A group led by UVA grad Richard Spencer, head of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, converged on Charlottesville Saturday and held a tiki-torch procession that evening that sparked a candlelit counter protest Sunday, along with denunciations from Mayor Mike Signer, Delegate David Toscano and the local Republican party chair.
The event thrust Charlottesville into the national spotlight again over a controversial vote by City Council to remove the statue of General Robert E. Lee. And it resulted in another arrest for local blogger Jason Kessler, who was charged with disorderly conduct following the Sunday demonstration after police ordered everyone to leave Lee Park at 10pm.
The Spencer-led alt-right group, clad in white polo shirts and khakis, a response to “antifas” in black, according to Kessler on his blog, met at McGuffey Art Center and marched to Jackson Park at Court Square, passing a Festival of Cultures being held in Lee Park.
“I’m here to say no to the city of Charlottesville,” said Spencer in an NBC29 interview. “You are not going to tear down this statue and you’re not going to replace us.”
It’s not clear who organized the event and from where the attendees hailed, but many appeared to be from out of town, including Nathan Damigo, who allegedly punched a woman at a Berkeley demonstration and is the founder of white nationalist group Identity Evropa, and Atlanta attorney Sam Dickson, who has represented Spencer and who calls himself a “racial communitarian activist” on his website. Spencer did not respond to an email inquiring about the white rights gathering.
The Jackson Park event was mostly peaceful until the end, when members of Showing Up for Racial Justice and others began shouting at the white nationalists as they left Jackson Park and followed them down Jefferson Street.
At the 9pm event, which Kessler called a “funeral procession for the dead,” but which Mayor Signer compared to a KKK rally, the group chanted “we will not be replaced,” “blood and soil” and “Russia is our friend,” the latter, explains Kessler, is because “Russian people are a white people.”
Police estimated that crowd at around 100 to 150, according to the Daily Progress, while Kessler put it at over 200. The first officer to arrive found a single male yelling “leave my town” to the white supremacists, and the demonstration broke up when police ordered everyone to disperse.
“We reject this intimidation,” tweeted Signer. “We are a Welcoming City, but such intolerance is not welcome here.” Signer has since been the target of anti-Semitic trolls on Twitter.
House Minority Leader Toscano joined in on Twitter: “Outrageous protests in Charlottesville this evening by apparent white supremacists. Unacceptable!”
And Charlottesville native/gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello tweeted, “Get your white supremacist hate out of my hometown.”
“We won, you lost, little Tommy,” replied Spencer.
“Actually, you lost,” Perriello said. “In 1865. 150 years later, you’re still not over it.”
Charlottesville GOP chair Erich Reimer was quick to denounce the alt-righters. “Whoever these people were, the intolerance and hatred they seek to promote is utterly disgusting and disturbing beyond words,” he says in a statement.
Hundreds showed up to “take back Lee Park” in a counter demonstration at 9pm Sunday organized by SURJ, Black Lives Matter and others, according to the Progress.
The statue of Lee was draped with a banner that read, “Black Lives Matter. Fuck White Supremacy,” which was later torn off the statue by a bullhorn-carrying Kessler.
Emerson Stern, who was photographed with Spencer Saturday afternoon at Jackson Park, live streamed the Sunday event, and was surrounded by people demanding to know why he was filming. He said he was assaulted by a woman, and his phone was knocked from his hands several times.
He calls the reaction to his documenting the event ironic. “I’m black and I was threatened and assaulted by white liberal demonstrators,” he says. Stern says he agrees with Spencer on the monument issue. “I believe that the Lee statue should not be removed,” he says.
Stern has footage of counter protesters locking arms and blocking Kessler, while shouting, “Black lives matter.”
After police announced the park closed at 10pm and participants were leaving, Kessler, 33, was arrested for not obeying officers’ commands to leave and for inciting others with his bullhorn, as was Charles William Best, 21, for assaulting law enforcement, a felony, and Jordan McNeish, 28, for disorderly conduct for spitting on Kessler, according to police.
On Monday, Perriello held a press conference at Lee Park, where at least a dozen police officers were stationed around the park. He called for a state commission on racial healing and transformation, and the elimination of the Lee-Jackson state holiday as “something that’s dividing us.” Said Perriello, “We believe these are the last gasps of a dying racist ideology.”
MORE PHOTOS FROM SUNDAY’S COUNTERPROTEST:
Updated Monday, May 15 at 12:09pm.
Updated Monday, May 15 at 5pm.