A group of military veterans have vowed to protect the Wilson County Veterans Plaza from potential damage.
Marine veteran Keith Sikora of Lebanon has organized the group, which has stood guard for about a week. He said he was drawn to the memorial after he watched TV and saw protests and riots calling for police reform following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.
The protests have included the removal of several statues related to the Civil War.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t about a race war or race riot. It has nothing to do with that. I think that movement’s been sabotaged and hijacked by anarchists who are trying to tear this country down, tear down our heritage and trying to strip America of what it is,” said Sikora, who said he felt compelled following the first protest in Nashville that included property damage. “I had to draw a line in my own heart and say, ‘I can’t be everywhere, but I can be one place.’ I choose this place.”
Sikora’s group typically includes a handful of people, some armed with handguns and rifles. The group arrives at the plaza between 9-10 a.m. and sits there until about sundown.
Sikora said he felt law enforcement is unable to protect monuments and memorials because of legal parameters.
“What else can we do except stand up, fill in the gap, take this back and let these people know they’re not going to do this anymore and that we, the people, are going to stand up and make sure you don’t do it anymore,” he said.
Much of the vandalism has targeted Civil War and Confederate statues, while others have targeted monuments and memorials featuring former slave owners and prominent figures that actively participated in slavery. The Wilson County Veterans Plaza does not feature any of those memorials or monuments, but Sikora said it could be a target.
“We got intelligence that says this was a target. Not only that, but look around America right now. What better target would be for these rioters than the quintessential American place that represents America in its finest,” said Sikora. ““This is about America. It has nothing to do with race creed or color. Anybody who thinks this is about anything more than just protecting a hallowed ground that honors our fallen is just lying to themselves.”
Sikora said he planned to remain at the plaza until he felt the facility was no longer a potential target for vandalism, but did not give a specific date. He said he felt compelled to be armed while at the memorial due to the actions of groups around the country.
“Antifa and these rioters aren’t coming with fluffy paddles and water balloons. They’re coming armed. They’re coming with pepper spray. They’re coming with bricks,” said Sikora, who did not explain how the group planned to defend the property. “Why am I armed? Why are police dying? Why are police getting stabbed in the neck? Why are people getting killed all over this country?”
Lebanon Police Sgt. PJ Hardy said the group is lawfully assembling and the agency has not received any credible threat to the Wilson County Veterans Plaza or any other facility.