by Reed Fawell III
This is the second of five posts on the events surrounding the white nationalist protests against efforts to remove the Lee and Jackson statues that occurred in the spring and summer of 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. The facts asserted are based on the narrative found in the “Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Event in Charlottesville.”
An altogether different cast of white nationalists, a Ku Klux Klan group based in Pelham, N.C., decided to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove the Lee statue soon after the news of the May 13 rallies reached them. On May 24, 2017, a Klan member (the Klan Rep.) filed an application for a “public demonstration” on July 8, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. to “stop cultural genocide” in Charlottesville.
Based on her experience at such rallies held in Berkeley, Ca.; Danville, Va.; Columbia, SC; Raleigh, NC; and Stuart, Va., the Klan Rep. requested that Charlottesville:
- provide bus transport for the Klan from a secret offsite location to and from the protest site in Charlottesville, given that “jurisdictions that use this strategy keep the Klan separated from protesters,” and that,
- the city delay announcing the Klan event to the public “until the last minute.’ Again, in her experience, a delay in announcing Klan events until the last minute would result in a smaller and less hostile crowd of counter-protesters at the event.
The city declined both requests. It publicized the rally on May 24, the day the Klan filed its application. It later also denied bus transport, believing buses unnecessary. The Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) did agree with the Klan as follows.
The rally event would be shifted from the Charlottesville City Circuit Courthouse steps, as originally requested by the Klan, to the site of the Jackson statue in Justice Park that had just been renamed from Jackson Park, its original name since 1921.
Regarding transport, the CPD would meet the Klan at “a secret location on City property just outside the downtown area.” From that rendezvous point, two CPD squad cars would escort the Klan’s caravan of cars (not to exceed 25) to a surface parking lot in the city next to the Albemarle County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (JDR). This lot was within a short walking distance across Park Street to the Klan’s designated rally area (KKK Zone) within Justice Park. Once parked on the surface lot, the police would escort the Klan on foot to their KKK Zone.
To facilitate this plan, the Klan would assemble overnight in Waynesboro, Va, then drive over the mountain to Charlottesville the next afternoon. In so doing, the Klan would alert CPD to its arrival when 10 minutes away from the rendezvous site to assure their timely arrival at Justice Park by 3:00 p.m.
The CPD later described the Klan Rep as “overall, very cooperative” in working out their plan. CPD also said that the Klan ‘adhered to the plan’ created by the police.
The Klan’s Rep., however, expressed grave concerns soon after she learned that the City had announced their rally to the public on June 24. She told CPD that the “counter-protesters had begun organizing on social media to attend the Klan event while armed, and she urged a weapons check at Justice Park to avoid a ‘blood bath.’”
These, and subsequent events, would highlight Charlottesville’s failure to seek advice from others on how they had dealt with threats of violence in similar situations. And how the City and Virginia state officials had otherwise failed to train, prepare, and cooperate with one another, to effectively thwart threats posed by such events. Thus, violence ensued in Charlottesville on July 8. Those actions ignited a cascade of consequences that fractured the City, severely impairing its ability to deal with the larger and more dangerous protests on August 11/12. And those adverse impacts plague the City still.
This, I believe, is the central finding of the Independent Report. But why and how did this happen in Charlottesville? This needs further exploration.
Inexplicably, this failure occurred despite ample intelligence on the threat posed. CPD’s own intelligence gathering clearly predicted “that the July 8 event would likely be a large, confrontational, and potentially violent event … The sharing of all intelligence made (this) clear to all CPD personnel.” Some 600 to 800 counter- protesters, and up to 100 Klan, were projected to attend. Many would be armed. And the counter-protesters were known to be planning to shut down the event.
“For example, the Greensboro, North Carolina police shared with the CPD a flyer from social media advertising for (out of town) counter-protesters to (travel to and) attend the Klan rally in Charlottesville ‘to shut them down.’” The North Carolina police also suggested that squabbling within the Klan might significantly reduce the 100 Klan members earlier estimated to travel to Charlottesville for the rally. Both predictions proved highly prescient on July 8.