Notwithstanding the traffic ticket*, my three days in Tennessee left me with a decisively favorable view of the Volunteer State. I saw a lot of majestic scenery during the long ride across the state, but my close-up view began after I arrived at Wednesday evening’s event in the suburbs of Nashville. That’s when I had the chance to meet and mingle with some of the dedicated anti-jihad activists who are resisting the Islamization of their state.
Two of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition people I met that night will serve as examples of the caliber of Tennessee’s volunteers.
Andy Miller is the Chairman of TFC, and was our host for the evening. He’s a native of Middle Tennessee and an alumnus of Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Business Management. After graduation he moved to Manhattan for a career on Wall Street. He returned to Tennessee in 2000, buying a farm in Williamson County where he lives with his family. His profession remains in the area of finance, focusing on venture capital for local companies. He is also active in Republican Party politics, recently chairing “Tennessee Victory”, the GOP’s Get Out The Vote effort. His work helped the GOP to fully regain control of both houses of Tennessee’s Legislature and the Governor’s Office. Andy continues to be active in the Williamson County Republican party, including its Chairman’s Circle.
Lou Ann Zelenik is the Executive Director of TFC. Following graduation from Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering, Ms. Zelenik founded her own construction company, specializing in road work and utilities. This practical experience as a small business owner fueled her activity in local conservative and Republican Party politics; early on she helped organize local Tea Party groups. Such endeavors earned recognition for Ms. Zelenik: 2010’s Conservative of the Year (the National Fiscal Conservative PAC), and in 2011 a Lifetime Achievement Award (Rutherford County’s Republican Party). She ran for Tennessee’s Congressional District Six in 2010.
There were a number of other Tennessee volunteers in the crowd that night, including sixteen state legislators. Along with all the other activists from Tennessee and farther afield, they were there to greet Geert Wilders and Sam Solomon, who were to be featured speakers at Thursday night’s event.
Bill Warner was the third guest speaker for both events, but he is a local Tennessee boy, already well-known to most of the attendees. I have admired his work at Political Islam for several years, and it was a pleasure to meet him at last and talk shop with him and his wife.
In the dinner line I met Rebecca Bynum, the editor of The New English Review, as well as Rabbi Jon Hausman of Boston, who has been active for years in the fight against sharia and Islamization.
A number of people came in from Canada, New York, and the West Coast to meet Geert Wilders, and I had the opportunity to discuss their efforts on behalf of our shared cause. Pictured at the right with Geert is Georgette Gelbard, who came all the way from Los Angeles to take part in this historic occasion
During and after dinner the three keynoters and a number of other speakers gave brief talks about the mission of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition and its resistance to the growing Islamization of the state.
The evening was warm and pleasant, the food was delicious, and the company unmatched. It was a night to remember.
The following afternoon many of the same people made a road trip to Franklin, a town just south of Nashville. The occasion was a meet-and-greet for Mr. Wilders at the local Republican Party Headquarters, culminating in a press conference for TV reporters, newspaper writers, and internet journalists.
A small group of demonstrators gathered across the street from us, holding up signs and placards for the passing cars. There were about ten or twelve of them, and they were an orderly bunch — no anarchists or culture-enrichers, just ordinary middle-class Tennesseans with a liberal-progressive mentality.
I wandered across the street to talk to them for a few minutes. I always like to hear opposing points of view, and I’ve found that if I stay civil and let other people explain themselves, I can learn a lot about the basis for their opinions.
Two of the women were willing to talk and argue with me at length. They explained that they were opposed to Mr. Wilders’ brand of hate, as they perceived it. They felt that he was tarring all Muslims with the “terrorist” brush, even though only a tiny minority of them were extremists. They also said that he was condemning all of Muslim culture based on the behavior of a few violent people.
When I spoke to them about sharia, they responded by asserting that “those people” (pointing across the street) desired to reverse the separation of church and state, so they were just as bad. Not only that, Christians had done things that were at least as horrible as anything Muslims have done.
The last fellow I chatted with was of a slightly different political stripe. His main concern was the real cause for the destruction of the towers of the World Trade Center, which he believes were brought down not by the jetliners, but by controlled explosives. He kindly gave me a booklet he had written, which refers to a much longer book has made available online as a free download. If I have time over the next few weeks, I’ll go through his writings more carefully and post about them.
After speaking to him, I handed out my Gates of Vienna business cards to a few people and then made my way back across the street.
The main event occurred that night (Thursday the 12th) at the Cornerstone Church, a mega-church north of Nashville. I got there early, and while I was waiting, I had coffee — the church has its own coffee shop, and serves espresso! — with Janet Levy, an activist and writer from California whom I had met briefly at an earlier event in the Washington area. We had a lengthy discussion about different aspects of the struggle against the Great Jihad, and shared ideas for future operations.
