The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Justice Park Saturday afternoon to protest the removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville. However, they were faced with an estimated 1,000 counter protesters in the park, 22 of whom were arrested.
In February, the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee, located in Emancipation Park, formerly called Lee Park, by a 3-2 vote.
The statue depicting the Confederate general had come under scrutiny as “racist” and an “emblem of white supremacy.” Many community members wanted it removed, though the community was strongly divided on the issue.
An estimated 50 members of the KKK attended the rally. Some members were dressed in robes and others were wearing shirts that identified their membership in the KKK. Many also brought Confederate flags.
The protest was scheduled to last from 3 to 4 p.m. However, the KKK were delayed by the protesters and entered the park around 3:45 p.m. They were in the park for less than an hour and had members speaking throughout the time. However, counter-protesters were so loud, the KKK speakers were nearly inaudible.
Amanda Barker, the Imperial Kommander of the Loyal White Knights and wife of Chris Barker, the Imperial Wizard of the Loyal White Knights, attended the rally and said the KKK held the rally on the premise of maintaining Confederate monuments.
“I know that there’s a lot of people shouting, but there’s actually a lot of supporters here too,” Barker said. “They're here because why we’re here, which is the monuments. We’re tired of the government officials taking out our history. We just want it to stay.”
While Barker was saying this, her fellow Klan members were behind her holding signs that read “KKK=TRUTH” and “COMMUNISM=JUDAISM.” There was a single sign held by a member referring to the Lee Statue, which read “Remove not the ancient landmarks thy fathers have set!” quoting Proverbs 22:28. Klan members intermittently yelled “white power” while assembled.
Counter-protesters yelled at the KKK members and occasionally threw water bottles. After approximately 40 minutes in the park, the KKK began to leave.
The City of Charlottesville estimated that there were more than a thousand counter-protesters are the rally. People carried signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Smash White Supremacy.” Protesters also brought musical instruments such as drums and trombones with them.
“This is another example that shows us the police are here to protect white supremacy not to protect the people,” Mimi Arbeit, a member of Standing Up for Racial Justice, said in an interview.
Don Gathers, former chair of Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces was among the counter protesters.
“As we stand here today in the shadow of Stonewall 'Jackass', we are no further along than we were well over a hundred and sixty years ago when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed,” Gathers said. “We’re still dealing with very much the same mindset, very much the same issues and obviously very much the same people with the same slave mentality. Something has got to change.”
There were more than 100 police officers at the event from both the Charlottesville Police Department and Virginia State Police, with some officers attired in riot gear. Officers arrested 22 people at the event, including several for blocking the entrance to the park.
As one woman was led away by police in handcuffs before the rally, she yelled, “The police are here to protect the KKK, not black people.”
Counter-protesters followed the KKK as they departed from the park and gathered near where they were expected to exit in their cars. Police officers met the crowd there, as well. After several minutes, police announced that it was an unlawful assembly and threatened to arrest anyone who did not leave. The KKK members left in their cars while counter-protesters looked on.
Numerous community organization held events Saturday in opposition to the rally.
“The best repudiation of [the KKK] is to opt for another way of celebrating, mourning, arguing, testifying, witnessing, but not to confront and engage with them while doing those things,” Charlottesville City Mayor Mike Signer said.
The NAACP, Standing Up for Racial Justice, Charlottesville Clergy Collective and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center all held counter events Saturday.
“I am extremely proud of our community and the way in which they've turned out today…to stand down and stare down hatred in the face, to let these folks know that they’re not welcome, they're not wanted here, that oppression will no longer exist in Charlottesville, that they're mentality needs to go back to wherever they brought it from and never to return,” Gathers said.
Anna Higgins contributed reporting to this article.
This article has been updated with the final arrest number from the city.