Kessler sues city over decision to move ‘Unite the Right’ rally

Lawsuit argues city violated civil rights in requiring event to be moved

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Jason Kessler's lawsuit against the city was filed in federal court Thursday. 

Courtesy U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia

Jason Kessler, a pro-white activist and organizer of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally, filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court Thursday against the City of Charlottesville and City Manager Maurice Jones. The complaint is a result of the city’s decision Monday to only grant a permit for the rally if it was moved from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park. The lawsuit argues the city violated Kessler’s right to free speech.

City Attorney Craig Brown said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the city received the lawsuit around 6 p.m. Thursday evening and is currently “reviewing the allegations made in the Complaint.”

“If a hearing is held tomorrow, we will be prepared to defend the City’s position,” Brown said.

Kessler is being represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and The Rutherford Institute. The two organizations sent a letter to members of Charlottesville City Council Tuesday expressing their concerns about the city’s decision to move the rally.

According to court documents, the case is “about viewpoint discrimination by Defendants against [the] Plaintiff.”

The “Unite the Right” rally is expected to draw members of the white nationalist “alt-right” movement. Many community members have denounced the rally and some have called on City Council to revoke the permit.

“[The] Plaintiff’s views are highly controversial and have evoked strong protests and demands heard by City Council that his permit be revoked,” the documents said.

The lawsuit alleges that members of City Council have “made clear their opposition” to Kessler’s views. The documents included a tweet from Mayor Mike Signer in which he called the event “racist and bigoted,” as well as a tweet from Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy in which he responded “this is dope” to an event poster for counter protests.

The lawsuit says the city granted a permit on June 13 for Kessler to hold the rally in Emancipation Park, before reversing the decision less than a week before the event. The filing included letter from Jones to Kessler dated Aug. 7, which said “it [came] to the City’s attention that many thousands of individuals are likely to attend the demonstration” and that it would be “unable to accommodate safely even a peaceful crowd of this size.”

The lawsuit argues that the city has no factual basis for the belief that “many thousands” of people will attend the rally. The civil rights organizations also note that other events have been safely held in Emancipation Park in the past with crowd estimates of as many as 4,000 people, and that based on their calculations, the park should have a capacity of up to 29,000 people.

“The City’s claim that it cannot safely manage a demonstration involving 400 people and possibly ‘thousands’ is belied by the fact that the City routinely manages crowds of up to 3,500 people at the Sprint Pavilion on the Downtown Mall and has previously granted permits for rallies and events with ‘thousands’ of attendees in Emancipation Park without incident or intervention from the City,” the lawsuit reads.

Kessler is asking for a temporary restraining order or injunction to allow the demonstration to be held in Emancipation Park from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. with security. He is also asking for the city to pay his attorney fees.

Read the full lawsuit below: 

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