The Loyal White Knights of the KKK made their showing in Justice Park July 8 to protest the removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of protesters surrounded the park, delaying the arrival of the 50 or so Klansmen. The brief 30-minute event was loud, but uneventful. Afterward, Virginia State Police in riot gear tear gassed protesters who refused to clear High Street, a first for Charlottesville, at least in the past several decades.
Even some Charlottesville police officers were gassed, as well as bystanders near those blocking the street. Twenty-two people were arrested in the course of the afternoon [police initially reported 23 arrests, then said one person was counted twice].
“The city abdicated its duty to state police,” says civil rights attorney Jeff Fogel. “You can’t treat cops like human beings when they’re dressed like Ninja turtles.”
The city had geared up for the event for weeks with alternate events at the Jefferson School, IX Art Park and the Sprint Pavilion. Police Chief Al Thomas and Mayor Mike Signer urged citizens to ignore the white supremacist group.
But for many, such as Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice and religious groups, turning their backs on the KKK was not an option.
Former congressman and recent gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello was at the park. “It was a typical hometown weekend, seeing the family and protesting the Klan,” he says. “Ultimately silence is not an option.”
By 2pm protesters began filling and surrounding the park formerly known as Jackson Park. So too, did police. More than 100 Charlottesville police officers were present, assisted by Albemarle, UVA and Virginia State Police.
The crowd was estimated at more than 1,000. according to city spokesperson Miriam Dickler. The Klan’s permit was from 3 to 4pm, but by 3pm, the only Confederate supporter showing up was Crozet resident Colby Dudley.
Around 3:20, police in riot gear filed out of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court building across the street from Justice Park, and cleared a path for the Klanners to enter the park, which they did at 3:45pm.
A white-hooded man who identified himself as Douglas Barker said he was there so “they can’t take our statue down.” It was unclear if he was aware the statue City Council voted to remove—General Robert E. Lee—is located at a different park.
The Klanners assembled in a free speech corral set up by city police, carrying signs such as, “Jews are Satan’s Children” and waving Confederate flags, while the crowd of counterprotesters that vastly outnumbered them shouted, “Racists go home.”
It was uncertain the Loyal Whites’ imperial wizard, Christopher Barker, was going to appear because he’s facing charges from a stabbing in his home in Yanceyville, North Carolina, and his bond prohibits him from leaving the county. However, according to an imperial kludd who identified himself as James Moore, Barker was present in purple robes.
Moore, who has also been identified as Richmond area resident James T. Seay, says he came because he was “sick and tired of the ongoing cultural genocide of white people.” He cited Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy and his infamous tweets about white women as another reason for protesting, but when asked about the conduct of the imperial wizard stabbing a grand dragon, Moore shrugged.
After the rally, he said the gang would have a cookout and cross burning on private property in Culpeper, where he expected to welcome new members.
The Loyal Whites and its coterie were escorted out around 4:40pm, and they were followed by protesters down Fourth Street NE, where apparently they’d parked in a garage behind the juvenile court. With the street clogged, Deputy Chief Gary Pleasants declared the assembly of people there “unlawful” and warned, “If you don’t disperse, you will be arrested.”
A parade of vehicles exited the garage. And then things got ugly.
Angry protesters shouted at police and blocked High Street. At least two people were wrestled to the ground near the juvenile court, and the order was given to disperse or chemicals would be used. Riot-clad police donned their gas masks, and three rounds of tear gas were fired off, catching even some city police in the crossfire.
“They blocking the street,” observed a woman about the phalanx of militarized officers standing in the middle of High. “I’m going to make a citizen’s arrest.”
Updated July 10.