Kessler withdraws request for Charlottesville to allow 1-year anniversary rally

Image of Jason Kessler's press conference the day after the deadly 'Unite the Right' rally |...
Image of Jason Kessler's press conference the day after the deadly 'Unite the Right' rally | WHSV file video(WHSV)
Published: Jul. 24, 2018 at 1:40 PM EDT
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UPDATE (1:45 p.m. July 24):

Jason Kessler, the organizer of 2017's deadly 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, has withdrawn his motion asking Charlottesville to allow a 1-year anniversary rally in the city.

The city denied Kessler's permit application months ago, but he had sued the city to get the decision overturned. With his suit withdrawn, Charlottesville's decision is final: no permit will be issued for an anniversary white nationalist rally in the city.

After arriving more than a half hour late for the hearing, Kessler conferred with his lawyers, who had been addressing the judge. The attorneys then said he was withdrawing his request.

Kessler's lawyer, James Kolenich, told reporters afterward that he doesn't know why Kessler abruptly abandoned his efforts to get a permit.

"He ordinarily has good reasons for what he does. I don't know what it is right now," Kolenich said.

The decision doesn't necessarily mean that no event will take place. No permit is needed for a gathering of fewer than 50 people.

John Longstreth, an attorney for the city, said it would be "very difficult" for Kessler to refile another motion.

Lisa Woolfork, a University of Virginia professor and Black Lives Matter Charlottesville organizer who attended the hearing, said she felt sure white supremacists would return to Charlottesville with or without a permit.

"What's more important is that we as a community come to resist," she said.

Police Chief RaShall Brackney said that although Tuesday's development was "a victory," authorities would continue with public safety preparations ahead of the anniversary, as well as social media monitoring.

"We understand that the weekend and that day has national significance and even international significant so we are going to be prepared for that weekend to come regardless," she said.

Kessler has also said he plans to hold a rally in Washington during the same weekend next month. The National Park Service approved his application for an Aug. 12 "white civil rights" rally at Lafayette Square, near the White House. Kolenich said he didn't ask Kessler if that event is still planned.

Last August, hundreds of people traveled to Charlottesville to participate in the "Unite the Right" rally and protest the city's plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park that was named after the Confederate general. The list of scheduled speakers included several leading white nationalist figures, including Richard Spencer.

On the eve of the Aug. 12 rally, dozens of young white men wearing khakis and polo shirts marched through the University of Virginia's campus, carrying torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. The next day, hundreds of white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed in the streets before a car plowed into a crowd, killing 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.

James Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, is charged with murder in Heyer's killing under Virginia state law. He is charged separately in federal court with hate crimes.

A monthslong investigation of the rally violence, led by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy, found the chaos stemmed from a passive response by law enforcement officers and poor preparation and coordination between state and city police.

Earlier this month, Kessler reached a settlement agreement in a separate lawsuit over last summer's violence in Charlottesville. Kessler signed a consent decree in which he agreed to "actively discourage" coordinated, armed activity at any future rallies in the city. More than a dozen other defendants signed similar agreements.


UPDATE (1:37 p.m. July 24):

Jason Kessler, the man at the center of Charlottesville's decision on whether to allow a 1-year 'Unite the Right' anniversary rally this August, has arrived at court 45 minutes late.

The judge has determined court will resume to allow arguments for and against granting Kessler an injunction.


UPDATE (1:30 p.m. July 24):

The judge for Jason Kessler's court hearing to determine if Charlottesville will allow him to hold a 1-year 'Unite the Right' anniversary rally has ordered a recess.

The reason? Kessler did not show up to court on time. His attorneys admitted to WCAV's Courtney Stuart that they cannot meet their legal burden without him there.


Jason Kessler's request to hold a Unite the Right anniversary event in Charlottesville this August 12 will be heard in federal court on Tuesday.

The city has denied Kessler's permit application, but he sued to try to get the decision overturned.

Last week, the city filed new documents with the court explaining why the permit should be denied.

According to city officials, Kessler keeps changing the details of the event, so that it no longer resembles what he originally wanted to do.

The original permit application said Kessler planned to have 400 people attend, but in a recent interview, that number had dropped to about two dozen.

The city also says Kessler has been unclear about whether the event will take place on Aug. 11 or Aug. 12.

Additionally, the city claims Kessler has deleted messages about the planning of the event that he is unable to control what groups may come to participate.

The hearing is scheduled to start at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday in Charlottesville's federal courthouse.

Kessler, who organized last year's deadly rally, is also planning an anniversary rally in Washington, D.C.