WASHINGTON – In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one dead and at least 38 injured, many members of the national media were quick to blame the “Unite the Right” rally attendees for the outbreak of street warfare between “alt-right” and “alt-left” protesters.
But according to the ACLU and reporters covering the rally, the violence escalated due to what many believe was an intentional lack of police oversight, with the blame aimed squarely at Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
“The police actually allowed us to square off against each other,” one counter-protester told CNN. “There were fights, and the police were standing a block away the entire time. It’s almost as if they wanted us to fight each other.”
The ACLU also contends the “passive” police presence may have been intentional to allow authorities to declare an “unlawful assembly” and justify shutting down the rally.
“We asked the city to adhere to the U.S. Constitution and ensure people’s safety at the protest. It failed to do so. In our system, the city makes the rules and the courts enforce them,” the ACLU of Virginia’s Executive Director Claire Gastanaga said in a statement. “It is the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure safety of both protesters and counter-protesters. The policing on Saturday was not effective in preventing violence.”
McAuliffe authorized a state of emergency that was used to prevent “Unite the Right” attendees from congregating in protest of a plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park. The order went into effect before the rally was scheduled to begin and long before James Fields, 20, plowed into counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19.
While the “Unite the Right” event had a permit, the counter-protesters did not. However, police shut down the permitted event, forcing white nationalist groups into the Antifa group.
Reporters for the Daily Caller were “in the heart of the action” and described seeing “individual protesters throw themselves against the white supremacist shield line.”
“Both sides eventually advanced on the other, and we were again caught in the crossfire. Several bottles hit us, and members of both sides began swinging wooden stakes and batons at each other all around us. Police remained still on the scene.
“Protesters then brought out a ‘battering ram’ made out of plywood and reinforced with a metal step ladder. Members of the protest charged at the white supremacists, knocking us down in the process. Enforcers managed to stop the device before it reached the actual shield line, but a new group of protesters tried to push the ram further. The force of both groups was enough to tear the metal ladder and break the device in two,” the news site reported.
A video, posted on YouTube by an apparent attendee, shows the moment the “Unite the Right” demonstrators were pushed by police directly into a group of counter-protesters, who are then seen threatening the rally-goers with bats.
Editor’s Note: Video contains offensive language:
Virginia statute 18.2-406 defines unlawful assembly:
Whenever three or more persons assembled share the common intent to advance some lawful or unlawful purpose by the commission of an act or acts of unlawful force or violence likely to jeopardize seriously public safety, peace or order.
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told Breitbart News the law is rarely enforced and so rarely used that “no one has expertise in it.”
“Whenever the possibility [of declaring an unlawful assembly] arises, some attorney is going to have to research it. I’m sure that was happening this weekend in a couple places around Virginia. Specifically, the governor’s office, the Attorney General’s office, the county attorney for Albemarle, and the city attorney for Charlottesville,” he said.
McAuliffe also erroneously claimed the “Unite the Right” attendees hid a weapons cache in the park before the rally.
“They had battering rams and we had picked up different weapons that they had stashed around the city,” McAuliffe told Black Lives Matter activist Deray Mckesson.
Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller later disputed the governor’s claims.
“The governor was referring to the briefing provided him in advance of Saturday’s rally and the extra security measures being taken by local and state police,” she told Reason.com. “As a safety precaution in advance of August 12, such searches were conducted in and around Emancipation and McIntire Parks. No weapons were located as a result of those searches.”
McAuliffe has defended the police response.
“They had to be very careful,” McAuliffe said in an interview with NPR. “We had been planning for this for a while, we had to show tremendous restraint because we knew, we had a lot of intelligence that people all came armed.”
WND reached out to the Virginia State Police for comment, who directed questions to the city of Charlottesville.
Breitbart News reached out to Charlottesville Director of Communications Miriam Dickler with a host of questions regarding police actions against the “Unite the Right” rally:
- Can you please provide the evidentiary basis upon which the City of Charlottesville declared the legally permitted Emancipation Park rally to be an unlawful assembly in violation of Virginia statute, Va. Code §18.2-406?
- Given that a federal judge had issued a preliminary injunction less than 24 hours earlier ordering the City of Charlottesville to reinstate the permit for the Emancipation Park rally, did the City of Charlottesville’s legal counsel provide a legal opinion to the City Council, City Manager, or Mayor as to the additional evidentiary standard that might be required to declare an unlawful assembly? If so, could you provide that legal opinion?
- Who, specifically, in the City of Charlottesville made the declaration that the Emancipation Park rally was an unlawful assembly?
- At what time of day on August 12 did the Council for the City of Charlottesville issue its emergency ordinance stating”the Charlottesville Chief of Policy is hereby empowered to regulate, restrict or prohibit any assembly of persons, or the movement of persons or vehicles on any public street, sidewalk, right of way, park or other publicly-owned property?
- By what legal authority was the emergency ordinance issued by the Council for the City of Charlottesville? Did the Council convene in person or telephonically?
- Why did the Chief of Police not simultaneously declare the adjacent permitted demonstration as an unlawful assembly at the same time?
Breitbart claims to have received no response.
WND also contacted Dickler and McAuliffe’s office but has not received a response.