Judge says Charlottesville white supremacist rally should go forward as planned; National Guard on standby

Charlottesville City Council voted 3–2 to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park. (Courtesy City of Charlottesville)

WASHINGTON — Virginia’s governor is putting the National Guard on standby with state police for a white nationalist rally planned in Charlottesville out of concern the event could turn violent.

After two police briefings this week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) said he has concerns about violence at the Unite the Right Rally, which is planned for Saturday at a Charlottesville park.

“There have been communications from extremist groups, many of which are located outside of Virginia, who may seek to commit acts of violence against rally participants or law enforcement officials,” his statement said in part.

Rally organizer Jason Kessler filed suit against the city after it denied his request to hold the rally in a park formerly named for confederate General Robert E. Lee. The court found in favor of Kessler and concluded that the decision to revoke his permit to hold the rally at Emancipation park was “based on the content of his speech.” The city said in a statement that it would abide by the judge’s decision.

The Rutherford Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia represented Kessler.

Kessler applied for a permit to hold the rally at Emancipation Park in May, and it was granted by the city in June.

But less than a week before the rally, the city said Kessler’s Saturday event can’t take place in its downtown Emancipation Park. Citing safety considerations, they ordered it moved to a park about a mile away.

The rally was sparked by Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. Kessler’s lawsuit argues that moving the rally will “dilute” his message, violating free speech.

“The first and foremost reason we’re having this rally is for that park and for that statue. It’s about white genocide. It’s about the replace of our people culturally and ethnically, and that statue is the focal point of everything,” Kessler said.

Virginia State Police will lead the response if any violence occurs, the governor’s statement said.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up