KKK Group Holds Rally in Charlottesville Park
Members and supporters of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan rallied at Justice Park Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Members and supporters of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan rallied at Justice Park Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville.
Officers cleared a path through crowds of protesters for the North Carolina-based hate group to safely hold its rally, which got underway around 3:40 p.m. Saturday, July 8. A city spokesperson estimates the crowd at the park was over 1,000.
Officials estimate roughly 50 people, some in Klan robes and carrying flags, gathered around the base of the statute to Confederate General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson. In permit paperwork filed with the city, the KKK group had estimated 100 people would attend its hour-long rally.
The Loyal White Knights of the KKK said the rally was to support Southern heritage. "They're trying to erase our history, and it's not right what they're doing," said Klansman Douglas Barker.
Charlottesville City Council had voted to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and rename Lee and Jackson parks to Emancipation and Justice parks respectively. Council has not discussed removing the statue of Jackson.
"We believe in preserving our country's heritage. We don't go into other countries and take down their monuments," Barker said.
Crowds packed the area in and around Justice Park before the event got underway, along with law enforcement officers from Virginia State Police, Albemarle County Police Department, University of Virginia Police and the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office.
“We had close to 200 officers here from numerous jurisdictions,” said Charlottesville Police Major Gary Pleasants. “We've been working on this plan for four weeks or so, since we found out about it.”
Some people at Justice Park engaged in a counterprotest of the Klan event, including people with Black Lives Matter and the Charlottesville Clergy Collective.
"I just want to say that they [the Klan] represent the past, we represent the future. We need to all realize they are violent, gun toting people, and we are actually standing on the side of protecting people's rights," Lacy MacAuley said.
"People need to know that you can't ignore this, ignoring this is what they want. So you can't just walk away and turn away, because they are going to get what they want, whether you're here or not so you need to be here," said Erin Morris.
The counterprotest started peacefully, with people singing songs, playing music, and holding signs. The scene turned hectic as soon as Klan members arrived.
"That's their right. Free speech. We're not trying to take any body's rights away. The only thing we're doing is fighting for the white race. We're the only organization in America that's fighting for white civil rights," said the Klansman.
“What's happening here in Charlottesville can be happening to you America. This is a small Southern town... this is ridiculous," said protester Jalane Schmidt.
Protesters around the park chanted different things, but stressed one thing; standing together.
Law enforcement began escorting the rally participants out of the park shortly before 4:30 p.m.
Police units were outfitted with riot gear for the rally, as well as afterward. Officers used tear gas when protesters would not disperse as authorities worked to safely move members of the hate group out of the area.
“People became violent, it was getting out of control quickly. I deployed the mobile field force, and I ordered them to deploy gas. They fired two rounds of gas and that slowed things down. Once things slowed down, we backed the field force off. It looked like it would probably break up and slow down on its own. We packed the field force up, still engaging to give people a chance to move out, which they did,” Pleasants said.
Authorities announced that as of 6:16 p.m. 23 people had been arrested, and three people were taken to the hospital to be treated - two for heat-related issues, and one related to alcohol.
“A lot of people who were here today were here for the right reasons, to simply exercise their freedom of speech and they were not violent,” said the police major.
Mayor Mike Signer released a statement, saying in part, "Our police faced the great challenge of providing for both the safety of our residents and visitors and the protections of the 1st Amendment. They did so through a sophisticated public safety strategy, involving over 200 officers and support from entities including the Virginia State Police and the University of Virginia."
The mayor goes on to write, "I believe that we came out of this difficult day stronger than before - more committed to diversity, to racial and social justice, to telling the truth about our history, and to unity."