How Charlottesville Tried to Move Alt-Right Rally Location

Charlottesville, Va., tried to move the location of the deadly “Unite the Right” alt-right rally from downtown to a larger park, but lost in court.


Because Charlottesville, Va., renamed Lee Park to Emancipation Park and planned to remove statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the city has attracted the Klu Klux Klan and other alt-right rally groups for several months.

Clashes between “Unite the Right” rally protesters and anti-protesters over the weekend led to a declared state of emergency that required the presence of the National Guard. The event led to the death of at least one woman, with several others in critical condition or injured, when suspect James Alex Fields Jr., of Ohio, rammed a crowd with a car in the congested downtown. Two state police officers were also killed in a helicopter accident as part of citywide crowd control measures during the violent rally.

“This entire community is a very far left community that has absorbed these cultural Marxist principles advocated in college towns across the country, about blaming white people for everything,” said Jason Kessler, a local man who organized the “Unite the Right” alt-right rally.

How Charlottesville Got Here

The event escalation began a week before the planned rally when city officials wanted to change the location, according to a report by a local NBC News affiliate.

Locally, police believed the alt-right rally would attract as many as 2,000 to 6,000 people, according to CNN. Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism that tracks various groups had been saying they believed it would be the largest gathering of the major white supremacist groups in a decade, according to the Capital Journal.

The city sought to move the rally to a larger park, away from the congested downtown.

Representing the rally organizer, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against changing the location.

When the court made the decision Friday night to keep the scheduled Saturday rally at Emancipation Park, The Unite the Rally members took up torches and marched on the University of Virginia campus, and stood around a statue of Thomas Jefferson chanting white supremacy-fueled statements.

Police were called to break up that seemingly spontaneous demonstration prior to the next day’s planned rally, and photos comparing the tone of the evening to the rise of Nazi Germany spread like wildfire on social media.

Looking at Charlottesville’s Public Safety Decision

ACLU regarded previous response by the city to a July alt-right protest as “over-militarized,” according to a prepared statement, saying that they would be monitoring police presence.

But Dan Marcou, who has experience in crowd control tactics in La Crosse, Wisc., and other like him regularly advise cities and local law enforcement agencies to prepare for a range of potential public safety impacts at protests.

“Agencies and their partners — prosecutors and other government entities — need to be ready for a variety of appropriate responses for actions these groups may take,” Marcou said during an International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association conference session during the height of the Occupy Movement in 2012, according to a Police1 column about May Day protest prep.

In Charlottesville, City Manager Maurice Jones decided to move the rally, citing public safety concerns. Jones concluded the alt-right rally would be incompatible with the dense, urban location of Emancipation Park and its proximity next to the downtown mall, said Mayor Mike Signer, according to an NBC report earlier in the week preceding the event.

The city held a press conference about the location change on Monday, August 7th.

I expect Mr. Kessler to cooperate with us by holding his event at the approved venue. Having a demonstration at McIntire Park is safer because the park is large enough to accommodate the size of the anticipated crowd,” Police Chief Al Thomas told press.

Charlottesville businesses were also concerned about the upcoming alt-right rally’s location:

“The Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville (DBAC) wishes to commend Charlottesville City Manager, Maurice Jones, for his wise decision to relocate the rally scheduled for August 12th from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park. This decision protects the safety of the community as well as downtown properties due to the anticipated increase in the size of the crowd. The size of the McIntire Park location provides more adequate parking and space for individuals attending the rally,” said Susan Payne, spokesperson for DBAC.

The Department of Justice has opened a federal investigation into the motor vehicle homicide Fields, an alt-right protester, is accused of.

Andrea Fox is Editor of and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.