Outdated claims about Somali Muslims “taking over” a small Tennessee town called Shelbyville were rehashed as “breaking news” by a number of fringe websites in July 2017.
Shelbyville has seen its population of immigrants and refugees steadily increase since the mid -2000s, and the community’s response was the subject of high-profile broadcasts and documentaries in 2009, and again in 2011. In 2009, the propaganda-pushing Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) published a YouTube video amplifying the internet rumors.
In 2011, the PBS “Independent Lens” series produced a documentary, “Welcome to Shelbyville,” set against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential election. The documentary’s description was as follows:
A small town in the heart of America’s Bible Belt grapples with rapidly changing demographics. Longtime African American and white residents are challenged with how best to integrate with a growing Latino population and the more recent arrival of hundreds of Muslim Somali refugees.
Roughly 14 percent of Shelbyville’s population was “foreign born” as 2015 (per census data), on-par with nationwide trends. HIAS, a nonprofit that provides humanitarian aid to refugees, reported that many refugees settled in Shelbyville to work at a Tyson Foods plant there [PDF].
Claims that refugees were “taking jobs away from locals” spread among residents, prompting a response from city officials. Police stepped in and bolstered security in response to threats of violence caused by the rumors:
… Nashville television station WSMV reported claims made by an unidentified woman that someone wrote “all Americans must die” on a bathroom wall — an act that was reportedly preceded by a fire in a woman’s rest room inside the plant a week before.
The woman who made the claims to the television station explained that she did not see the writing herself, but heard the story secondhand from others.
She told reporters from WSMV that she wanted to remain anonymous to protect a family member who works at Tyson.
The anonymous source claimed a security guard was stationed at the woman’s bathroom door after someone allegedly set it on fire [that] week.
We investigated a 2008 claim that Tyson Foods substituted Labor Day with a Muslim holiday, rating it Decontextualized.
Rumors about Somali immigrants in Shelbyville continued circulating from time to time in the intervening years. Iterations circulating in July 2017 didn’t include any new facts or developments — they simply repacked and promoted old claims.
Consequently, we also rated the claim about “Somali immigrants taking over” Shelbyville, Tennessee Decontextualized.