The main hall can seat about 6,000 people. When I spoke to Ms. Zelenik afterwards, she told me that about 4,500 people had been there, but when I looked around it seemed that the vast majority of seats were filled, so that may be an underestimate.
They all came to hear Bill Warner, Sam Solomon, and Geert Wilders talk about the true nature of Islam and the dangers posed by Islamization and the gradual imposition of sharia law. You’ve seen the text of Mr. Wilders’ speech, and with luck we will eventually be able to post videos of the event — which was recorded in its entirety by TFC — so that you can see how superb the other two keynote speakers were.
The audience was also treated to talks by several local people, including radio host Steve Gill, Andy Miller, and Lou Ann Zelenik. Ms. Zelenik is a real firebrand of a speaker, and her rousing talk ahead of Mr. Wilders’ speech set the tone for what came after. She told me later that she has had ten death threats, and I can understand why: this courageous woman tells the truth without mincing words, and it’s no wonder that the Muslims and their allies on the Left want her taken out of the game.
There was only one brief heckle during Geert Wilders’ speech — a man yelled from the back something about Jesus telling us to love our enemies. I saw no demonstrators, although one of the cops told me there had been a dozen or so out by the edge of the road, and by his description they may have been the same ones I talked to in Franklin. He also said there had been a few Muslims out there, but there was no trouble.
Last week’s events in Nashville can provide inspiration for the rest of the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and anywhere else in world where grassroots groups are resisting Islamization. Tennessee can also serve as a model for future actions all across the American heartland.
This was the largest and most effective event of its type that I have ever attended, and one of the main reasons for its success was the mega-church environment. I realize that this doesn’t sit well with some of our atheist or secular readers, but it’s hard to argue with effectiveness.
The plans to bring in Mr. Wilders gained TFC some media attention a day or two ahead of the event, but most of the advance publicity was by word-of-mouth through churches, civic organizations, and the local Republican party. The venue was ideal for a large crowd, since it could seat as many people as a convention hall, and had enough parking to accommodate all their vehicles. The church already had the expertise and personnel to direct traffic, deal with crowd control, and provide security. With the local police co-operating, the setup was orderly and secure.
There was no entry fee — near the end of the evening, ushers passed around donation baskets, just as they would at a church service. But no one was obliged to pay.
The most moving features of the event were the religious and patriotic displays. We sang the national anthem, said the Pledge of Allegiance, and heard public prayers. This sort of civic culture was the norm when I was young, but has almost disappeared from much of the country in the decades since. It was a delight to discover that is alive and well in Middle Tennessee — for an old-fashioned geezer like me, it was a draught of cool water after a long, long drought.
The audience response to the speeches was uniformly positive and enthusiastic — Geert Wilders was interrupted by applause over and over again. One could tell that people had been desperate to hear these things actually spoken out loud. These were opinions which they had thought were forbidden, but which they now understood to be held in common with thousands of other Tennesseans. Mr. Wilders reminded them of their rights under the First Amendment — as he said, “here I can say what I want to say without having to fear that I will be dragged to court upon leaving this church.”
Thousands of people who had never heard of Geert Wilders have now listened to him and understood his message. A plainclothes cop told me he had known nothing of Mr. Wilders until he was assigned to the day’s detail. “Then I got online and googled him, and wow! There it all was.”
The more local cops who become aware of all these ideas, the better we will all be.
This is why Tennessee is the model. This strategy can be replicated all across Middle America. Nashville prides itself as being the “buckle on the Bible Belt”, but it’s a huge belt, and there are a lot of mega-churches across a wide swath of the country.
Lou Ann Zelenik told me several days later that she has received calls from pastors in other cities who want to do the same thing that TFC did in Nashville. So the model is already spreading virally, just as any good model should.
There are other excellent speakers, more volunteer organizations, and numerous venues out there waiting to be filled by the Tennessee model. This is how all the politically correct media roadblocks can be bypassed.
The truth will out, and the Tennessee Freedom Coalition is helping to make it happen.
|*||For those of you who commented or wrote to ask me about the (expensive) ticket: Tennessee has a law requiring drivers on the interstate to move over a lane when they pass a stationary emergency vehicle on the shoulder. It makes sense —fast-moving vehicles sometimes run into cops and ambulance personnel while they’re standing on the edge of the highway.
I was aware of the law — there are numerous warning signs along the interstate — but I wasn’t used to it yet. Forty-odd years of conditioning have made me change lanes carefully and methodically on high-speed roads: check the side mirror, the rearview mirror, the side mirror again, and then look over my shoulder before I start to move.
I managed to do it successfully on several other occasions, but the time I got caught I just didn’t get started soon enough.
Oh, well — them’s the breaks. Besides, it was a small price to pay for the privilege of seeing the Tennessee Model in action.