The Loyal White Knights of the KKK will hold a rally at the Charlottesville Circuit Court on July 8th. After speculation regarding whether or not the group’s protest would be approved by the Charlottesville City Council, the answer has become clear. While community officials fear that the event could incite violence between supporters and opponents, the rally comes at a particularly problematic time–Midsummer’s weekend–a three-day period in which UVa students flock back to the college town to reunite with friends.
LEADING UP TO MIDSUMMER’S WEEKEND:
On the night of May 13th, UVa grad Richard Spencer led the Loyal White Nights in a traditional KKK-style rally to protest the removal of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue in Lee Park. The group brandished burning torches to oppose the statue’s eviction while counter-protesters came bearing adversarial messages such as “Black Lives Matter.”
The park’s name itself has also been at the center of controversy over previous months and has been re-branded as Emancipation Park.
Weeks later on June 5th, local news outlets reported that the Loyal White Knights applied for a permit to hold a rally by the Lee statue on July 8th. Charlottesville city officials acknowledged their displeasure with the KKK branch and its values but recognized the group’s first amendment rights. Members of the locality began to wonder whether the permit would be granted. It was.
A June 13th community meeting was held to discuss the matter at Mount Zion African Baptist Church. Hundreds of people attended. Most of the speakers urged their audience not to go to the group’s rally and instead ignore the Loyal White Knights. Through this strategy, the KKK branch would not have a platform to spread their message or garner the attention it desires. UVa President Teresa Sullivan encouraged the same response from UVa students just days ago.
THE KKK AND UVA MIDSUMMER’S WEEKEND:
In her June 27th statement to the University Community, Sullivan condemned “the detestable beliefs of the KKK.”
“We abhor their beliefs, yet we recognize their right to express those beliefs in a public forum, and the City of Charlottesville plans to protect their right to do so,” she stated.
“I urge UVa community members to avoid the rally and avoid confrontation on July 8. To listen and respond to these outsiders would only call more attention to their viewpoint and create the publicity that they crave.”
Instead of attending the assembly, Sullivan suggested that UVa students take part in other events over the course of the weekend such as those held by the local NAACP Chapter and the Jefferson School’s African-American Center. There will also be a community picnic held in IX Art Park that she proposed as an alternative plan for students seeking to combat the KKK group’s efforts.
UVa professor Jalane Schmidt, Ph.D. had a different plan in mind for the University community.
“Many people mentally transport themselves back to critical moments of history — the Antebellum slavery regime, the rise of the Third Reich in Germany, or the Civil Rights Movement — and muse about what they might have done in those situations,” she stated in an article posted on the Medium.
“Now is a historical moment to cast one’s lot. Whatever you are doing (or not doing) today is what you would have been doing then,” she continued.
“White supremacists are organizing here, having moved from Monticello to the Courthouse, to online, and on to downtown, under our very noses. We smell smoke. The house is on fire. Don’t wait: join the brigade and douse the flames.”
Another group that identifies with white nationalism and supremacy, Unity and Security for America, is planning a similar rally for August 12th. Founder of the group, Jason Kessler, has been using social media to call attention to the event. Four hundred people are scheduled to attend the assembly.
Come Midsummer’s weekend, UVa students will have to decide what route they will take: that suggested by President Teresa Sullivan or Professor Jalane Schmidt.