism,” Russia’s resolution is an attempt to manipulate “the UN system to spread disinformation” and to further Russian geopolitical aims.

“This is more egregious now, when Russia uses false accusations of Nazism to try to justify its war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ambassador Lisa Carty, U.S. Representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, said last November, in remarks explaining the U.S. vote against the resolution.

Russia has falsely described Ukraine as a Nazi state and justified its military invasion of Ukraine as an operation to “denazify” it.

Russian state media and officials regularly use eliminationist rhetoric against the Ukrainian people, which some experts say rises to the level of genocidal intent.

In line with Zakharova’s rhetoric, Russian President Vladimir Putin has also framed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as part of a battle against Satanism.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the highly incendiary claim that German leaders had inherited “Nazi genes.”

He also sparked outrage in Israel and elsewhere by suggesting, when asked how Russia could “denazify” Ukraine, if Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish, that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler “had Jewish origins.”

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