Update: 12:30 p.m. Monday
Three people face charges from Sunday night’s counter-protest in Lee Park after scuffles broke out.
During the last minutes of the candlelit event, police said several disorders broke out. While breaking up a fight, a city officer was struck in the head by an object thrown from the crowd. The officer suffered a minor injury, police said.
Police arrested Charles W. Best, 21, of Richmond, after officers said they identified him as the person who threw the object. When police searched Best during the arrest, officers also found a fully automatic opening knife that he had concealed.
Best faces a charge of assaulting a law enforcement officer, as well as a charge of carrying a concealed weapon.
Police also arrested 28-year-old Jordan C. McNeish, of Afton, and 33-year-old right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, of Charlottesville. Officers said McNeish spit on Kessler, who in turn did not obey officer commands to leave the area and to stop using a bull horn to incite others, according to police.
Both were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
Update: 11:38 p.m.
Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler and two other people were arrested at Sunday night's counter-protest at Lee Park, according to Charlottesville police spokesman Lt. Steve Upman.
One was arrested "for assaulting a police officer"; the other for assaulting Kessler "by spitting on him." Kessler, who was among a torch-bearing group led by white nationalist Richard Spencer on Saturday, was "arrested for disorderly conduct."
Upman said further details would be released on Monday.
Candlelit counter-protest at Lee Park leads to scuffles, arrests
People gathered in Lee Park for a candlelight counter-protest to "take back Lee Park" on Sunday night after torch-bearing protesters met up at the Charlottesville park Saturday night. Eventually, scuffles broke out and Charlottesville police made several arrests.
Hundreds of community members gathered on Sunday night to “take back Lee Park,” after torch-bearing protesters of a different sort met up at the Charlottesville park Saturday night.
Sunday’s counter group — made up of members of Showing Up for Racial Justice Charlottesville, Black Lives Matter and others — met to “outshine their torches with our love” and to send a message that “they will not come here to intimidate us unchallenged.”
“We will not let you come in and take over, and have your way,” Don Gathers told the crowd Sunday night. “I don’t care who’s in the White House, I don’t care who’s in Congress ... We are going to take control of this city and we are going to do it the proper way, the legal way. It might take six months to take care of this situation, but we’re not going to give up the fight.”
About 100 torch-wielding protesters gathered in Lee Park just after 9 p.m. Saturday, chanting “you will not replace us,” “Russia is our friend” and “blood and soil.”
In April, the City Council voted to sell the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that stands in the park, but a judge earlier this month issued an injunction that prevents the city from doing so as litigation on the matter proceeds.
The city’s decision has drawn considerable consternation from Southern heritage groups, Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart and a number of others in Virginia and elsewhere.
Richard Spencer, a UVa graduate and a white nationalist who popularized the term “alt-right,” tweeted several times about Saturday night’s event at the Lee statue, as well as a similar gathering earlier that day at the city’s Jackson Park, home to a statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
The event in Jackson Park happened at the same time as the annual Festival of Cultures was taking place in Lee Park.
“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people,” Spencer says in a video on his Twitter feed from the Jackson Park event. “We will not be replaced.”
Also in attendance, according to the video, were Matthew Heimbach, creator of the Traditionalist Worker Party, and Nathan Damigo, founder of Identity Evropa. Both organizations are white nationalist groups.
Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, who led an unsuccessful attempt to oust City Councilor Wes Bellamy over controversial tweets Bellamy sent prior to being elected, also posted about Saturday’s events.
In a statement late Saturday night, Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer called the event “either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK. Either way, as mayor of this city, I want everyone to know this: we reject this intimidation. We are a welcoming city, but such intolerance is not welcome here.”
On Twitter on Saturday night, Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, called the “outrageous protests in Charlottesville this evening by apparent white supremacists” unacceptable.
“Whoever these people were, the intolerance and hatred they seek to promote is utterly disgusting and disturbing beyond words,” Erich Reimer, chairman of the Charlottesville Republican Party, said in a statement Saturday night. “This is a time for our community to come together on our common values of liberty, equality and justice for all, in stark contrast to them.”
“The ugly display of divisive rhetoric and intimidation tactics in Charlottesville yesterday does not reflect the thoughtfulness and tolerance I see in my fellow Virginians everywhere I go,” GOP candidate for governor Ed Gillespie tweeted Sunday.
Police were unable to confirm exactly who or what groups were at Lee and Jackson parks on Saturday. A statement from police on Sunday said the first responding officer on the scene observed 100 to 150 people in the park, many of them carrying tiki-style torches.
“As this officer approached the group, he observed that several members of the large group were arguing with a male individual,” the statement said. “The members of the larger group were heard to be chanting and the single male was yelling at them ‘to leave my town.’ The officer began giving commands to all parties to clear the park and asked for additional units to respond.”
No other incidents were reported or observed Saturday night, the police statement said.
“While we prefer protesters get permits like any other event, such assemblies are protected by the First Amendment and we do not interfere unless we perceive a legal or safety issue,” city spokeswoman Miriam Dickler said Sunday.
On May 2, a judge issued an injunction against the city, which had decided to remove the Lee statue. Charlottesville will not be permitted to sell the statue within the next six months, as litigation proceeds.
The judge, however, did not apply the injunction to the city’s plan to rename Lee and Jackson parks. The city also will not be barred from initiating a master planning process to redesign the two historical districts where the parks are located.
The plan also includes a concept to build a new memorial in Jackson Park to those who were enslaved in the city.
In filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs — a collection of local residents and the Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans — allege the city’s vote to remove the statue violates a state law that protects war memorials.
The Monument Fund, to which some plaintiffs in the case have ties, disavowed Saturday’s demonstration and said it was not involved in it.
Elliott Harding, an attorney who is involved with the group and the litigants in the case, confirmed in a text message that a statement posted from the Facebook page Save the Robert E. Lee Statue was issued by associates of The Monument Fund.
“Neither Save the Robert E. Lee Statue nor The Monument Fund were in any way involved in these events and only learned of them though media reports,” the statement said.
“We remain committed to preserving the Robert E. Lee Monument in its park through the legal process in the courts because of its historic and artistic value.
“We soundly and completely reject racism, white supremacy, and any other identity based groups that preach division and hate no matter which side of the issue they happen to support.”
On Sunday, members of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective issued a statement saying they “condemn acts of hate and bigotry that threaten to intimidate and undermine the peace and well-being of our neighbors.”
“We are faith leaders from many traditions committed to the belief that love is stronger than hate, and we stand on the side of love,” the statement said. “We believe that good and reasonable people can disagree about monuments and memorials, but divisive actions intended to provoke fear have no place here.”
Saturday’s torch-lit protest has garnered attention nationwide.
On Sunday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, condemned the incident, as well as one in Idaho, where the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial was vandalized.
“These incidents are further evidence of the rising tide of bigotry in our nation that inevitably results in hate rhetoric and hate crimes targeting minority communities,” CAIR said in a statement. “American Muslims, who are themselves experiencing an unprecedented spike in Islamophobic attacks nationwide, condemn these most recent hate incidents and express solidarity with all those targeted by hate.”