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City, U.Va. leaders condemn white supremacist torchlit rally

Rally held in support of Lee statue attracts white nationalist 'alt-right' leader

<p>The torchlit demonstration was held in Lee Park Saturday evening and attracted the support of white nationalist&nbsp;"alt-right" leader Richard Spencer.</p>

The torchlit demonstration was held in Lee Park Saturday evening and attracted the support of white nationalist "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer.

A group of protesters held a demonstration in Lee Park Saturday night against the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. The protesters carried torches and have drawn criticism from Charlottesville and University leaders, some of whom have compared it to a Ku Klux Klan rally.

In photos posted to Twitter, white nationalist “alt-right” leader and University alumnus Richard Spencer appeared to be in attendance at the torchlit event.

Local blogger Jason Kessler also posted tweets about the event.

Kessler was recently sentenced to 50 hours of community service after punching a community member who disagreed with Kessler’s petition to remove Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy from office in relation to a series of tweets Bellamy had posted prior to running for office.

City Council passed a resolution in February approving the removal of the statue from Lee Park, although a lawsuit has since been filed challenging whether the city can legally remove the statue under state law. The city hopes to eventually sell the statue in a bidding process.

The statue of the Confederate general is seen by several in the community as a monument to white supremacy, while others have criticized removing the monument as erasing history.

According to Charlottesville Police Lt. Steve Upman, officers received reports of “suspicious activity” in Lee Park Saturday evening and arrived at the scene at 9:20 p.m. Protesters with torches were chanting “We will not be overcome,” and were arguing with a man asking them to leave.

The man was asking the protesters to leave, which they subsequently did.

“All parties dispersed without incident and no arrests were made,” Upman said in an email statement.

Allison Wrabel, a reporter at The Daily Progress, tweeted a series of videos from the event of the crowd appearing to chant “You will not replace us!” and “Russia is our friend!”

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer criticized the rally in a Facebook post late Saturday night.

“This event involving torches at night in Lee Park was either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK,” Signer said in a post. “Either way, as mayor of this City, I want everyone to know this — we reject this intimidation. We are a welcoming city, but such intolerance is not welcome here.”

Student Council also released a statement Saturday night condemning the rally and calling Richard Spencer and the “alt-right” movement a “disgrace to the University of Virginia and greater Charlottesville communities.”

“Staging a rally intended to intimidate minority members of our community is repugnant and a far cry from our values of equity and inclusion,” the statement read. “Hatred and racism have no place on Grounds or in Charlottesville and we will continue working to ensure that these spaces are welcoming to all students and persons.”

Erich Reimer, Charlottesville’s Republican Party chairman and Law student, said in a statement he also condemned the demonstration and the values it sought to promote.

“Whoever these people were, the intolerance and hatred they seek to promote is utterly disgusting and disturbing beyond words,” Reimer said in a statement. “This is a time for our community to come together on our common values of liberty, equality and justice for all, in stark contrast to them.”

The University Democrats and College Republicans published a joint statement Sunday evening condemning the rally, saying both organizations “will stand together against all racist and white supremacist actions on Grounds and in the U.Va. community.”

“This heinous attack is directly aimed at minority members of our Charlottesville and U.Va. communities and is contrary to everything we stand for,” the statement read. “The University Democrats and College Republicans will work harder than ever to ensure that hatred, racism, and bigotry have no place on Grounds.”

Several hundred community members gathered for a counter-protest in Lee Park Sunday evening to denounce white supremacy and promote a more inclusive community. 

Alexis Gravely contributed reporting to this article.


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