LAKE CITY, Fla. (WCJB) -
UPDATE (08/09/2019 7:00pm):
More than 30 people showed up to protest outside of the location in Columbia County where the Florida chapter of the League of the South, a white nationalist group, held their annual conference.
The League of the South, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, also advocates for the southern United States to re-secede from the Union. Their conference at Casa Isabel, a wedding and event venue just outside of Lake City, prominently featured this in the form of merchandise and adverts. TV20 was, however, not permitted to film these inside the venue.
Michael Hill, the president and one of the founders of the League of the South, told TV20 that the organization and its members are "southern nationalists."
"We want to see a southern nation and we've worked tirelessly for that for 25 years; to get that idea out there in the public consciousness," Hill explained. "Now you have people from New Hampshire to California talking about secession, and I think we've had some impact on making the topic of secession [or] independence...sort of a 'break up' of the United States...a viable topic for serious discussion."
Holding signs that contained messages like "LC (Lake City) DOES NOT APPROVE" and "GATEWAY TO LOVE, NOT HATE" as well as "WHITE SUPREMACY IS TERRORISM," protesters say they were there to let members of the League know that their ideology is not representative of the people of Columbia County. Several groups, including former members of the Lake City/Columbia County NAACP, wanted to stage a peaceful protest.
Philip Mobly, a senior minister at Northside Church of Christ and one of the organizers of the protests, said the purpose of the demonstrations was to "promote love."
"We don't want any group that promotes hate or supremacy to be able to feel comfortable coming to our community," Mobly elaborated. "We're here just to say 'We don't want you here in our community.' We don't accept [their ideology]; we want you to come here with love."
Columbia County Sheriff's Deputies were not on-scene but were driving past the area regularly. The Florida League of the South had its own security personnel near the entrance to Casa Isabel.
A week after what police called a racially motivated mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, a white nationalist group is holding an event in Lake City on Saturday, August 10.
The Florida League of the South will be meeting at Casa Isabel, and a group of protesters plan on being there as well. Columbia county Sheriffs office Sergeant Murray Smith says the group is meeting for what they call their annual conference.
Smith says, that law enforcement is prepared to respond if any violent encounters take place between protesters and event attendees.
"If it occurs and they report it we're gonna come investigate it. That's what we do. As far as procedures, we're gonna do it like we do everything else. Are we gonna have people standing by? No. We're gonna have people readily available if we need it, but we hope we don't." said Sgt. Smith.
Glen Elbowen, who is a former president of the NAACP for Lake City/Columbia County, says he organized a protest along with other former members of the organization. He says he is expecting a large turnout at the event, roughly in the hundreds.
But one thing he wants to make clear everything should remain peaceful, saying, "We did not come to have a conversation with you. We're here to protest your presence. We're gonna discourage people from interacting with them. We're gonna stay off their property."
Sgt. Smith says that this event has been planned for a while but since it comes on the heels of two mass shootings it is not the right time, saying, "I don't like the timing of it, but my understanding is this been in place for months."
And Elbowen agrees, "What should have happened if they had any sensitive after the shooting is cancel it."
Event organizers for the Florida League of the South did not want to speak on camera but say that they feel this event has been misrepresented.
Sgt. Smith says, the sheriff's office is advising people who are opposing this event to try and stay away from the area.