Two years post-Charlottesville, two leading organizers of the Unite the Right rally have filed suit against the city of Charlottesville and Virginia State Police.
By John Friend
Jason Kessler, a civil rights advocate and leading organizer of the Unite the Right rally, recently filed a federal lawsuit against several officials representing the City of Charlottesville and one Virginia State Police lieutenant for violating his First Amendment rights during the August 2017 rally.
The lawsuit names several leading officials from Charlottesville, including City Manager Tarron Richardson, former City Manager Maurice Jones, and former Police Chief Al Thomas, as well as the city itself, along with Virginia State Police Lt. Becky Cannis-Curl, as defendants, alleging these individuals engaged in or acquiesced to a “hecklers veto” when they allowed radical left-wing counter-protesters to disrupt the legally scheduled rally and prevent Kessler and others from exercising their free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.
On the day of the rally, Unite the Right organizers, speakers, and attendees were unable to carry out the pre-planned, legally sanctioned rally after state officials first declared a state of emergency followed by city officials declaring the event an unlawful assembly and shutting the rally down. State and local officials have been heavily criticized for not protecting the First Amendment rights of Unite the Right organizers and speakers and for allowing radical left-wing counter-protesters to attack attendees and disrupt the event.
The lawsuit also includes David Matthew Parrott, a former leading official with the now defunct Traditionalist Worker Party, as a plaintiff along with Kessler. Parrott’s organization played a leading role in helping organize the rally, and several of its members participated—or attempted to participate before it was disrupted and shut down—in the rally.
A previous federal lawsuit, also filed by Kessler and several other plaintiffs against key officials in Charlottesville, was withdrawn earlier this year. The new federal lawsuit, which only names Kessler and Parrott as defendants, was filed on Aug. 12—the two-year anniversary of the rally.
“The purpose of the lawsuit is to cut through the media distortion and show objectively in a court of law that the majority of Unite the Right demonstrators were law-abiding citizens who came from around the country and around the world simply to have their rights violated by government oppression,” Kessler explained to this reporter in a recent interview.
Mainstream media reports, dishonest journalists, and left-wing activists have attempted to portray the Unite the Right organizers and attendees as the instigators of violence that fateful day, an allegation that simply does not stand up to scrutiny. State and local officials—including then-Chief Thomas—encouraged the chaos, mayhem, and violence that occurred by failing to separate the Unite the Right attendees and the radical left-wing counter-protesters. Chief Thomas and other officials were looking for a justification to declare the event an unlawful assembly and shut it down.
“As we were approaching Lee Park to attend the rally, we were funneled by the police down Market Street into a carefully set trap,” Brad Griffin, a leading activist who attended the rally, recently wrote in reflecting on the two-year anniversary of the sabotaged rally. “Antifa and other counter-protesters were allowed to block the entrance of the park. Instead of separating the Unite the Right protesters from antifa and clearing an entrance into the park so that anyone who wanted to attend the rally could have done so safely, the police barricaded themselves and stood by and watched as violence predictably broke out. After the first street fights began, they left the scene and returned in riot gear, declared a ‘state of emergency’ and pushed the protesters and counter-protesters together as they cleared Lee Park. The event was thrown into chaos and groups of protesters dispersed in all directions with small groups of antifa following them and fights breaking out as people were trying to return to their cars.”
The lawsuit outlines a recent history of violence, political intimidation, and criminality carried out by antifa groups and other radical leftwing counter-protesters and details that local and state officials knew exactly what to expect from the left at the rally. Local officials had been briefed by regional law enforcement authorities prior to the rally on the threat antifa and the radical left posed, yet precautions were not made to prevent the violence from unfolding.
“This is a case that goes to the heart of the First Amendment,” Kessler noted. “With the ACLU declining to defend offensive speech going forward, that leaves a gaping hole in First Amendment law where precedent may be on the books but there are no attorneys willing to defend [free speech]. It is absolutely imperative that citizens, like myself, stand up to affirm our rights. Private citizens are now called upon to become the last line of defense against tyranny.”
The Free Expression Foundation is assisting in this lawsuit. To help, please send tax-deductible check or money order made out to Free Expression Foundation (or just “FEF”) and mail to FEF, P.O. Box 1479, Upper Marlboro, MD 20773. Be sure to write “Kessler” on the memo line so we know where to direct your donation. For more, see www.FreeExpressionFoundation.org or click the banner link above.
John Friend is a freelance writer based in California.