Charlottesville city officials announced yesterday that Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally must be relocated from Emancipation Park (renamed from Lee Park) to McIntire Park over concerns about public safety in order to obtain a demonstration permit.
Responsibility for the late change rests solely at the feet of Jason Kessler, the event’s primary organizer, who failed to accurately disclose the number of attendees expected at the rally, despite months of zealous recruitment and non-stop advertisement from dozens of the far-right’s most prominent leaders.
As of this morning, 675 people indicate that they will attend on Facebook, with more than 1,000 more interested in the event. Given the level of coordination among the event’s organizers, a much larger crowd is expected.
A large contingent of counter-protestors is also expected to be present.
“Government has no more central role than protecting life and property,” Mayor Mike Signer said at a press conference Monday. “Given the sheer numbers projected, the city manager is right to conclude that this event is incompatible with the dense and urban location of Emancipation Park.”
Nonetheless, in a live stream via Periscope following the press conference yesterday afternoon, Kessler told his devotees, “There is no way we’re going to move that demonstration out of Lee Park.”
“[The Robert E. Lee Statue in Emancipation Park] is the first and foremost reason that we’re having this rally, is for that park and for that statue. It’s about white genocide. It’s about the replacement of our people, culturally and ethnically. And that statue is the focal point of everything.”
Kessler goes on to claim that the city canceled the permit because attendance at the rally is expected to surpass 1,000 people, despite a permit application claiming 400. This indicates that Kessler may have known for some time, given the fervor and enthusiasm on social media, that the rally’s future could be jeopardized due to his planning failures.
“They don’t have a legal right to deny us our ability to express support for the monument, in front of the monument as the permit said. We are going to challenge this in court. We are going to sue the city of Charlottesville.”
It won’t be the first time that a cancelation has led to a lawsuit either, if Kessler follows through. In April, Cameron Padgett successfully sued Auburn University over its cancelation of an event that he organized featuring Richard Spencer.
The Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation also filed a lawsuit in April over an event at UC Berkeley featuring Ann Coulter, which was canceled over safety concerns.
Unlike Auburn, Berkeley offered an alternative date and venue to mitigate those concerns, although Coulter declined to reschedule the event.
The late change in Charlottesville has clearly escalated tensions. A Facebook post from Chris Cantwell, a scheduled speaker at the event, warns participants, “The potential for violence is greater now that the municipal government is working against us, and I only want combat capable men there.”
City officials appear to bracing for insubordination from the right.
“We would like to work cooperatively with Mr. Kessler to give him an opportunity to hold his demonstration in McIntire Park,” read a statement from the City of Charlottesville. “However, if people show up at Emancipation Park, the City will take actions deemed necessary to keep the community safe while honoring everyone’s freedom of speech and assembly.”