“Neighbors, community members and passerby also joined in and helped scatter the white nationalists into smaller groups as they left the park and walked to their cars.”
On the morning of May 13, Richard Spencer, Nathan Damigo, Matthew Heimbach and a group of about sixty or seventy white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, VA to protest the annual Charlottesville Festival of Cultures, a local event that celebrates the “the cultural and linguistic diversity” of the Charlottesville community. The festival hosts local vendors and artists, and is held every year in Robert E. Lee park, which has been the center of controversy in recent months after Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from the park.
The protest was held in opposition to the festival, and also in opposition to the removal of the statue. They began their rally there at Lee Park, and marched four blocks to Stonewall Jackson Park, where Richard Spencer gave a brief speech. Activists showed up shortly after and shut down the rally. Neighbors, community members and passerby also joined in and helped scatter the white nationalists into smaller groups as they left the park and walked to their cars.
Later in the evening, the same white nationalists returned to hold a vigil in Lee Park but were quickly shut down by local police. They were reportedly shut down after only ten minutes in the park. After the now infamous vigil it was reported that some members of the white nationalist group proceeded to drive their cars to the neighborhood of a black city council member and shout racist epithets from their car windows. Less than ten of the sixty or so white supremacists have been identified as being local to Charlottesville and the surrounding region, with the rest being from out of state or from other regions of Virginia.
“It’s almost certain that the protest and vigil were organized in large part by local white nationalist Jason Kessler. Kessler is known in Charlottesville and throughout the region as an affiliate of neo-Nazi groups…”
It’s almost certain that the protest and vigil were organized in large part by local white nationalist Jason Kessler. Kessler is known in Charlottesville and throughout the region as an affiliate of neo-Nazi groups, and as the leader of the white nationalist group, Unity and Security for America. Over the past six months he has been attempting to legitimize himself with mainstream conservatives in the region, but has been set back by the public revelation of some comments he’d made on Twitter and Voat that explicitly promote rape and misogyny. He has also been hurt by pending criminal charges of assault and of falsifying police reports related to his political activities.
The May 13th vigil has received extensive coverage from national media sources, but the rally at the Festival of Cultures has been largely ignored and unreported, and was in many ways a far more significant offense.
Many of the vendors, artisans, and attendees were people of color, and were there with their families and friends when the white nationalist group arrived. Their presence in Charlottesville was felt most viscerally there, not at the night vigil which was broken up very quickly and was seen only by a few people as it happened.
— Jen on the Edge (@jenontheedge) May 15, 2017
Both actions seemed very coordinated, as if they planned to stick around mostly for a scary photo op, then retreat back under their rocks afterwards. Some were spotted barhopping around downtown a little in the evening, but none of the major players were confirmed to be out and about.