City officials declared a “Unite the Right” rally in downtown Charlottesville an “unlawful assembly” Saturday and the governor declared a state of emergency as clashes erupted among thousands of alt-right demonstrators, counter-protesters, white nationalists and supporters of Black Lives Matter.
“ALERT: Unlawful assembly declared for rally at Emancipation Park,” The Charlottesville City tweeted short before the noon demonstration was scheduled to begin.
The governor’s state of emergency gives officials more authority to bring in additional resources to quell the disturbance.
The city’s declaration of the rally as an “unlawful assembly” opened the way for police to clear Emancipation Park where 2,000 to 6,000 were gathering for the rally of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, alt-right activists and pro-Confederacy groups.
The declaration effectively reversed a federal court injunction Friday night that rejected the city’s earlier attempt to ban the rally at Emancipation Park and require protesters to move to another park. The rally had been called to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, but also served as a rallying cry for the far right.
Officials had already deployed police to maintain order and Gov. Terry McAuliffe placed the Virginia National Guard on standby.
The pushing and shoving, mainly between white nationalists and anti-fascist groups, erupted as crowds moved toward the park where the Lee statue is located. At one point, dozens of people began used wooden poles from their flags and banner as weapons. Others threw trash and bottles into the opposing ranks of protesters as the crowds swelled.
As homegrown militia groups arrived with weapons and rifles, some protesters wearing helmets and flak jackets engaged in skirmishes behind riot-police-style plastic shields.
Before the city declared the rally an unlawful assembly, Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones and Interim County Executive Doug Walker had issued the emergency declaration for two city jurisdictions to allow officials to request additional resources if needed to cope with the unfolding events.
On Friday night a spontaneous march by torch-wielding protesters onto the University of Virginia campus was broken up by police as an unlawful assembly after scuffles broke out and pepper spray filled the air.
U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad had issued an injunction late Friday in a lawsuit filed against the city by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, a local resident.
Conrad ruled that the city’s attempt to revoke Kessler’s “Unite the Right” rally permit and move the protest to another park “was based on the content of his speech.”
The judge noted the city did not try at the same time to move counter-protesters to another location.
Police said some 1,000 first responders, including law enforcement, will be on duty during the weekend. McAuliffe, the governor, said the Virginia National Guard would be on standby “to respond if needed.”
McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he would prefer that no one shows up at the “Unite the Right” rally.
“I want to urge my fellow Virginians who may consider joining either in support or opposition to the planned rally to make alternative plans,” he said.
The Charlottesville City Council voted in May to sell the Lee statue, but a judge issued a temporary injunction that blocked the city from moving the statue for six months, The Daily Progress reported.
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