COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. - Concerns are growing in Columbia County, where a white nationalist group with ties to Charlottesville is planning a meeting this weekend.
The Florida League of the South is holding a get-together Saturday at a wedding venue near Lake City, where the founder and others will 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.”
Area residents News4Jax spoke to on Thursday were not pleased about what’s coming to their quiet community.
“There’s no room for that,” James Korom said.
“There is no place in my heart for it,” Kipp Walker added. He said he wasn’t aware of the meeting but will be monitoring what happens.
“There is no need for it but there’s no stopping it,” said Vanassa Gaines, who said her relatives were slaves.
No one answered at the Casa Isabel venue when News4Jax went by for comment Thursday, nor did they return calls or an email.
Law enforcement is taking notice after receiving a tip.
“It’s a private group on private property and we are aware of it,” said Sgt. Murray Smith, the spokesman for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.
He said the group has gathered in the county before without problems. He didn’t go into specific details but said deputies have the resources available, if needed.
“We’re going to treat this like anything else and do our job,” he noted. “Hope for the best and, if not, we are going to be there to protect our citizens.”
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."
Time will tell what happens.
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, however, 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.”
A call and an email to the Florida League of the South requesting comment were not returned.
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