Neo-Nazi gets second life sentence in murder of protester in Virginia

FILE PHOTO: James Alex Fields Jr., 20, is seen in a mugshot released by Charlottesville, Virginia police department, Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. Charlottesville Police Department/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By Gary Robertson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – A Virginia state judge on Monday sentenced a self-professed neo-Nazi to a second life prison term for killing a demonstrator when he drove his car into a crowd protesting against white supremacists in Charlottesville two years ago.

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore sentenced James Fields, 22, to life plus 419 years, as recommended by the jury that found him guilty last December of murder plus eight counts of malicious wounding and a hit-and-run offense.

“Mr. Fields, you deserve the sentence the jury gave. What you did was an act of terror,” Moore said.

Fields, a resident of Maumee, Ohio, who appeared in court on Monday in striped prison garb, had already received a separate life sentence without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty in March to federal hate-crime charges stemming from the violence in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017.

Heather Heyer, 32, one of the counter-demonstrators, was killed in the attack, which also injured many others.

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said in a statement read in court on Monday that she hoped Fields finds reclamation in prison. “But I also hope he never sees the light of day outside of prison,” she said.

Statements by several victims were also read in court.

The deadly car-ramming capped a day of tension and physical clashes between hundreds of white nationalists and neo-Nazis who had gathered in Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” rally, and groups of demonstrators opposed to them.

By the time of the car attack, police had already declared an unlawful assembly and cleared a city park of the white nationalists, who were there to protest removal of statues commemorating two Confederate generals of the U.S. Civil War.

The night before, “Unite the Right” protesters had staged a torch-lit march through the nearby University of Virginia campus chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.

The events proved a turning point in the rise of the “alt-right,” a loose alignment of fringe groups centered on white nationalism and emboldened by President Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Trump was strongly criticized by fellow Republicans and by Democrats for saying after Charlottesville that “both sides” were to blame for the violence.

During the state court trial, Fields’ lawyers never disputed that Fields was behind the wheel of the Dodge Charger that sent bodies flying when the vehicle slammed into Heyer and about 30 other people. Instead, the defense suggested that Fields felt intimidated by the hostile crowds.

Prosecutors countered that Fields was motivated by hatred and had come to the rally to harm others. The defendant, who has identified himself as a neo-Nazi, was photographed hours before the car attack carrying a shield with an emblem of a far-right hate group.

Less than a month before the events in Charlottesville, he had posted an image on Instagram showing a car plowing through a crowd of people captioned: “You have the right to protest but I’m late for work.”

(Reporting by Gary Robertson in Charlottesville; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Washington white nationalist rally sputters in sea of counterprotesters

Counter-protesters march in front of white nationalists being escorted by police to a rally, marking the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Washington, D.C. August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A white nationalist rally in the heart of Washington drew two dozen demonstrators and thousands of chanting counterprotesters on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A large police presence kept the two sides separated in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House. After two hours and a few speeches, the “Unite the Right 2” rally ended early when it began to rain and two police vans took the demonstrators back to Virginia.

Demonstrators hold hands at the site where Heather Heyer was killed, on the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyde

Demonstrators hold hands at the site where Heather Heyer was killed, on the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Sunday’s events, while tense at times, were a far cry from the street brawls that broke out in downtown Charlottesville a year ago when a local woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

“Unite the Right 2” had been denied a permit in Charlottesville this year but did secure one for Washington. Organizers had planned for up to 400 protesters.

At the head of the white nationalist group was Virginia activist Jason Kessler, who helped organize last year’s event in Charlottesville. He emerged with a handful of fellow demonstrators from a subway station holding an American flag and walked toward the White House ringed by police, while counterprotesters taunted the group and called them Nazis.

Dan Haught, a 54-year-old computer programmer from Washington, was attending his first protest at the White House holding a sign that said: “Back under your rocks you Nazi clowns.”

“We wanted to send a message to the world that we vastly outnumber them,” Haught said.

