Richmond police say they’re preparing for the worst ahead of a small rally in support of Confederate monuments planned for Saturday, but so far there’s little to indicate the event will devolve into the kind of chaos witnessed in Charlottesville last month.
Here’s what we know, what we don’t know, and answers to some common questions residents have been asking ahead of the event:
Who exactly is coming?
The protest is being organized by Thomas and Judy Crompton, leaders of a little-known Tennessee-based group called the New Confederate States of America, which primarily sells Confederate memorabilia such as T-shirts and flags online. Tara Brandau, a Florida resident who identifies with far-right militia groups, is a co-organizer.
Police have said that they have no reason to believe more than about 50 people will join the rally, and at a news conference Friday, organizers said they don’t know how many people will attend and that all they have to go on is RSVPs to a Facebook event page.
“It says in the event page 70 something coming, 400 and something interested and there’s over 400 shares,” Brandau said. “You can’t go by that. Anybody could show up with all the media. I cannot tell you a number.”
Organizers have said they plan to begin the rally at 10 a.m.
Why are they protesting?
The group has promoted the event as the “Protect the General Robert E. Lee Monument Rally.” On their Facebook page, they write: “We hope you will come out and support our efforts and stand tall for our Proud Confederate Monuments. This rally is a Heritage ~ Not Hate Rally and any Hate will NOT be stood for on our side whatsoever.”
Will this be like Charlottesville?
The lead-up to the event has been very different from the Aug. 12 protests in Charlottesville.
The Charlottesville rally was planned and promoted for months by large, militant white nationalist groups. In the weeks leading up to it, police said they had intelligence suggesting protesters and counterprotesters were planning violence.
Police have said they haven’t received any similar intelligence about the Richmond protest. And unlike the groups behind Charlottesville, the Richmond event is being planned by a small group that has so far not demonstrated any meaningful, widespread support.
Are counterprotesters expected?
Yes. All indications point to a significantly larger number of counterprotesters than pro-Confederate demonstrators. A group led by the Unitarian Universalist church is planning a peaceful march from the Maggie Walker statue at the intersection of Adams and Broad streets. Others are expected to assemble.
City officials have said their primary safety concerns revolve around the possible presence of militant far-left groups, but again, so far there’s little to suggest that such counterprotesters are planning to show up in force.
A local group that identifies as antifa, or anti-fascist, circulated an advertisement online encouraging people to attend and counterprotest. The only out-of-state group that has publicly indicated it plans to come is called Black Lives Matter New York, members of which were present in Charlottesville.
Didn’t the governor sign an executive order banning demonstrations at the Lee monument after Charlottesville?
Yes, and police have cordoned off the circle of state-owned land around it and said they will arrest anyone who sets foot on it. But they are planning to allow crowds to form in the city streets around it in fenced-off assembly zones, which are not affected by Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s order.
The rally organizers haven’t secured a permit. Why are police allowing it?
City officials have said they have no choice but to allow the rally because doing otherwise would violate the First Amendment. Under city code, assemblies that don’t block traffic or impede the flow of pedestrians do not require permits. Based on the low number of expected attendees, it’s not unimaginable they would be able to hold their rally either on a median or sidewalk without violating city code.
Then why are police shutting down streets to accommodate the protest?
Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said the city decided to shut down streets and set up assembly zones as a practical matter to allow police to better maintain order.
While the anticipated number of rally attendees is low, the number of counterprotesters is likely to be far higher, and the larger the group, the less likely participants would be able to comply with city code and avoid impeding traffic.
Jud Campbell, a constitutional law professor at University of Richmond School of Law, posited that police might be attempting to avoid a situation where they end up arresting people on one side of the issue for assembling but not the other.
Why are police banning sticks, bats, knives, etc., from assembly areas but not guns?
Durham said the city explored banning guns but determined it could not do so without violating state law, which allows people to openly carry firearms in public.
Other weapons are not afforded similar protections under the law.
Durham encouraged residents upset that the city could not ban guns to lobby the General Assembly for a change to state code.
If police don’t have intelligence suggesting large, unruly crowds are likely, why are they planning such a large, aggressive response?
Police have said that they want to be prepared for whatever develops, and that they hope their show of force eases residents’ anxiety following Charlottesville.
“I can’t stand here and tell you what to expect and how we want to respond,” Durham said this week. “If 100 people show up, that’s 100 different scenarios that can play out. So again, I think we have a robust plan and we’re going to respond appropriately.”
All week, authorities have encouraged residents not to attend, a point reiterated by McAuliffe in a statement Friday.
“Many people, including myself, strongly oppose the underlying ideology of tomorrow’s demonstration and the best way to express that opposition is to avoid giving these hateful groups more attention than they deserve,” he said.
Go to Richmond.com to see a gallery of images from the Valentine museum’s archives showing several of the statues on Monument Avenue during construction and unveilings.
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