For weeks, officials from the Virginia city of Charlottesville had been calling on residents to ignore a planned rally of the Ku Klux Klan. Residents ignored their pleas. When around 50 members of the North Carolina–based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan descended on Charlotesville Saturday to protest the decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Justice Park, they were met by more than 1,000 counterprotesters who had surrounded the Charlotesville park and chanting against the white-supremacist group.
Police escorted the Klansmen, several of whom were wearing hooded white robes and carrying Confederate flags, to the site of the protest. Their shouts of “white power” were often drowned out by counterprotesters chanting “racists go home.”
After about 45 minutes, the white supremacists began to leave with the help of police. Some protesters tried to block the KKK members, and police declared an “unlawful assembly.” When the counterprotesters refused to leave, police fired three canisters of tear gas. “The crowd immediately dispersed,” a city spokeswoman said in a statement. Throughout the day, at least 23 people were arrested, but officials refused to specify whether they were Klan supporters or counterprotesters.
The city and the University of Virginia had organized alternative events, including a unity concert, to try to motivate people to stay away from the park. “There are … people who did go to the park, and that is their right, but I can tell you that thousands have chosen not to go to the park and instead join the events that have been planned,” Mayor Mike Signersaid said. “I am extremely proud of my city. I have said a few times today: This is what democracy looks like.”
Charlottesville has emerged as a flashpoint in a national debate about what to do about Confederate monuments. This was not the first time protesters gathered to protest the removal of the Lee statue. In May, a group led by white nationalist Richard Spencer carried torches and surrounded the statue to protest its removal.