Far-right demonstrators gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday for "Unite the Right," a white nationalist rally fueled by anger, frustration, and hate. The rally comes roughly a month after a Ku Klux Klan rally in Charlottesville ended in violence and dozens of arrests. As white nationalist demonstrators and counter protesters began to clash in the streets ahead of Saturday's rally, city and state authorities declared an "unlawful assembly" and a state of emergency in response. But why is "Unite The Right" happening in Charlottesville, a historic town that's home to the University of Virginia?
According to local NBC affiliate WVIR, Charlottesville Police Captain Victor Mitchell anticipated anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 people would descend Saturday on Charlottesville's Emancipation Park to either participate in or protest the "Unite The Right" rally. Demonstrators carrying Confederate flags and chanting Nazi-era slogans clashed violently with counter protesters ahead of the rally, forcing the governor to declare a state of emergency before the rally had officially gotten underway.
Although it's known for being a progressive college town (not to mention the home of former President Thomas Jefferson), Charlottesville has recently become a battleground of sorts for white nationalists frustrated over what they view as the erasure of Southern history and the vilification of so-called white advocacy.
Jason Kessler, the self-proclaimed "white advocate" behind Saturday's "Unite The Right" rally, has said city officials' recent attempts to remove Confederate monuments from Charlottesville has made the city a perfect location for white nationalists' events.
In April, Charlottesville City Council decided to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate Army general, from Lee Park, which the council also voted to rename Emancipation Park. The decision angered white nationalists, who held a torch-light protest many found reminiscent of KKK rallies at the monument in May. Two months later, members of the KKK converged on Charlottesville for a rally near a statue of Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
In an interview with the New York Times, Kessler stated his motivation for organizing "Unite The Right" was to "de-stigmatize white advocacy so that white people can stand up for their interests just like any other identity group."
Kessler told CNN he blamed "the anti-white hatred that's coming out of the city" for fueling efforts to remove Confederate monuments and, as a result, drawing white nationalists to Charlottesville. He claimed Charlottesville's "entire community is a very far-left community that has absorbed these cultural Marxist principles advocated in college towns across the country, about blaming white people for everything." Kessler also vowed that white nationalists would hold "bigger and bigger" events in Charlottesville.