On May 31, Nashville police arrested 25-year-old Wesley Somers in connection with the fire at the historic Nashville City Hall and courthouse on Saturday evening.
The fire started around 8:15 p.m. following an afternoon rally and march to protest racial injustice and the death of George Floyd, according to the Tennessean. Around 8:45 p.m., Nashville Mayor John Cooper declared a civil state of emergency, and roughly 15 minutes later, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that he would deploy the National Guard at Cooper’s request. Videos of the fire circulated online, prompting condemnation from rally organizers and an investigation by Nashville authorities.
BREAKING: Specialized Investigations Division detectives & SWAT officers moments ago arrested Wesley Somers, 25, on charges of felony arson, vandalism, & disorderly conduct for setting fire to Nashville's Historic Courthouse Saturday night. pic.twitter.com/tg0AFrU3OP
— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) June 1, 2020
Police charged Somers with arson, aggravated arson, vandalism and disorderly conduct. According to the Tennessean, Somers’ bond was set at $255,000.
Check out this photo by my friend John Partipilo! This was NOT an angry African-American protester who set fire to the historic Nashville Courthouse. Does anyone know who this is? (Used by permission of John Partipilo) pic.twitter.com/KaIK6ts2ZG
— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) May 31, 2020
Somers’ arrest has kicked off an online stir. His tattoos, which appear in photos that have circulated the internet, seem to match those of a shirtless, tattooed protester stoking the fire at the courthouse. A tattoo of three vertical lines on Somers’ right wrist caused many to speculate that Somers is a member of the Three Percenters, a far-right paramilitary group that employs the roman numeral “III” as an insignia. It’s unclear whether Somers’ tattoo is “III” or something else, like the Monster energy drink logo.
Somers Was Arrested in 2016 for Shooting Heroin in His Car While His Infant Daughters Were in the Backseat, According to Reports
Somers was arrested in Tennessee on December 12, 2016, outside a Walmart on Dickerson Pike, according to WKRN. Reports indicate that Somers was arrested alongside his then-wife, 30-year-old Tracy Orrand, and that police discovered their 2-year-old and 8-month-old daughters in the backseat of the car upon the arrests.
Somers was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, neglect of a child under eight years old and possession or casual exchange. According to WKRN, at the time there was a warrant out for Somers’ arrest in Sumner County. In September 2018, authorities entered Somers into the Knox County public database and reported that he was detained and awaiting transport to Sumner County. According to the Tennessean, Somers was also charged with domestic abuse in 2017.
Rally Organizers Condemned the Acts of Arson & Vandalism in a Tweet, Adding ‘It Ain’t Us’
Today's protest was peaceful and unified. ✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾
We witnessed white people defacing public property while marching and told them to stop. The people now attempting to set fire to the Metro Courthouse right now are NOT associated with today's peaceful protest rally. It ain't us. pic.twitter.com/eUuYXzMYAv
— The Equity Alliance (@EquityAlliance1) May 31, 2020
Shortly after the fire began, the Equity Alliance, one of the organizers of the rally earlier that day, tweeted, “We witnessed white people defacing public property while marching and told them to stop. The people now attempting to set fire to the Metro Courthouse right now are NOT associated with today’s peaceful protest rally. It ain’t us.”
Around 1 a.m., a statement from the Equity Alliance circulated on Twitter:
Our organization, in cooperation with other activists, held a peaceful rally today to protest the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by police as well as to deliver a clear message to Metro and state government leaders that Tennesseans deeply oppose racism and police brutality. …
It is our firm belief that those individuals defacing and destroying public property after the rally were not part of the original event. The actions by this small group reflect neither the beliefs of the groups that led today’s peaceful assembly nor those of the majority of the attendees. This behavior dishonors the memory of George Floyd and other black Americans that have died unjustly at the hands of police.
The Equity Alliance condemns and disavows tonight’s violent rioting. We urge anyone feeling heartfelt, honest anger over the murder of George Floyd to direct that energy toward November’s election. The only true way to change our nation for the better is by taking up our civic duty as Americans and making it clear with our vote that we reject racism in all its forms.
Cooper voiced his support for the afternoon demonstration, tweeting that the rally for Floyd was “peaceful” and adding, “We cannot let today’s message of reform descend into further violence. If you mean our city harm, go home.”