(RNS) — Williamson County is Tennessee’s wealthiest community and has the best schools in the state, some of the biggest churches, a host of Christian nonprofits and a whole bunch of country music stars who call it home.It’s not the place you expect to find neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Yet there they were last month, showing up at a forum to back then-mayoral candidate Gabrielle Hanson, a local Realtor and alderman in Franklin, Tennessee, a bucolic suburb 20 miles south of Nashville best known for its Civil War-era mansions, historical downtown and annual Pumpkinfest and “Dickens of a Christmas” festivals.
On election day (Oct. 24), posters from the Patriot Front — which claims real Americans are only those “born to this nation of our European race” — appeared in downtown Franklin while the Williamson Herald, a local newspaper, reported its building had been vandalized and its reporters threatened by neo-Nazis.
Printouts were pasted to the exterior of the Williamson Herald offices in Franklin, Tenn., in late October 2023. (Photo by Derby Jones/Williamson Herald)
While Hanson — whom some supporters, including a self-described prophet, described as God’s anointed candidate — denied supporting racism of any kind, she also refused to denounce the white supremacists who showed up to back her.
Hanson, who opposed the city’s Pride Fest and has warned that Franklin has become “woke,” told critics that any division due to her campaign was the fault of city leaders.
“This is the old adage of you reap what you sow,” she said.
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Hanson lost her mayoral election to incumbent Ken Moore by a margin of 12,822 to 3,322, according to The Tennessean newspaper, due in large part to a huge jump in voter turnout.
Gabrielle Hanson. (Photo via FranklinTn.gov)
Despite her loss, the presence of white supremacists in Franklin has shaken longtime residents like writer Holly McCall, editor-in-chief of the Tennessee Lookout and a former chair of the Williamson County Democratic Party.
“I feel like I need to put a tinfoil hat on because when I start talking to people who aren’t from here,” said McCall, “it sounds absolutely crazy.”
McCall is concerned about the rise of Christian nationalism in Williamson County and worries that Hanson’s run for mayor, even though it failed, will provide a road map for Christian nationalist candidates — especially in well-off communities like Franklin.
“We are the tip of the spear because we look like Pleasantville,” she said.
The kind of Christian nationalism found in these affluent Nashville suburbs is driven not by the so-called deplorables — white, disenfranchised, working-class Americans who are often seen as the core of the “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, base but by the kind of well-to-do suburban Christians fo …