The Loyal White Knights of the KKK is a tiny, disintegrating faction led by a felon facing a charge for abetting in attempted murder, who may not be able to legally leave North Carolina for the July 8 rally his group plans to hold in Justice Park. Yet such is the legacy of terror and hate associated with the Klan that Charlottesville has mobilized to deflect a visit from an organization that Mayor Mike Signer says is “already in the trash bin of history.”
Some argue that the impending August 12 “Unite the Right” March on Charlottesville with its modern-day white nationalism cloaked as the alt-right is the bigger threat.
But this year, rather than gearing up for July 4, Charlottesville is gearing up for July 8, in the hope that it will be “remembered as a day of unity, not a day of hate and fear,” said city police Chief Al Thomas at a June 20 press conference, one of several events that have been held to announce other activities and to encourage citizens to ignore the Loyal White Knights.
On the agenda are a dialogue at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in the morning, a picnic at IX Art Park and a musical event at the Pavilion. Details for those events are still being worked out.
At the press conference, a dozen city officials and leaders stressed public safety and unity. Thomas says Albemarle and UVA police and the city sheriff’s office will join the Charlottesville Police Department in its public safety ops.
He also noted that police will make sure the exercise of free speech is enabled, “no matter how much we may disagree with the message.”
Advises Thomas, “If you have concerns about the KKK rally in the park, my advice is simple: Stay home.”
Signer said, “On July 8, I will not be going within a football field of Justice Park.” Nor will City Councilor Kristin Szakos.
Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy, who has been targeted with threats toward him and his family, said, “We’re not going to let these idiots come here and define us.” He urged those who must confront the Klan to not engage with them. “Don’t get into a shouting match with people whose minds are not going to change.”
A week earlier on June 13, more than 150 people attended a “So Now What” community forum at Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church to discuss the impending appearance of the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights.
Organizer Bellamy, along with City Manager Maurice Jones, Signer and Thomas, as well as members of the African-American community, spoke out on how to respond to the robe-wearing group that has terrorized blacks for more than 150 years.
Most urged ignoring the Loyal White Knights, and many black community members said they would not be attending. All urged restraint by locals who do show up to offer an unwelcome mat to Charlottesville.
“I don’t feel the need to go scream at these people,” said Yolanda Jones. She advised self-mastery and wisdom to those who did attend, and said white people “can be an interface in ways people of color can’t.”
Thomas acknowledged the emotion and pain of having the Klan come to town, and said city police can manage them. “Quite candidly, our main concern is not the KKK,” he said. “It’s being in a situation where local citizens make poor choices and we have to step in.”
The KKK “does not define this community,” he said. “Don’t take the bait.”
Thomas, who came here from Lexington, which has had its own share of confrontations over Confederate symbols, including the removal of the rebel flag from public property, said he’s dealt with the Klan before. And when it wanted to march through the black community, people came out and turned their backs to the white supremacist marchers, “the most powerful symbolism you can imagine,” he said.
Bellamy presented peaceful options for July 8. And for those who do want to show up at Justice Park, he suggested protesters wear black, lock arms and turn their backs on the Loyal White Knights—without engaging with them.
He made another plea for people who want to get involved: Volunteer for city and county boards. He distributed a sheet to the audience with options for July 8. And on the other side of the paper, he had a list of openings that allow other ways for voices to be heard in the community.
“It’s easy to go out with 300 people and yell at the Klan,” he said. “It’s harder to get involved on boards.”
Added Bellamy, “If you truly want to do something, here’s your chance.”
Charlottesville has been the scene of protests about the removal of Confederate monuments over the past year, most notably a tiki-torch rally led by white nationalist/UVA alum Richard Spencer May 13.
Part of this article was originally published June 16.