White nationalists, white supremacists and Nazis emblazoned with swastikas, SS insignia and Ku Klux Klan emblems held back-to-back rallies in two small Tennessee cities over the weekend.

The White Lives Matter rallies were organised by the Nationalist Front coalition, made up of some of the same groups involved in the violent march in Charlottesville in August. Its members include League of the South, Traditionalist Worker's Party, National Socialist Movement and Vanguard America.

The first rally was held in Shelbyville and the second about 35 miles north in Murfreesboro. Both towns are near Nashville, centre of a metropolitan area has become home to refugees from Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere. "We don't want the federal government to keep dumping all these refugees into middle Tennessee," said Brad Griffin, a member of a group known as the League of the South who has written about his desire to create a white "ethnostate".

Reuters and Getty images photographers covered both rallies. Their photos of white American men proudly displaying Nazi regalia and not even bothering to hide their faces show how bold and how normalised these far-right groups have become in recent months.

At the rally in Shelbyville, police used temporary fencing to separate the white nationalists from counter-protesters. Anyone seeking to enter the area was searched. Guns, backpacks, sticks and other items that might double as weapons were banned. About 300 white nationalists gathered behind a half dozen white shields emblazoned with red crosses.

Counter-protesters carried signs with slogans including "Don't Hate" and "Veterans for Peace." Two lines of police, some in riot gear, stood between the two sides, who shouted at each other. One man was arrested for disorderly conduct, but there were no injuries, local media said. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Later in Murfreesboro, where protesters were prohibited from carrying shields, or wearing masks or helmets, the rally remained peaceful, the city said on Twitter. Local officials and faith leaders had denounced the gatherings, fearing they could inflame racial, ethnic and religious animosities in the state.

Over the last 15 years, about 18,000 refugees have been resettled in Tennessee, less than one percent of the state's population, according to the Tennessean newspaper. The state filed a lawsuit against the federal government in March saying it had been unduly forced to pay for refugee resettlements. It was the first state to bring such a case on the basis of the 10th Amendment, which limits US government powers to those provided by the Constitution. Other states have filed similar suits on different legal grounds.

"When they say refugees, what they really mean is Muslims," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, referring to the protesters. He noted that a Murfreesboro mosque has been a source of controversy and vandalism for years. "Tennessee is one of the states that has seen a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in recent years, particularly since the election [of US President Donald Trump]," Hooper said.