The white nationalist who organized last year’s deadly Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Va., is suing city officials over their refusal of an anniversary rally this summer.
The Aug. 12 rally devolved into widespread violence and turned deadly when police said "alt-right" James Alex Fields rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Fields, charged with first-degree murder, faces up to life in prison.
Citing last year's violence and their inability to manage crowds, Charlottesville officials later refused to give organizer Jason Kessler a permit for an anniversary rally in Emancipation Park, where last summer's demonstration was held in part to protest its renaming from Lee Park after the Confederate general.
Ku Klux Klan face off with protesters in Charlottesville
In his lawsuit filed Tuesday against the move, Kessler blamed Charlottesville for last summer's deadly violence, saying the city did not properly separate his original rally from what he called "illegal" left-wing counter-protesters. Because the city previously allowed much larger rallies, Kessler said the content of his speech is being targeted, in violation of the First Amendment.
"Of course, the key difference is that white rights aren’t allowed a platform but white genocide is," Kessler said in his lawsuit. White nationalists argue that white people should rule the U.S. and that diversity is tantamount to genocide against whites. Kessler said the anniversary rally would be "memorializing the sacrifices made by political dissidents in Lee Park."
Charlottesville officials declined to comment on the lawsuit. In its rejection of Kessler's request for a permit, the city said it was concerned far more people than expected would show up.
"The proposed demonstration or special event will present a danger to public safety and cannot be accommodated within the area applied for, or within a reasonable allocation of city funds and police resources," the city said. "The applicant requests that police keep opposing sides separate and that police 'leave' a 'clear path into event without threat of violence' but the city does not have the ability to determine or sort individuals according to what 'side' they are on and no reasonable allocation of city resources or funds can guarantee that event participants will be free of any 'threats of violence.'"
White nationalists have repeatedly succeeded in forcing cities and public universities to let them hold rallies or give speeches across the country, although counter-protesters often outnumber them dramatically.
Earlier this week, white nationalist and self-described "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer spoke to a small group of supporters at Michigan State University after they were escorted into the venue by police braving an estimated 500 counter-protesters. Violence broke out, and police arrested more than 20 people from both sides.
Referencing Charlottesville, Spencer said such opposition shows that the white nationalist movement matters.
"We entered the real world in 2017. We entered in a big way. We went to Brooklyn. We went to Charlottesville and we shocked the world with a tiki torch rally," he said. "Charlottesville was a massive display of energy and defiance," Spencer said Monday. "Charlottesville was a bit of a disaster, but it is one for the history books. It had consequences. Things got real."