The site of a violent white supremacist rally could, a year later, play host to a public festival featuring a “local celebrity” dunk tank and a petting zoo — possibly with a giraffe.
When asked about his event permit application to hold the inaugural “Festival of the Schmestival” in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park, Justin T. Beights claimed to have not remembered at first that the proposed date also is the anniversary of last year’s Unite the Right rally.
“It’s funny,” the local entrepreneur and real estate developer said. “That’s the date that worked for us. It was kind of a coincidence. It didn’t dawn on me until I submitted the application.”
“I totally understand why someone would think it’s intentional,” he added. “I’m not oblivious to that.”
After realizing the significance of the date, and that rally organizer Jason Kessler intends to hold another political demonstration in Emancipation Park that day, Beights said he decided he would not care if his event prevented another gathering of white nationalist extremists.
“Screw those guys. If the park’s available, we’ll have our event,” Beights said Wednesday.
According to Beight’s event permit application, his festival is intended to be a family-friendly fundraiser that could attract approximately 400 people.
He said he would like to donate the proceeds from the event to multiple organizations, but he is waiting for the city’s approval before making any decisions.
Brian Wheeler, the city’s communications director, confirmed Wednesday that the city is evaluating the event permit request, which begins with a 6 p.m. setup time on Aug. 11. He also noted that Kessler had already requested an event permit for the same weekend.
“Last week, Jason Kessler filed a motion in federal court seeking a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit by which he is challenging the city’s December 2017 denial of a permit for his proposed rally on the same dates,” Wheeler said in an email. “At this time, no hearing date has been scheduled on the motion. The city’s response will be filed in federal court by July 6.”
Wheeler said the city will not comment further on the event application or the pending litigation.
According to a website for “Unite the Right 2,” Kessler is planning to hold rallies in both Charlottesville and Washington, D.C. The National Park Service has approved Kessler’s application for an event in front of the White House at Lafayette Square on Aug. 11 and 12, though it has not issued a permit.
If Kessler were unable to hold the rally in Emancipation Park on Aug. 12 because of Beights’ festival, Beights said it would be “the greatest side effect in the history of side effects.”
In addition to live music, a petting zoo and interactive exhibits, Beights’ permit request also includes plans for a dunk tank at the foot of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. (Beights said he would like to ask local celebrities, like NBC29 reporter Henry Graff, to volunteer to be dunked.)
Beights said his goal is to bring some levity to the city on the anniversary of an otherwise tragic event. “What would be more perfect than something that is the polar opposite of what occurred last year?”
Wheeler said the city has received other event applications for Emancipation Park on Aug. 12, but that none has been approved thus far.
Copies of the other applications were not readily available Wednesday evening.