A mob of white supremacists and neo-Nazis returned to Charlottesville, Va. last night, raising their tiki-torches, spewing hateful chants, and promising to return yet again, just months after their previous demonstration turned violent, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer.
Charlottesville officials, including area police, drew heavy criticism for failing to adequately respond to the white supremacists’ violent attacks on counter-protesters following the August march. The August torch rally did not draw any police presence.
This time, the department maintained a presence at the rally but did not intervene, according to reports. Police did reportedly break up a Black Lives Matter rally held later that evening, deeming it an unlawful assembly.
Now, some Charlottesville officials are calling for legal action against white supremacist groups.
“When White Supremacists stand two blocks away from a synagogue and yell “Jew/You will not replace us,”” Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy wrote on Facebook. “When White Supremacists Make odes to White Power, and clearly use torches to send a message to our community that they are the superior race while trying to strike fear and intimidate others, they are breaking the law.” Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer and the city’s police department echoed Bellamy’s statement about potentially taking legal action against the white supremacists.
Specifically, Bellamy said he wanted the Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman to prosecute the mob of racists led by notorious white supremacist Richard Spencer under a Virginia law that bans people intending to intimidate a another person or a group from burning objects in public places in a way that tends to put another person “in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.” Violating the law is a class 6 felony, which carries up to five-year prison sentences.
“As a city, we cannot continue to allow these White Supremacists to continue to act in this manner. Our community does not deserve this,” Bellamy said.
Meanwhile, Spencer declared last night’s march a success. Based on social media accounts and eyewitness reports, it included about 40 to 50 white men at the city’s statue of Robert E. Lee, which is covered in a black tarp. ”We came, we triggered, we left. We did it in and out, flash mob,” he said in a video posted on Twitter after the rally.
Spencer said the fact no one was reported injured during last night’s march, which lasted just a few minutes, shows that the previous two rallies in May and August were “peaceful,” disregarding Heather Heyer’s death and the attempt to kill others in the crowd, and footage captured of a man firing a gun at close range at a counter-protester (the man has been charged).
After the August protest, President Donald Trump echoed Spencer’s claim, saying there were bad actors on both sides and the neo-Nazis and white supremacists include “some very fine people.”
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe condemned the racist protesters last night while Ralph Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor vying to replace him, blamed Trump’s “very fine people” comment for the protesters’ return in a statement. He then called out his Republican gubernatorial challenger Ed Gillespie for failing to call out Trump on that front. “There can be no ambiguity from any elected official: white supremacists are not welcome, and they will not win,” he said.
Gillespie, who had previously denounced the white supremacist protesters in the past, has not issued a statement on last night’s rally on social media or his website.