A variety of white supremacists, self-identified white nationalists and others on the extreme right are gearing up for the “Unite the Right” rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event has the potential to be the largest public gathering of white supremacists in at least a decade; ADL predicts as many as 500 Unite the Right supporters could show up. Charlottesville law enforcement estimates total crowd size could reach 4,000, which would include a sizable number of counter-protesters. The permit allows for 400 attendees.
On Monday August 7, the Charlottesville City Council told event organizer Jason Kessler that the rally, which was initially slated to be held in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), must be held in the city's (larger) McIntire Park. City officials believe the larger park will allow them to provide better security and facilities for rally attendees and counter-protesters.
Kessler, the president of Unity and Security for America, whose slogan, “Protect the West,” is coupled with anti-immigrant, white nationalist rhetoric, told reporters Monday he has no plans to move the rally from its original site. “The Charlottesville City Council, as expected, has not respected our First Amendment rights to assemble at the Unite the Right rally on August 12,” he said. “We are still going to do it anyway, there is nothing they can do to stop that.”
The rally, which is scheduled for noon to 5 pm, will likely be the largest public rally by white supremacists in 10 to 15 years. Over the past decade, “successful” public white supremacist events have drawn 50 to 75 participants. Most have been much smaller. The largest events rarely surpass 100 attendees, even with the participation of multiple groups.
Sizable public gatherings of white supremacists in recent years include an event in April 2017, when about 125 white supremacists, including contingents from the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) and the Traditionalist Workers Party, gathered in Pikeville, Kentucky, to celebrate “white identity” and recruit new members. Two years prior, in July 2015, approximately 125 white supremacists, including members of NSM and several Klan groups, rallied in Columbia, South Carolina, to protest state legislators’ plans to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds in Columbia. The lawmakers’ decision came on the heels of white supremacist Dylann Roof’s deadly mass shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Beyond its anticipated size, the August 12 Unite the Right event will likely be notable for the range of white supremacists it brings together, a particularly remarkable feat given ongoing tension and infighting on the extreme right. Those slated to attend include members of defiantly racist groups like Identity Evropa, the National Socialist Movement, Vanguard America and the Traditionalist Workers Party, as well as members of various Klan groups. Representatives of the League of the South will also be on hand, per LOS president Michael Hill’s July 24 tweet: “If you want to defend the South and Western civilization from the Jew and his dark-skinned allies, be at Charlottesville on 12 August.”
Several members of the alt lite, whose leaders claim to disavow white supremacist ideology – the Proud Boys, American Guard and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights -- also plan to be there.
The predicted scale of this event is confirmation that white supremacists and the extreme right are feeling emboldened by the current political climate, and by some of the rhetoric deployed during the 2016 presidential campaign. It’s also an indicator of how successful the alt right has been in selling their brand of white supremacy, and normalizing bigotry and hatred under benign labels and slogans like “Unite the Right” and “Free Speech Rally.”
Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer told The Washington Post that he’d like the rally to get as little attention as possible. “I encourage everyone to ignore this ridiculous sideshow and to focus instead on celebrating the values of diversity and tolerance that have made Charlottesville a world-class city,” he said. Signer and other city officials are working alongside community activists to plan a number of alternative events for August 12, including a BlocKKK Party (to protest the Klan).
This is the third white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville this year. In May, several dozen protesters, led by alt right leader Richard Spencer, gathered in what’s now called Emancipation Park to protest the planned removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In July, about 50 members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan showed up at a nearby park to voice their anger at “the ongoing cultural genocide… of white Americans.” The Klan members were hugely outnumbered by a crowd of more than 1,000 counter-protesters.