COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. – A white supremacist group with ties to Charlottesville met in Columbia County on Saturday.
At least two of The Florida League of the South members were arrested two years ago in the Charlottesville protest when a woman was killed and several others were hurt
The Florida League of the South, a white supremacist neo-Confederate group met just outside of Lake City at Casa Isabel, a wedding and events venue, for its annual state conference.
According to the Florida League of the South's website, the founder and others spoke about what they believe is the “systematic destruction of the culture, the customs, and the traditions of the Southern people."
Officers were on standby if needed to keep the peace.
"When you have a group like this, you always worry about what’s going to happen but we don’t run our operation like that. We have procedures in place. We brief our people," said Sgt. Murray Smith, with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
Officials at the Columbia County Sheriff's office tell News4Jax they are monitoring the situation.
Concerns are growing in Columbia County, where a white nationalist group with ties to Charlottesville is meeting at Casa Isabel outside Lake City right now. Protesters chanting and holdings signs. They say their goal is to promote love in a peaceful way @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/oZ7EQyx0jD— Brittany Muller (@WJXTBrittanyM) August 10, 2019
An organizer who opposes the group's view said as many as 100 people were planning to protest, pray and hold up signs in a peaceful manner.
"It’s our obligation to oppose hate and support love and be anti-white supremacist," said protest organizer Glenel Bowden.
News4Jax staffers went to Casa Isabel and were kicked off the property, and were told it's a private event at a private venue.
The venue also posted this statement on Facebook -- reading in part: "We are simply honoring a contract that was very vague. It was simply booked as a "conference". The law requires us to honor our contracts. We are deeply sorry that this has offended others."
Protesters with "love, not hate" signs gathered outside the meeting and chanted their message.
"We are praying, speaking out against hate and speaking up for love. Our intentions are not to confront the people from The League of the South. We’re going to stay off their property. We just want to make a statement to them and to this community that they’re not welcome." Bowden said.
Florida State troopers were outside the event as a precaution.
"I hope (the protest) shows that Columbia County residents do care for each other," said a protester who didn't want to be identified.
The Florida League of the South's get-together Saturday was for the founder and others to speak about the “systematic destruction of the culture, the customs and the traditions of the Southern people," according to the group's website.
At least two of the members were arrested two years ago in the Charlottesville protest in which a woman was killed and several people were injured. Another member was arrested for allegedly stealing guns and bombs.
The group’s website notes the State Conference will take place at the Casa Isabel, a wedding and special events venue off Bascom Norris Road, just outside Lake City limits.
“It is just sad,” said LaWanda Austin, a Columbia County resident. “Sad, sad.”
The group noted the state conference has gathered in the county before without problems, according to police.
The meeting is getting national attention. Vice News published an article titled, "White Supremacists Are Meeting to Talk About Charlottesville in Florida. The Local Cops Aren’t Worried."
Amanda Videll, the public affairs officer for Jacksonville’s FBI office, said agents were aware of the upcoming meeting. She said she could not confirm or deny an investigation, but she sent the following statement:
"The FBI investigates activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. Our focus is criminal activity, not on membership in particular groups or adherence to particular ideologies or beliefs. The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of the First Amendment or other Constitutional rights, and we remain committed to protecting those rights for all Americans.”
Calls and emails sent to the Florida League of the South requesting comment were not returned.