— Ryan M. Kelly (@RyanMKellyPhoto) August 12, 2017
Saturday’s rally is the latest event drawing white nationalists and right-wing activists from across the country to this Democratic-voting college town — a development first precipitated by the city’s decision to remove symbols of its Confederate past.
Shortly before noon, the scheduled start of the rally, authorities declared it an “unlawful assembly” at Emancipation Park on Twitter. The “Unite the Right” demonstrators then marched to a different park.
The Virginia statute on unlawful assembly, according to state police, says “whenever three or more persons assembled share the common intent to advance some lawful or unlawful purpose bu the commission of an act or acts of unlawful force or violence likely to jeopardize seriously public safety, peace or order.”
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe tweeted Saturday morning “The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over the past 24 hours are unacceptable & must stop. A right to speech is not a right to violence.” He also declared a state of emergency.
At one point, a few dozen white men wearing helmets and holding makeshift shields chanted, “Blood and soil!” Nearby, a group of clergy and other counter-demonstrators, including activist and Harvard professor Cornel West, held hands, prayed and sang. “This Little Light of Mine.”
Police presence was heavy on this overcast day, with more than 1,000 officers expected to be deployed, city officials said.
Police anticipate the rally will attract as many as 2,000 to 6,000 people and could be the “largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in the United States,” as described by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable & must stop. A right to speech is not a right to violence.
— Terry McAuliffe (@GovernorVA) August 12, 2017
The hate & bigotry on display in #charlottesville is dangerous & cowardly.
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) August 12, 2017