Former Charlottesville mayor’s tips on preventing riots after Patriot Front arrests

Following the arrests of 31 Patriot Front members in Idaho, Michael Signer — the former mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia — tells WTOP the key to preventing violence is staying ahead. Signer was in office during the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in 2017.

“You have to really creatively monitor the dark web, not just social media, like anybody can see, but the accounts that these people might have in the nooks and crannies of the internet.” Signer said groups planned on a gaming platform before the Charlottesville riot, which is why it surprised law enforcement.

He also highlighted the tipster who alerted police to the 31 men entering a U-Haul as one key to preventing riots. He said another key was law enforcement using the tools at their disposal.

“They had everything around them — once they kind of disrupted them — that made it clear that they were going to go and start a riot. And so they had a clear statute,” he said. That statute in Idaho is a conspiracy to riot, and it’s the charge the 31 men now face.

“That’s one of the lessons that came out of Jan. 6 … is if you can link up actions to a statute that’s being violated, that is the best way to disrupt one of these violent events before it’s going to happen,” Signer said.

Signer praised the tipster and the response from law enforcement because he said it represents a real advance.

“I’m optimistic that when you have different pieces of the puzzle coming together in a time of rising extremism, this is the kind of action that you need to stop these events from really, really harming people when they happen,” Signer said.

He added that extremists like Patriot Front are trying to intimidate people from practicing the very nature of our democracy, such as celebrating diversity and tolerance at a pride event or the peaceful transfer of power.

“These extremists are coming in and trying to shut down and intimidate and cause mayhem, and in this case, cause a riot to stop democracy from functioning,” he said.

Signer said in his book, “Cry Havoc,” he points out the lessons learned during the Unite the Right rally, which are linking together all the pieces of evidence, finding a statute, enforcing the law and communicating with the public.

“In that way of linking together all these pieces, in a way that couldn’t really be done in Charlottesville, they avoided the biggest trap. In Charlottesville, everybody got to say, well, this is just free speech,” he said.

He said the men in Idaho made it clear it was a criminal act, not a free speech act, and police managed to stop it before anyone was hurt.

“And I think that’s progress,” he said.

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