Jason Kessler, who organized the "pro-white" rally, refuses to move the rally from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park because the former contains a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that has stood since the 1920s. He said that he would take legal action to keep the demonstration at its original location.
After the city announced its decision, Richmond.com quoted Kessler as saying, "The whole thing is in support of the Lee monument."
"The fact that they’d try and move it away from the statue is, in itself, a violation of our free speech rights," he said.
Kessler, who has written for the Daily Caller, originally submitted an application for a permit on May 30. City Manager Maurice Jones told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that since then the size and orientation of the rally has changed, as additional protesters and counter-protesters will be participating.
Jones read a prepared statement saying, "Based on information provided to me by law enforcement officials, the city has decided to approve Mr. Kessler’s application for a permit to hold a demonstration on the day and at the times requested, provided that he use McIntire Park, rather than Emancipation Park, for the demonstration."
He clarified, "There is no doubt that Mr. Kessler has a First Amendment right to hold a demonstration and to express his views. Nor is there any doubt that we, as a city, have an obligation to protect those rights, the people who seek to exercise them and the broader community in which they do."
However, he added, "We have determined that we cannot do all of these things effectively if the demonstration is held in Emancipation Park."
Public safety became a concern when city officials realized that thousands of people could potentially be packed into a four-block area during the "Unite the Right" rally.
Scheduled for Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., the event is to feature the League of the South, a neo-confederate group that advocates for succession from the US; the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group whose core beliefs include "defending the rights of white people everywhere" and the "promotion of white separation;" the Traditionalist Worker Party; the Proud Boys, who label themselves a "fraternal organization of Western Chauvinists," and others who are sympathetic to the "alt-right."
The rally is being held to protest the removal of Lee’s statue, which was approved in April by the city council but is being fought in court.
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