Planned Rally by KKK Group Sparks Free Speech Discussion in Charlottesville

Posted: Updated: Jun 20, 2017 06:13 PM
Charlottesville Circuit Court (FILE IMAGE) Charlottesville Circuit Court (FILE IMAGE)
Statue of General Robert E. Lee in Lee Park (FILE IMAGE) Statue of General Robert E. Lee in Lee Park (FILE IMAGE)
Wes Bellamy Wes Bellamy
John Whitehead (FILE IMAGE) John Whitehead (FILE IMAGE)

Charlottesville finds itself in a difficult situation as it prepares for a rally by a group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.

The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are planning to rally at the steps Charlottesville Circuit Court on Saturday, July 8. The North Carolina-based group is protesting Charlottesville City Council’s decision to remove a state of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and rename Lee Park.

According to city rules, the group has every right to hold its rally, as long as people remain peaceful.

“The community is drawing national attention now on speech issues. And the question is, is Charlottesville for free speech or against free speech?” Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead said.

Legally, experts say any type of hate speech is not a crime. However inciting violence based off a person’s religion, race or creed is punishable by law

Police would take action if laws are broken, or if public safety is compromised.

Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy is among those leading the charge against the 93-year-old statue, voting along with councilors Bob Fenwick and Kristen Szakos on February 6 to remove it. Mayor Mike Signer and councilor Kathy Galvin voted in favor of keeping the statute of Lee.

“What we have to do is not stoop to their level, and we can act emotionally, but we must be strategic," said the vice mayor.

The leader of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, Chris Barker, told NBC29 that they intend for the rally to be peaceful.

According to the permit application, the group is expecting 100 KKK members from across Virginia and North Carolina to be at the courthouse.

“They want us to come out and act crazy and do all of these things, and understandably people are going to be upset. But now more than ever if we cannot rally around each other with the KKK coming to our community than we never will be able to,” Bellamy said. “We got to stand together. We have to rally together."

"The only way we are going to protect free speech is essentially tolerance, and that’s my opinion. If you appear to be intolerable, what you're going to do is draw more groups," said Whitehead, a constitutional attorney.

Bellamy said the city plans to have bystander training and community forums ahead of the rally event

“Well I think it’s important for the community to understand that the KKK and hate groups like the KKK they like to use these antics to incite us and to get us all riled up and to have us frustrated and antagonize us for us to get in trouble,” he said.

The Charlottesville Police Department is aware of the planned rally and is making preparations to ensure everyone's safety.

City Council unanimously voted Monday, June 5, to change Lee Park’s name to Emancipation Park.

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