Coverage denied: Insurance for rally canceled

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Jason Kessler's insurance policy for his August 12 rally in Emancipation Park has been canceled. Photo by Eze Amos Jason Kessler’s insurance policy for his August 12 rally in Emancipation Park has been canceled. Photo by Eze Amos

White nationalist-event organizer Jason Kessler obtained a special event insurance policy for his Unite the Right rally planned for August 12 in Emancipation Park, although the city does not require one for demonstrations. Good thing for Kessler, because newly uncovered problems with the insurance policy and with the certificate issued as proof of it have apparently led to cancellation of the policy.

Kessler obtained a one-day liability policy online from East Main Street Insurance Services in Grass Valley, California. Kessler’s event, which will include white nationalists such as Richard Spencer, anti-Semitic speakers like the Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matt Heimbach and attendees including the National Socialist Movement, was described as an “outdoor meeting” for underwriting purposes.

C-VILLE Weekly obtained a copy of Kessler’s certificate of insurance on file in City Hall and spoke with an insurance professional who has reviewed it and discussed it with the insurer. The expert spoke with us on the condition of not being publicly named.

The certificate identifies the insurance provider as Evanston Insurance, “which is part of the Markel group,” says the insurance professional, “and I know people at that insurance company and it didn’t seem very likely to me that they would knowingly insure an event like the one that was supposed to happen on August 12th. …I provided [Markel] with a copy of the certificate. I provided them with details about what the actual event was and suggested that they might want to look into it.”

In an email provided to C-VILLE, a representative of the company indicated that an increase in risk will now lead to cancellation of the policy.

Factors that increased the liability risk of Kessler’s rally since the policy was issued include plans for thousands of people to attend rather than the 400 that Kessler indicated in his permit application, according to C-VILLE’s source. He held a press conference surrounded by the Warlocks, a “1%” motorcycle gang, and Kessler now says people misunderstood their role and believed the Warlocks would be providing security for the rally rather than just for the press conference. Chapters of the Warlocks have been investigated by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies and charged with multiple counts of murder, drug and weapons charges, and possession of stolen property.

The increased number of attendees is likely to exceed the park’s capacity to hold them, and city police closed surrounding streets for the smaller KKK rally July 8. A state law requires event organizers to provide proof of liability coverage (with the locality named as an additional insured) if a public street is blocked off.

Additionally, the certificate of insurance provided to the city was altered and some standard language was stricken.

Markel’s agents who sell this type of policy are prohibited from rewriting the policy, and Virginia law says a certificate of insurance can’t be altered unless the policy has also been changed to match that wording, says the local expert.

Under the section marked “Certificate Holder,” rather than listing the City of Charlottesville and the address of City Hall, Kessler made Lee Park the certificate holder and gives the physical address of the park as the address to which any notice of cancellation should be mailed. No mailbox or office exists in Lee Park, which has since been renamed Emancipation Park.

Kessler would not confirm or deny the cancellation of his insurance policy, but maintains no coverage is required.

“I was never legally required to obtain insurance for the event,” Kessler says by email. “Demonstrations are not required to have insurance because it would be an undue burden on First Amendment expression. I got it anyway to help lower the risk for the city.”

Update August 2: Kessler says the Warlocks will not be providing security August 12 and they were only present to protect him during his July 11 press conference.

A glimpse of the insurance policy for which Lee Park is the certificate holder.

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