Police said that as of 6 p.m. ET (2200 GMT) they had made no arrests and would not give a crowd estimate. Late in the day, a small group of counter-protesters clashed with police in downtown Washington.

The violence last year in Charlottesville, sparked by white nationalists’ outrage over a plan to remove a Confederate general’s statue, convulsed the nation and sparked condemnation across the political spectrum. It also was one of the lowest moments of President Donald Trump’s first year in office.

At the time, Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, spurring criticism that he was equating the counter-protesters with the rally attendees, who included neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

On Saturday, Trump condemned “all types of racism” in a Twitter post marking the anniversary.

People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

ANTI-FASCISTS AND FAMILIES

Kessler said Sunday’s rally was aimed at advocating for “free speech for everybody,” and he blamed last year’s violence in Charlottesville on other groups and the media.

He thought Sunday’s rally went well in comparison.

“Everybody got the ability to speak and I think that was a major improvement over Charlottesville,” Kessler told Reuters. “It was a precedent that had to be set. It was more important than anything.”

The counterprotest which began earlier in the day was a smattering of diverse groups – from black-clad anti-fascists to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement to families who brought children in strollers. Tourists took pictures and both protesters and observers zoomed around on electric scooters.

Sean Kratouil, a 17-year-old who lives in Maryland, was wearing a vest with “Antifa” on the back and said he was there to help start a movement of peaceful anti-fascists. He said he was concerned that when rallies turn violent, it makes his side look bad. “Public perception is key,” he said.

In the picturesque college town of Charlottesville, hundreds of police officers had maintained a security perimeter around the normally bustling downtown district throughout the day on Saturday. Vehicular traffic was barred from an area of more than 15 city blocks, while pedestrians were allowed access at two checkpoints where officers examined bags for weapons.

Hundreds of students and activists took to the streets on Saturday evening. Many of the protesters directed their anger at the heavy police presence, with chants like “cops and Klan go hand in hand,” a year after police were harshly criticized for their failure to prevent the violence.

On Sunday morning, activist Grace Aheron, 27, donned a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and joined hundreds of fellow Charlottesville residents who gathered at Booker T. Washington Park to mark the anniversary of last year’s bloodshed.

“We want to claim our streets back, claim our public space back, claim our city back,” Aheron said at the park.

Charlottesville authorities said four people had been arrested on Sunday.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in Charlottesville and David Shepardson and Michelle Price in Washington; Writing by Dan Wallis and Mary Milliken; Editing by Grant McCool, Cynthia Osterman, and Susan Thomas)

Charlottesville confronts identity one year after clashes

A U.S. flag flies from the back of a car, ahead the one-year anniversary of the fatal white-nationalist rally, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Joseph Ax

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – For many residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, last year’s white nationalist rally shattered the city’s carefully curated reputation as a progressive, idyllic place to live.

But for Nikuyah Walker, an activist who was elected mayor just three months later, the violent clashes only underscored deep racial and economic inequities that have long divided this picturesque college town. In her view, the rally has forced Charlottesville to confront its own complicated legacy.

“You can have three or four generations who are struggling, and that family has not been able to move out of poverty wages – that’s a significant portion of Charlottesville,” Walker, the city’s first black female mayor, told Reuters outside City Hall. “And then you have this very wealthy community that loves and raves about it.”

As Charlottesville prepares for the one-year anniversary this weekend, it is still agonizing over clashes last year in which one woman was killed when an Ohio man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Some residents have argued that the vast majority of the marchers last year were from out of town, but Walker said that narrative ignores the city’s broader problems.

She noted that the main instigators of the “Unite the Right” rally, Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” to describe the loose coalition of white nationalists, and Jason Kessler, a local blogger, graduated from the University of Virginia on the western side of town.

The rally was billed as a protest over the city council’s plan to remove two Confederate statues from downtown parks. Last year, a judge blocked the city from taking down the statues, which are encircled by orange plastic fencing and are off-limits to residents.

