Federal judge rules in favor of white nationalists, greenlights protest despite safety concerns from city

White nationalists celebrated by protesting with tiki torches

Protesters take to the streets of Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. CREDIT: Joshua Eaton/ThinkProgress
Protesters take to the streets of Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. CREDIT: Joshua Eaton/ThinkProgress

Late Friday night, a federal judge granted white nationalists permission to rally in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the city’s decision to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.

U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by the city against right-wing blogger Jason Kessler, who organized a rally on Saturday to protest the city’s vote to remove Lee’s statue. Earlier in the week, the city announced that the rally had to be moved out of Emancipation Park to a larger venue, citing safety reasons. Kessler sued in response and the judge granted the injunction to let the rally continue in the park.

“It’s important we preserve this history that is under attack,” Kessler said.

After the ruling late Friday night, white nationalists and so-called “Unite the right” protesters descended on the University of Virginia campus with tiki torches, which they threw at counter-protesters. The tense atmosphere was further inflamed Saturday morning as white nationalists took to Emancipation Park, with people shouting obscene words at counter protesters. ThinkProgress reporters Joshua Eaton and Alan Pyke, who were on the scene at Emancipation Park, also observed scuffles between protesters on both sides.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer wrote in a Facebook post Friday night, “I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.”


“As President of the University of Virginia, I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protestors that marched on our Grounds this evening,” University President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement. “I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including University personnel who were attempting to maintain order.

President Donald Trump, who often likes to weigh in on national incidents, has yet to weigh in on the violent protests. But his adviser Sebastian Gorka has said that people should stop criticizing white supremacists.

Watch below for scenes from the rally: