UPDATE: A spokesperson for the University of Tennessee provided a statement about the misconceptions of the event.
"Last month, an individual reserved a room on our campus for an event using the name of a local church as the host.
After making the initial reservation, the requestor called to change the name of the contact person leading the event to that of an out of state citizen with ties to a racial separatist group.
In the past few days, this group began promoting the event.
Since then, we have learned that the church is unaware of the event and has no affiliation with the person who made the request.
We have serious concerns that this group misrepresented the nature of the event and their affiliations. To our knowledge, no one at the University of Tennessee invited this group to campus.
We will continue to investigate the situation and work with law enforcement as we evaluate our next steps.”
Matthew Heimbach, founder of a prominent white supremacist organization, is scheduled to give a lecture in the coming weeks on UT's campus.
Heimbach, who is from Indiana and graduated with a degree in history from Towson University in Maryland, recently pled guilty to disorderly conduct after assaulting a protestor at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Kentucky during the 2016 presidential primaries.
Heimbach has developed relationships with other white nationalist organizations like Stormfront and the Aryan Terror Brigade, and he will be speaking about “Problems in Appalachia: From Opioid Addiction to Poverty.”
Recently, the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) has distributed informational fliers in downtown Knoxville and painted the Rock with messages like “White Pride” and “MLK was a commie and a pervert.”
And on Sunday, Jan. 21, about 20 members of TWP gathered in downtown Knoxville to protest the 14,000 attendees of the Women’s March, holding signs that said “White Pride Worldwide” and “Femininity Not Feminism.”
John May, region four coordinator for TWP, claimed his party is not “based on hatred, but simple love for our folk.” May has also previously referenced the work of David Cole, a Holocaust denier, and has advocated for dividing the U.S. by ethnic groups.
Last week, on Jan. 26, UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport condemned these teachings and the messages painted on the Rock in an email sent out to the UT community.
“I know many of you have been offended by their presence on our campus and what they have written on our Rock. Please know I share your sentiments entirely,” Davenport said. “I find their values and teachings despicable, hateful, divisive and incendiary, and as I have said before, they are completely at odds with our Volunteer values and ethics.”
According to a white supremacist website, Heinbach’s upcoming speech was organized by a charitable group called “WALNUT.”
However, no charity or business entity named WALNUT is currently registered with the Tennessee state government. If the group is indeed a charitable organization and is soliciting funds, not registering their charity is a violation of state policy, and the group could face legal or financial penalties, according to the Secretary of State website.
While WALNUT is not the same as TWP, a couple of its members do overlap, according to May.
When reached, the Center for Student Engagement confirmed that this event was not being hosted by a student group but by “outside organizations who rented out a place, and it just so happened to be on campus.”
The university's Event Services, housed under the Student Union, reserves rooms in Dunford Hall, the Visitors Center, the Alumni Memorial Building and the Panhellenic Building. They confirmed that they only book space for events sponsored by student organizations or departments.
The McClung Museum of Natural History’s website states that, for their building, they allow room reservations for non-profits and UT groups as well as private groups. When called, the McClung Museum directed the Daily Beacon to the UT Department of Communications, who were not available to comment.