Several officials including the police chief, the city manager, and the city attorney left their positions after widespread criticism that Charlottesville had been ill-prepared to manage the hundreds of white nationalists who descended upon it, many armed with shields, clubs and other weapons.

“We recognize that we have to earn the community’s trust,” said Brian Wheeler, the city’s chief spokesman. “The way that we can best do that this year is learn from the mistakes.”

Local and state police have vowed to have zero tolerance for any violence this weekend, in stark contrast with last year when some officers did not intervene to break up fights. Virtually the entire downtown will be closed to vehicles.

Police have said that they are preparing for the worst, even though Kessler, who organized last year’s event, lost a bid to get a permit this year. Instead, he has received permission to rally outside the White House on Sunday and has said he will focus on Washington.

A boy passes tributes written at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A boy passes tributes written at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A CITY AT ODDS WITH ITSELF

The effects of last year’s violence are still felt every day in Charlottesville.

City council meetings have frequently devolved into shouting matches. At a recent community outreach meeting where police officials detailed security plans for this weekend, residents asked one after another how they were supposed to trust the police after 2017.

“Charlottesville has had a tendency to self-congratulation; it’s constantly in the magazines as the best place to live,” said Reverend Will Peyton, who oversees St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“The violence was perpetrated by outsiders, yes, but the response from the black community is like, ‘Really, this isn’t us? We don’t have a problem here?’ Because, of course, there’s entrenched inequality and entrenched structural racism,” Peyton said.

At the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in downtown Charlottesville, an exhibit documents the struggle of black residents who fought for equal access to public education.

“I don’t know that people understood that this narrative of progressive Charlottesville had flaws,” said Andrea Douglas, the center’s executive director. “Now those flaws have been exposed.”

When Mayor Walker, 38, announced her run for city council last spring after years of activism on behalf of low-income residents, she adopted the motto “Unmasking the Illusion,” aiming to dispel the notion that Charlottesville was a diverse, liberal utopia. She has focused her attention on issues like affordable housing and policing.

Last month, she joined residents on what they called a “civil rights pilgrimage” to the lynching museum in Montgomery, Alabama, bringing along soil from a site where a black Charlottesville man was lynched in 1898.

Reverend Tracy Howe Wispelwey, a local activist, said last year’s rally was eye-opening for many in Charlottesville.

“You have a lot of white liberals who have not grappled with our history and want to dismiss it,” she said. “That’s just not truth.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Tennessee cities brace for protests over refugee resettlement

Local residents write on boards installed to protect a business during tomorrow's White Lives Matter rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, U.S. October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – White nationalists and neo-Nazis are expected to converge on the small Tennessee cities of Shelbyville and Murfreesboro on Saturday to protest refugee resettlement in the state, seven months after it sued the U.S. government over the issue.

The “White Lives Matter” rally, by some of the groups involved in a Virginia march in August that turned violent, is also expected to draw hundreds of counter-demonstrators and a heavy local police presence.

The organizers said they chose middle Tennessee partly in hopes of avoiding clashes, but said protesters could bring shields, goggles and helmets for protection.

The rally, named in response to the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police treatment of minorities, is organized by Nationalist Front. Its members include League of the South, Traditionalist Worker’s Party, National Socialist Movement and Vanguard America, considered neo-Nazi or neo-Confederate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

“We don’t want the federal government to keep dumping all these refugees into middle Tennessee,” said Brad Griffin, a League of the South member, who has written of his desire to create a white “ethnostate.”

He cited a fatal church shooting last month near Nashville which has led to the arrest of a man from Sudan.

Local officials and faith leaders have denounced the gathering scheduled for 10 a.m. in central Shelbyville and 1:30 p.m. in Murfreesboro at the county courthouse. The cities are just southeast of Nashville, whose metropolitan area has become home to refugees from Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere under Tennessee’s resettlement program.

Over the last 15 years, about 18,000 refugees have been resettled in Tennessee, less than 1 percent of the state’s population, the Tennessean reported.

“When they say refugees, what they really mean is Muslims,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, noting that a Murfreesboro mosque has been a source of controversy and vandalism for years.

