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Charlottesville denies permit for event marking anniversary of supremacist rally

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 12, 2017

In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, White nationalist demonstrators walk through town after their rally was declared illegal near Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va. (Steve Helber / AP)
In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, White nationalist demonstrators walk through town after their rally was declared illegal near Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va. (Steve Helber / AP)
By Joe Heim Washington Post

Charlottesville, Virginia, officials Monday denied a request to hold a rally in August marking the first anniversary of a protest by white supremacists that turned violent, saying it would endanger public safety.

In a three-paragraph decision signed by City Manager Maurice Jones, the city said the request for a permit “cannot be accommodated with the area applied for, or within a reasonable allocation of city funds and/or police resources.”

Jason Kessler filed the request for a permit last month to hold a “rally against government civil rights abuse and failure to follow security plans for political dissidents,” and to memorialize “the sacrifices made by political dissidents in Lee Park August 12, 2017.” Kessler was the primary organizer of the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally that drew neo-Nazis and white nationalists to Charlottesville, leading to bloody clashes in the streets with counterprotesters.

On Monday, the city said Kessler’s application for a rally next year “likely underestimates the number of participants” and declared that the city does not have the police resources to identify opposing groups and keep them separated.

“The applicant requests that police keep ‘opposing sides’ separate and that police ‘leave’ a ‘clear path into event without threat of violence,’ but city does not have the ability to determine or sort individuals according to what ‘side’ they are on, and no reasonable allocation of city funds or resources can guarantee that event participants will be free of any ‘threat of violence,’ ” the city stated.

Charlottesville officials also said Kessler had included no information on how he would be responsible for the behavior of participants or how he could be held accountable for their adherence to city regulations.

Kessler blasted the city’s ruling, threatened legal action and vowed he would not be deterred.

“The decision is bogus and should be reversed in court,” he wrote in an email. “We’re going to be suing Charlottesville for this and many other civil rights violations starting early next year. And the rally is still happening.”

Citing similar public safety constraints and insufficient police and financial resources, the city denied four other permit requests from opponents and supporters of Kessler to hold events in public parks on the anniversary weekend.

The violence that marked the rally worsened when James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer from Ohio, allegedly drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others. Two Virginia state troopers who had been monitoring the events from the airdied later that day when their helicopter crashed.

In a post on his blog last month announcing the permit request, Kessler blamed police for not breaking up fights between rallygoers and counterprotesters, and for not providing adequate protection to allow the rally to proceed.

Charlottesville’s handling of the Unite the Right rally, particularly its police response, was uniformly criticized in a 207-page independent review released Dec. 1.

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