Charlottesville braces for worst weeks ahead of ‘Unite the Right’ anniversary
Weeks until the anniversary of last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., city officials said efforts are underway to keep a proposed “Unite the Right 2″ next month from turning tragic.
Charlottesville officials discussed their plans for the proposed Aug. 12 protest during a public meeting held Thursday in anticipation of a federal judge ruling whether the rally occur can occur.
“We are preparing for worst-case scenarios, that’s our job,” said Andrew Baxter, Charlottesville’s fire chief, WVIR-TV reported. “My goal, my definition of success, will be on Monday, August 13, that the community says to us, ‘you guys were too prepared.’”
Charlottesville resident Jason Kessler, a 34-year-old white nationalist activist who organized last year’s “Unite the Right,” sued the city in March for refusing to let him hold a protest on the event’s anniversary. His case is currently pending in Charlottesville federal court, and a hearing has been set for July 24 regarding whether the city should be forced to grant him a permit, potentially giving officials fewer than three weeks to prepare.
“There are a lot of things keeping all of us up at night,” said Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville’s director of communications. “This is a major planning effort, it involves a lot of different partners, and at this point we don’t know exactly what event we are planning for.”
“I don’t care when any judge makes any decision about Kessler, my thoughts are somebody’s coming here and shame on us if we don’t plan for whoever might show under whatever name they come up here,” added Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney, the network reported.
Billed as a protest held in support of a Confederate statue slated to be removed from a Charlottesville park, last year’s “Unite the Right” descended into chaos amid clashes erupting between armed participants and counterprotesters, ultimately culminating in the deaths of three people, including a counterprotester slain as the result of an alleged hate crime conducted by an “Unite the Right” attendee and two Virginia state troopers killed in a helicopter crash.
A report commissioned by the city of Charlottesville and released late last year found that law enforcement’s failures in preparation, communication and command-and-control all contributed to the chaos that unfolded during “Unite the Right”
“We will divide up the weekend into operational periods and have key people sitting in the right seats with a clear, common understanding of what the incident objectives are,” Mr. Baxter, the city’s fire chief, said Thursday. “We’ve built a structure and have focused our training and planning to make sure we have a single, unified action plan ... And we’re coordinated regionally so that we can pivot ... should something happen somewhere other than downtown in the city.”
“The Virginia State Police will be very present that weekend, as well as the week leading up to it,” added Virginia State Police Capt. Craig Worsham, The Daily Progress newspaper reported. “You will see a lot of state troopers through the region.”
Mr. Kessler previously filed paperwork with the U.S. National Park Service requesting permission to hold a “white civil rights” rally near the White House on the same weekend of his proposed “Unite the Right 2″ in Charlottesville. That permit has received preliminary approval but is still pending before NPS.