“Tennessee is one of the states that has seen a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in recent years, particularly since the election.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland condemned “the ideology of white nationalists and white supremacists” behind the rally.

Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro canceled events and some businesses boarded their windows.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam did not plan to declare a state of emergency or deploy the National Guard but will closely monitor the situation, spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said in an email on Thursday.

In March Tennessee sued the federal government over refugee resettlement in the state, saying it was unduly forced to pay for it. Tennessee was the first state to bring such a case on the basis of the 10th Amendment, which limits U.S. government powers to those provided by the Constitution, though other states have done so on different legal grounds.

Saturday’s rally comes more than a week after hundreds protested a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where the governor had declared a preemptive state of emergency.

In August, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia led to clashes that left one woman dead when she was run down by a car.

Despite increased scrutiny of white supremacist groups, “it hasn’t kept them from taking to the streets,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Chris Irwin, a Knoxville attorney, said he would stand up to the protesters at the rally. “They’re not welcome anywhere they go.”

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Richard Chang)

Congress votes to call on Trump to denounce hate groups

Congress votes to call on Trump to denounce hate groups

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The U.S. Congress passed a resolution late on Tuesday calling on President Donald Trump to condemn hate groups after Trump was criticized for his response to the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a month ago.

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously adopted the resolution, U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, said in a statement. The Senate approved the measure on Monday.

“Tonight, the House of Representatives spoke in one unified voice to unequivocally condemn the shameful and hate-filled acts of violence carried out by the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville,” Connolly said.

The joint resolution, passed with the support of both Republicans and Democrats, will go to Trump for his signature.

Representatives for the White House did not respond immediately to an email seeking comment.

The Congressional resolution calls on Trump to condemn hate groups and what it describes as the growing prevalence of extremists who support anti-Semitism, xenophobia and white supremacy.

It also urges Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate acts of violence and intimidation by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups.

Trump alienated fellow Republicans, corporate leaders and U.S. allies and rattled markets last month with comments about the violence in Charlottesville, where white nationalists and neo-Nazis clashed with anti-racism activists on Aug. 12.

One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed and several people were wounded when a suspected white nationalist crashed his car into anti-racist demonstrators.

The Congressional resolution calls Heyer’s death a “domestic terrorist attack.” James Alex Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man who authorities say drove into Heyer and other protesters, has been charged with second-degree murder and other criminal counts.

On Aug. 12, Trump denounced hatred and violence “on many sides,” a comment that drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum for not condemning white nationalists.

White nationalists had gathered in Charlottesville to protest against the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, who led the pro-slavery Confederacy’s army during the U.S. Civil War. Trump defended Confederate monuments last month.

At a rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22, Trump accused television networks of ignoring his calls for unity in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville.

“I didn’t say I love you because you’re black, or I love you because you’re white,” Trump said at the rally. “I love all the people of our country.”

The resolution also acknowledged the deaths of two Virginia State Police officers whose helicopter crashed as they patrolled the Charlottesville protest.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Tait)

Charlottesville OKs removal of second Confederate statue

Police officers stand around a statue of Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during a Black Lives Matter rally in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marcus Constantino

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – Charlottesville, Virginia, has decided to remove another Confederate general’s statue from a park, a city spokeswoman said on Wednesday, just weeks after a woman died during protests over a decision to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee.

Council members on Tuesday night unanimously ordered a statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to be removed from a park in the city’s historic downtown district “as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Miriam Dickler said by phone.

The vote will have no immediate effect. A court has blocked the removal of the Lee statue from another park pending the outcome of a legal challenge that will likely now include the Jackson statue, Dickler said.

An August rally organized by white nationalists to protest the planned removal of the Lee statue turned deadly, when counter-protester Heather Heyer, 32, was killed by a car driven into a crowd.

The violence stemmed from a heated national debate about whether Confederate symbols of the U.S. Civil War represent heritage or hate. In the wake of the rally, other cities have acted to taken down monuments to the Confederacy.

