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Klansman gets 4 years in prison for firing toward black protester during Charlottesville rally

"We went there to protect a monument."

Klan leader Richard Preston, left, at the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017. CREDIT: Unicorn Riot via Twitter
Klan leader Richard Preston, left, at the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017. CREDIT: Unicorn Riot via Twitter

A member of the Ku Klux Klan who fired a handgun toward a black protester during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last year was sentenced to four years in prison Tuesday.

Judge Richard Moore sentenced Richard Preston Jr., of Baltimore, Maryland to eight years in prison, with four of those suspended, and three years of supervised release on one count of shooting a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, according to CNN. Moore pleaded no contest in May.

“We didn’t go as the Klan,” Preston told WANE news, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, two days after the rally. “We didn’t go there to create havoc and fight. We went there to protect a monument.”

A picture that accompanies the WANE story appears to show Preston and his fellow “militia” members at the rally making a Klan salute.

Preston, 53, is founder and imperial wizard of the Maryland-based Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan but said he attended the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville as a militia member.

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Two weeks after the rally, the New York Times published video from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia that showed Preston firing a single shot from a handgun toward Corey Long, 24, who was wielding an improvised torch.

“Hey, n*****! Hey!” Preston said in the video while pointing the handgun at Long. He then stepped back and cocked the weapon while telling Long to put the torch away, fired a single shot into the ground near Long, then walked away casually.

The video shows a line of Virginia State Police standing behind barricades just feet away from Preston and Long. They appear not to move after the loud shot — indeed, police largely stood back and watched as the rally collapsed into pitched street battles.

Later that day, a 20-year-old neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car into a group of anti-racism protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and wounding dozens of others.

The FBI arrested Preston two weeks later, at the home he shares with his mother in Baltimore, Maryland. After his arrest, Preston claimed he was defending himself and others from Long.

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But Long, who is appealing a conviction for misdemeanor disorderly conduct, said in his own court case that Preston and other white supremacists were yelling racial slurs at him. Long sprayed them with an aerosol can to get them to back off, he said — a claim backed up by the video. When the group continued to approach him, Long testified, he used the aerosol as an improvised torch to get them to back off.

In an interview with The Root two days after the rally, Long said the aerosol can was spray paint a white supremacist had thrown at him earlier in the day.

Preston’s sentence could have been worse if it weren’t for an unlikely, years long friendship. Daryl Davis, a black R&B musician from Silver Spring, Maryland, has made a mission of befriending, and reforming, Klansmen. He told CNN he’s been talking with Preston by phone for years.

Davis testified on Preston’s behalf and even paid part of his bail. The two visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C., together.

“The judge took everything into account,” Davis told CNN. “He commended me for my work and Richard for going to the museum but said Richard broke the law and had to be punished.”

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But even Davis, who gave away the bride at Preston’s Klan wedding, doesn’t believe the Klan leader went to Charlottesville with peaceful intent.

“He went down to Charlottesville with a gun,” Davis told The Baltimore Sun last year.