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Historic Battle of Athens Sheriff’s Department Gets Military Makeover

A state-level official has been suspended with pay as a police militarization scandal erupts in Tennessee.

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Barry Donegan
Barry Donegan is a writer, musician, and pro-liberty political activist living in Nashville, TN. Donegan served as Director-at-Large of the Davidson County Republican Party from 2009-2011 and was the Middle Tennessee Regional Coordinator over 30 counties for Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential Campaign. Follow him at facebook.com/barry.donegan and twitter.com/barrydonegan

The above video, created by TheBlazeTV, provides some context into a lesser-known Tennessee historical event in which, back in 1946, returning World War II vets, having defeated Hitler’s tyranny, found themselves facing corruption and abuse from local law enforcement in Athens, TN, located in McMinn County. The local political bosses, State Senator Paul Cantrell and Sheriff Pat Mansfield, made piles of money on corrupt dealings, engaged in voter fraud, had innocent citizens arrested for profit, and allowed deputies to abuse vets and local women. A group of World War II veterans, led by Sheriff candidate Knox Henry, created their own political party and ran a slate of candidates against the local political machine.

On election day, an African American voter and unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement, Tom Gillespie, attended the polls to vote for the slate of veterans. Upon his arrival, one of Mansfield’s deputies ordered him to leave without voting. Gillespie refused and was shot. Deputies then shut down the polls and took the ballot boxes to a private location, intending to commit voter fraud once again.

Fed up, the townsfolk took to the local armory, gathered rifles, and took back the ballot boxes by force. When the votes were counted, the World War II veterans had won by a significant margin. History remembers the “Battle of Athens” as an example of the Second Amendment being used to combat tyranny. In the end, the armed uprising was ruled lawful, as the Sheriff’s seizing of the ballot boxes constituted a coup against the government.

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Fast forwarding to the present day, Nashville’s News Channel 5 is reporting that police militarization has erupted into a full-blown scandal in Tennessee. Under the Department of Defense’s surplus weapons program, Tennessee police departments have received an unusually huge order of military weapons including grenade launchers, M-16s, and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. As an example, the rural McMinn County Sheriff’s Department, once coincidentally the focus of the historic Battle of Athens, was mistakenly given over five military weapons per person, despite only having 31 officers. Said McMinn County Sheriff Guy of the shipment, “Well, we don’t need this many. There was a little error in the order… They’re here as our department grows. We’ll have additional firearms for future officers.” It’s worth noting that DOD rules require police departments to return unnecessary surplus weapons. Due to this mistake, it is likely that the McMinn County Sheriff’s Department is now one of the most militarized sheriff’s departments in the United States.

However, the scandal goes much deeper than that. Tennessee police departments have received so much surplus military weaponry that they have lost control of their inventories. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, two M-14s went missing last year. An M-16 was stolen from a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer’s car. In the ultra-rural town of Bean Station, the son of the local police chief was arrested for impersonating an officer after stealing an M-16 acquired from the surplus weapons program.

Following News Channel 5‘s report, Tennessee’s Department of General Services responded by placing Elbert Baker, the state’s coordinator of its Law Enforcement Support Office, on paid suspension while it investigates a possible “record-keeping deficiency.”

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