The Dallas City Council voted on Wednesday to remove a statute of Lee from a city park. In Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral’s governing body said it had decided to immediately remove two stained glass windows honoring Lee and Jackson.

Those defending Charlottesville’s Lee statue in court argue that only the state can authorize its removal because it is covered by a Virginia war memorial statute. The city says it is city property and “not actually a war memorial as spelled out in code,” Dickler said.

The resolution passed by the city council on Tuesday calls for the Jackson statue to be removed “in a manner that preserves the integrity of the sculpture” and to be sold or transferred to an entity that preferably would display it in an educational, historic or artistic context.

Both Confederate statues are shrouded in black fabric following a council vote to reflect the city’s mourning after the death of the counter-protester last month.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer has urged the Virginia legislature to go into special session to let localities decide the fate of the statues.

But Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said that would be redundant because the statue’s fate is already subject to litigation, though he added he hoped the court will rule in the city’s favor.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)

Florida board votes to scrub Confederate general’s name from school

FILE PHOTO: The statue of Robert E. Lee is seen in Dallas, Texas, U.S. August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Rex Curry/File Photo

By Jim Forsyth

(Reuters) – A city commission in southern Florida on Wednesday voted to remove the names of three Confederate generals from city streets, in response to a community campaign begun months before the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The officials voted 5-1 to drop the names of Forrest, Hood and Lee streets in Hollywood, Florida, located about 20 miles (32 km) north of Miami, the Miami Herald newspaper said.

“This is about what the meaning of community is,” it quoted Mayor Josh Levy as saying. “We don’t endorse hate. We don’t endorse symbols of hate. What hurts you, hurts me. It should hurt all of us.”

Local and state leaders across the country have taken similar action after an Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville by white nationalists opposed to plans to move a Lee statue turned deadly when a man crashed a car into counter-protesters, killing a woman.

Dozens of citizens and politicians spoke at a marathon city commission meeting in Hollywood, with most backing the change, including Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz.

Those opposed to the name change said they not think of Confederate generals when they drove on the streets, named for Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate army and fellow Confederate generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood.

Although the city’s review of street names began before the Charlottesville clashes they have imbued it with a fresh significance.

The action came the night after a San Antonio school board voted to change the name of its Robert E. Lee High School, citing the violence in Charlottesville as the impetus.

Tuesday night’s unanimous action was taken by the same board that opted two years ago not to change the 59-year-old high school’s name. Several board members said the nation’s attitude toward symbols of the pro-slavery Confederacy had shifted.

On Wednesday, the chancellor of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill declined a request from a white nationalist group to rent campus space for white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak.

“Our basis for this decision is the safety and security of the campus community,” UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement.

Strong sentiment on the subject is highlighted by comments from a Georgia state lawmaker this week, who said people calling for the removal of Confederate monuments could “go missing” in a swamp if they visited the district he represented.

Representative Jason Spencer, who is white, posted the comment during a Facebook exchange with former state Representative LaDawn Jones, who is black, a screen grab on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s website showed.

The comment has been deleted from Spencer’s Facebook page.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Clarence Fernandez)

Anti-racism activists to march from Charlottesville to Washington

Participants of "Charlottesville to D.C: The March to Confront White Supremacy" begin a ten-day trek to the nation's capital from Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Julia Rendleman

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Anti-racism activists will begin a 10-day march on Monday from Charlottesville to Washington to protest against a far-right rally in the Virginia city and what they called President Donald Trump’s reluctance to condemn its white nationalist organizers.

The “March to Confront White Supremacy” is the latest demonstration following the Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, when one woman was killed after a man drove a car into a crowd of anti-racism counterprotesters.

Trump received fierce criticism from across the political spectrum after he first blamed “many sides” for the violence. Under pressure, he later condemned neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, but that did little to appease his opponents.

March organizers said that about 200 people will begin walking on Monday evening from Charlottesville, a liberal-leaning college town that is home to the University of Virginia. That number is expected to rise as the march nears its end in Washington on Sept. 6.

