Klan rally at­tracts coun­ter­protesters

Demon­stra­tion comes af­ter city voted to re­move Gen. Robert E. Lee statue

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY JOE HEIM joe.heim@wash­post.com T. Rees Shapiro con­trib­uted to this re­port.

char­lottesville — A rally here by the Ku Klux Klan and its sup­port­ers to protest the Char­lottesville City Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to re­move a statue hon­or­ing Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee en­coun­tered a loud and an­gry coun­ter­protest Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Mem­bers of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which is based in Pel­ham, N.C., near the Vir­ginia bor­der, gath­ered at Jus­tice Park, sit­u­ated in a quiet, leafy res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood in down­town Char­lottesville. They shouted “white power,” and some wore white robes.

About 30 Klans­men were es­corted to and from the rally by po­lice in riot gear who were out on a hot day to sep­a­rate the ral­ly­go­ers and ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 coun­ter­protesters who greeted them with jeers. At­tempts by Klan lead­ers to ad­dress the crowd were re­peat­edly drowned out by boos and chants. Some of the Klan mem­bers ar­rived armed, car­ry­ing hand­guns in hol­sters at their belts.

The rally was held about a block away from Eman­ci­pa­tion Park — the re­named Lee Park — where the statue of Lee astride a horse still stands. Char­lottesville po­lice re­ported that van­dals had painted mes­sages in green and red paint on the statue overnight.

More than 100 of­fi­cers from the Vir­ginia State Po­lice, Albe­marle County po­lice and Univer­sity of Vir­ginia po­lice were pre­pared to as­sist Char­lottesville po­lice in main­tain­ing or­der.

Af­ter the Klan rally ended, po­lice led sev­eral peo­ple away in hand­cuffs af­ter a large group of coun­ter­protesters re­mained near the vicin­ity of the park. Po­lice asked those still gath­ered nearby to dis­perse. Wear­ing riot gear and gas masks, the po­lice de­clared the coun­ter­protesters “an un­law­ful assem­bly” and used gas can­is­ters to com­pel them to leave the area.

Char­lottesville, a city of close to 50,000 and home to the pres­ti­gious pub­lic flag­ship cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia, had be­come in­creas­ingly tense as the rally ap­proached. “A CITY ON EDGE” read the front-page head­line in the lo­cal pa­per, the Daily Progress, on Satur­day.

City lead­ers or­ga­nized di­ver­sion­ary events else­where in the city and en­cour­aged res­i­dents and vis­i­tors not to con­front the KKK mem­bers di­rectly. While many took that ad­vice, oth­ers wanted to make sure the rally par­tic­i­pants heard their voices.

“It is im­por­tant for me to be here be­cause the Klan was ig­nored in the 1920s, and they metas­ta­sized,” said Jalane Sch­midt, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia who has been among those lead­ing the call for the Lee statue re­moval. “They need to know that their ide­ol­ogy is not ac­cept­able.”

“I teach about slav­ery and African Amer­i­can his­tory, and it’s im­por­tant to face the Klan and to face the demons of our col­lec­tive his­tory and our orig­i­nal sin of slav­ery. We do it on be­half of our an­ces­tors who were ter­ror­ized by them.”

Though the coun­cil voted to re­move the statue, a court or­der has stopped the city from act­ing on that de­ci­sion un­til a hear­ing next month. Some ob­servers pre­dict a pro­tracted le­gal bat­tle that would fur­ther de­lay the re­moval.

In an editorial last month, city coun­cil­woman Kristin Sza­kos said the coun­cil voted to re­move the statue and join a “grow­ing group of cities around the na­tion that have de­cided that they no longer want to give pride of place to trib­utes to the Con­fed­er­ate Lost Cause erected in the early part of the 20th cen­tury.”

The Klan says the city’s de­ci­sion to re­move the Lee statue is part of a wider ef­fort to get rid of white his­tory.

“They’re try­ing to erase the white cul­ture right out of the his­tory books,” Klan mem­ber James Moore said Thurs­day.

Brandi Fisher, of Ridge­ley, W.Va., drove hours to at­tend the rally.

“I don’t agree with ev­ery­thing the Klan be­lieves, but I do be­lieve our his­tory should not be taken away,” said Fisher, 41. “Are we go­ing to re­move the Wash­ing­ton and Jef­fer­son memo­ri­als be­cause they were slave own­ers?”

Ezra Is­rael, 32, who is African Amer­i­can, says the statue should stay up as a re­minder of slav­ery and the peo­ple who sup­ported it.

“It’s hid­ing his­tory to take it down,” he said as he made his way to the rally. “We need to leave it up so peo­ple can see it and see that we were op­pressed and we’re still a prod­uct of that to­day.”

MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A Ku Klux Klan group from North Carolina protests Satur­day in Jus­tice Park in Char­lottesville.

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