Rally anniversary


Demonstrators march from Washington Park to the Downtown Mall on the first anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

This story has been updated to include more information about Unity Days events.

The second anniversary of the Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally could be relatively calm, according to local officials.

Nearly two years ago, white supremacists and militia groups descended on Charlottesville in an attempt to coalesce far-right groups under the premise that Confederate and white heritage were being destroyed by attempts by city leaders to remove two statues of Confederate generals.

After the ralliers began to clash with counter-protesters and police declared the rally to be an unlawful assembly, James Alex Fields Jr. murdered Heather Heyer and injured dozens of others when he drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

During the first anniversary of the deadly weekend, rally organizer Jason Kessler briefly discussed holding another white supremacist event in Charlottesville, and a local man floated a Festival of the Schmestival.

In the end, permits for both events were denied and Kessler held a diminished rally in Washington, D.C. Police barricaded Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall and set up checkpoints, and they were met by protesters at the University of Virginia, but events were largely peaceful. The weekend ended with three arrests.

A Charlottesville police spokesman said an announcement regarding 2019 security would be coming “in the next few days.”

The Virginia State Police will again be in town, according to a spokeswoman who declined to share whether they would again number in the hundreds, as they did on the first anniversary. Local police agencies will coordinate planning.

This year, Charlottesville officials already have designated downtown spaces for four days of Unity Days events. Currently, those are the only events scheduled, according to city spokesman Brian Wheeler. A calendar of Unity Days events for that weekend is available on the city's website.

Albemarle County only has two Parks & Recreation events scheduled for the Aug. 12 weekend: a day camp at Darden Towe Park and a Virginia Department of Health soils course, according to a spokeswoman.

Nothing is planned at UVa, according to a spokesman, and no event permits have been requested.

After white supremacists on Aug. 11, 2017, marched through Grounds carrying torches and attacked counter-protesters, UVa made several changes to its free speech and assembly policies.

The new, relatively restrictive policy asks “unaffiliated groups” to make reservations to “engage in expressive activity” in certain designated locations, on certain days and during certain hours.

In cases that resolved in July 2018, many of the groups that threw punches, tackled counter-protesters and brandished clubs and flagpoles in 2017 are now enjoined from returning to Virginia. Some individuals, including white supremacist podcaster Chris Cantwell, have been banned from entering the state, while others are now incarcerated.

Officials are still watchful, however, and white supremacy continues to play a role in an increase of domestic terrorism events across the country. According to recent testimony by FBI Director Christopher Wray, a number of race-related domestic terror events have been motivated by white supremacy.

The bureau has recorded about 90 domestic terrorism arrests, compared with about 100 international terrorism arrests, in the past nine months, according to The Washington Post.

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Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, rserven@dailyprogress.com or @RuthServen on Twitter.

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