CHARLOTTESVILLE — After seeing the Ku Klux Klan in the movies, Jabril Carter thought he knew a little bit about what to expect Saturday. But coming face to face with around 50 Klan members rallying in Charlottesville stirred something deeper he couldn’t easily explain.
“My adrenaline is pumping right now,” the 23-year-old cook said as he paused on the chaotic downtown streets of the progressive college town he grew up in. “It hurt my soul, man.”
Carter was part of a group of young African-American men who stood directly in front of the Klan rally, taunting the robe-wearing, Confederate flag-waving group as a crowd of protesters estimated at over 1,000 drowned out the Klan’s white-pride speeches.
The 45-minute rally in Justice Park — newly renamed as part of Charlottesville’s push to rid itself of public parks designed to honor the Confederacy while elevating African-American history — was mostly peaceful due to a massive police presence involving more than 100 Charlottesville and Virginia State Police personnel.
Protesters hurled a few water bottles and pieces of fruit at the ralliers, and a few Klansmen shouted racial slurs and directed white-power salutes at the crowd. Direct physical confrontations were avoided as police escorted the Klan members in and out of the park and enforced a strict barricade between the two groups.
The rally was supposed to begin at 3 p.m., but got off to a late start apparently due to the logistical difficulties of safely moving the Klansmen through the crowd encircling the fenced-off demonstration area.
Police arrested several protesters who tried to block the entrance to the park before the Klan members entered around 3:45 p.m. Tensions escalated after the Klan group left the rally site. Protesters rushed through the streets trying to track the Klan and block roads as police tried to allow vehicles to exit.
Unable to reach the Klan members, several protesters shouted angrily at the police for protecting the group, chanting: “Cops and the Klan go hand in hand!”
Using a bullhorn, police told the group to disperse and warned that chemical agents would be used on anyone who stayed. After a group of protesters formed a line across High Street near the city’s courthouses, police shot three tear gas canisters into the crowd around 5 p.m.
In a statement Sunday morning, city officials said 22 people were arrested. On Saturday, officials had reported that 23 were arrested.
Most appeared to be anti-Klan protesters, but officials could not immediately provide the affiliations of those arrested. Three people were hospitalized; two for heat-related issues and one for alcohol, officials said.
The Klan rally was the latest flashpoint in a summer of unrest in Charlottesville, where the City Council voted to strip the names of Confederate generals from two parks and begin the process of removing statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In May, alt-right figure Richard Spencer, a leader of the new wave of white identity groups, participated in a torch-lit rally around the Lee statue. Alt-right groups are planning to return to the city next month for what’s being billed as a bigger rally to “Unite the Right.”
Saturday’s Klan rally took place in the shadow of the Jackson statue in what used to be Jackson Park.
Klan members held signs with anti-Semitic and anti-black slurs. In interviews, several members said they came to Charlottesville to protect white history and argued that white people alone are told they have no right to racial pride.
“Israel’s got a wall around their country. Why can’t we have a wall around ours?” said Douglas Barker, one of a few Klan members who spoke to reporters. “They believe in preserving their own race. Why is it wrong for the white man to preserve their own race?”
Many of the Klan members declined to give their names or say where they were from, but several who did said they had come from out of state.
Several shouting matches broke out before the rally between the protesters and a handful of people displaying Confederate flags who said that even though they don’t support the Klan, the statues should still be preserved.
City leaders and University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan had encouraged the Charlottesville community to avoid the Klan rally. A slate of alternative events was organized to give people other outlets and avoid drawing attention to the Klan.
“Groups like this come to communities like this for the purpose of incitement and controversy and a twisted kind of celebrity,” Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said in an interview after swinging through the park in the early afternoon. “The victory over them is to deny them that and keep on not only telling our story but refusing to be intimidated away from the sort of work we have been doing that has made us a target for these kinds of groups.”
Plenty of others wanted to meet the Klan head-on, insisting on countering hate with direct resistance. The park was a full-blown spectacle even before the Klan arrived, with drum circles, singing and a man wearing nothing but a loincloth shimmying in front of a street preacher.
Sarah Fitzgerald, 23, of Staunton, said that even though Klan members have the right to free speech, the crowd that dwarfed the Klan has every right to counter it with their own.
“That we are still allowing this straightforward hate group to still have a voice at this time in this country, it’s just crazy,” Fitzgerald said.