The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, is bracing for what may come this weekend on the one-year anniversary of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally.
States of emergency were declared on Wednesday for the Commonwealth of Virginia and Charlottesville. The declarations enable law enforcement to access state resources, including the National Guard, if unrest breaks out at events in and around Charlottesville and outside Washington, where a “Unite the Right 2” rally is set to occur.
“We are treating this as a statewide event,” Jeffrey Stern, state coordinator of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said at a news conference Wednesday.
Stern and other state, county and city officials said to expect large numbers of law enforcement officers in and around Charlottesville as part of a large-scale, multiagency safety and security plan to head off violence.
Authorities came under harsh criticism for underestimating the potential for unrest at last year’s rally. And critics said their delayed response contributed to clashes between white supremacists and neo-Nazis and counterprotesters. An extensive review identified “gaps” in planning and communication among agencies, culminating in this year’s plan, Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney said.
The increased police presence is intended to serve as a “deterrent to anyone who would want to come into the community and exercise their First Amendment rights in a way that would violate someone else’s First Amendment rights,” Brackney said.
“People are welcome into the community, people are invited into the community,” she said. “[They] should be here as part of the community’s voice as we move toward one unity.”
None of the officials pointed to specific threats. The city rejected several event permit requests in downtown, including one for “Unite the Right 2.” At least one rally is being organized on the University of Virginia campus by a group of student activists, UVA Students United. Numerous planned community events will promote peaceful messages, including a gathering in honor of counterprotester Heather Heyer, who was run over by a suspected neo-Nazi sympathizer.
Starting Friday at 6 p.m., a secure perimeter will be established in downtown Charlottesville where the gathering is expected to take place. Numerous street closures and parking restrictions will also take effect.
Numerous weapons and items that could be considered an “implement of riots” (see list here) are forbidden in the secure area, as well as masks or hoods that conceal one’s identity.
More than 700 Virginia State Police personnel alone are trained and ready to be assigned if the need arises, Virginia State Police Colonel Gary T. Settle said.
“Nothing would excite us any better than for this to be noneventful and folks to go home and it be a peaceful weekend for all,” Settle said. But, he added, “The state police is fully prepared to act on any inciteful violence.”