Lee Park is about 30,000 square feet and flanked on one side by the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Center and on the other by small concert venue, The Garage. At the center of this park is a statue of Robert E. Lee on a horse, holding his hat in his right hand and looking South. This statue has been the subject of a great deal of controversy. As Confederate statues are torn down across the South, this statue’s fate lies in the hands of the Charlottesville community. Those in favor of its removal stand in fervent opposition to the statue’s defendants – one of which is gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart – and neither side has shown signs of backing down.
Then Richard Spencer and his band of white polo-clad followers descended upon the statue with torches on the night of May 13th to oppose its removal in a ceremony many have likened to a ritual of the Ku Klux Klan. The following night saw a candlelight counter-protest with its centerpiece a banner hung from the statue reading “Black Lives Matter”.
A fight broke out when a group of right-wing protesters showed up. Since then, tensions have been high in Charlottesville, and those May demonstrations were not the end of it.
On June 5th, city officials reported that the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan applied for a permit to hold a rally by that statue on July 8th. While folks like Director of Communications, Miriam Dickler, and other city officials reflected their distaste for the group and the proposed rally, they recognize the group has a Constitutional right to assemble.
Mayor Michael Signer told The Washington Post, “This rump, out-of-state chapter of a totally discredited organization will succeed in their aim of inciting controversy only if folks take their putrid bait, and that begins with the media. I encourage everyone to ignore this ridiculous sideshow and to focus instead on celebrating the values of diversity and tolerance that have made Charlottesville a world-class city.”
In addition to this rally, another right-wing group known as Unity and Security for America – the same that held the rally of torches in May – plans to hold a rally on August 12th in that very same park. The leader of Unity and Security for America, Jason Kessler, has been attracting attention to the upcoming rally through his blog and social media accounts. On June 16th, he tweeted, “And platforming militantly anti-white academics from #UVA. Now its payback time. The #altright & right wing will have its day to speak.”
This commentary on Free Speech has been at the heart of this group’s demonstrations. With the backlash they tend to receive from the communities that they descend upon, along with officials who cancel ceremonies that members of these groups tend to speak at – like Laura Loomer cancelling her speech at the June 25th DC Free Speech Rally because Richard Spencer was also speaking – their rallies often focus on their wish for permission to speak freely. Or if nothing else, to be taken seriously.
They’ll likely be demonstrating on the same grounds as the KKK with a similar agenda, touting the same kinds of flags, condemning the same set of news outlets and demographics, and only a month later. As it stands, the permit’s for both groups are under review. If approved, the groups will be demonstrating this summer, while the vast majority of the student body is away for the summer.
City council member Bob Fenwick said, “We’ve been dealing with Confederate flaggers and white supremacists for some months now, but if they show up we’ll deal with them.”
Time will tell how the Charlottesville community deals with the presence of the Ku Klux Klan.