“What we’re trying to do is unite the country,” one of the organizers, Cassius Rudolph of People’s Consortium for Human and Civil Rights, said. “We’re standing up to confront white supremacy.”

Other organizers include the Women’s March, which oversaw a massive anti-Trump demonstration in Washington in January, and the Movement for Black Lives, Rudolph said.

The march will begin at Emancipation Park, which was the focus of the Aug. 12 rally called by white nationalists to protest against the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

There were hours of clashes in the streets and a 32-year-old local woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car crashed into a group of counterprotesters. The alleged driver, 20-year-old Ohio man James Fields Jr., faces multiple charges including murder.

Charlottesville police charged two men over the weekend in connection with an Aug. 12 assault. Daniel Borden, 18, is in custody in Cincinnati, police said in a statement, while Alex Ramos, 33, is at large.

A third man, Richard Preston, 52, was charged with firing a weapon during the rally and is being held in Towson, Maryland, the police statement said.

 

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Alistair Bell)

 

Georgia unveils statue of civil rights leader King on capitol grounds

Members of Martin Luther King Jr.'s family and Georgia elected leaders stand in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue unveiled in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., August 28, 2017. REUTERS/David Beasley

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Georgia on Monday unveiled a statue of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the same capitol grounds in Atlanta where statues of segregationists remain.

The new installation comes amid an intensified debate in the United States over Confederate symbols after a woman was killed during an Aug. 12 protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, objecting to the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The bronze King statue should provide a sense of hope, his daughter Bernice King told the several hundred people who attended the unveiling ceremony in the state that was part of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.

The event on Monday was timed to coincide with the 54th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech calling for racial justice and equality.

The civil rights leader said it was his dream that the sons of former slaves and former slave owners would one day sit down together in brotherhood.

“Well, the sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners sat down in this state capitol and made the decision to erect the Martin Luther King Jr. monument,” Bernice King said.

King, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was assassinated in 1968, was born a few blocks from the Georgia capitol. Although his portrait is on display inside the building, there had been no monuments to him on the Capitol grounds. The statue faces his birthplace.

The monument to King joins existing statues on capitol grounds of John B. Gordon, a Confederate military general; Joseph Brown, the state’s governor during the Civil War; and past Governor Eugene Talmadge, a staunch segregationist.

Georgia state officials in 2014 announced plans for the King statue a few months after they quietly relocated off capitol grounds a statue of Thomas Watson, a U.S. senator who died in 1922. Watson espoused bigoted attitudes towards African Americans, Catholics, and Jews, according to scholars.

“This day took much too long to get here,” said David Ralston, the Republican speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. “From those days we can grow and learn.”

(Reporting by David Beasley in Atlanta; Editing by Bernie Woodall, Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)

Controversial free speech rally canceled in San Francisco

A worker installs a fence at Crissy Field in anticipation of Saturday's Patriot Prayer rally and counter demonstration in San Francisco, California, U.S. August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Dan Whitcomb

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A free-speech rally planned for San Francisco this weekend that local leaders had urged residents to boycott as dangerous and “white supremacist” was canceled on Friday by organizers who said that those comments had drawn extremists and made it unsafe.

The planned gathering by Patriot Prayer had been the centerpiece of a weekend of protests in the Bay Area that had raised concern among San Francisco police and elected officials two weeks after right-wing activists, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, fought with anti-racism protesters in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

A woman was killed at that “Unite the Right” rally when a man thought to have neo-Nazi sympathies drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Nineteen other people were injured.

Last weekend, 33 people were arrested in Boston as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest a “free speech” rally featuring far-right speakers.

Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson has vehemently denied that his group is extremist or white nationalist, saying that he is not even white and does not align himself with any party or cause.

“The rhetoric from Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Lee, the media, all these people are saying we’re white supremacists and its bringing in tons of extremists and it just seems like a huge set up,” Gibson said in a Facebook Live broadcast. “So we’re going to take the opportunity not to fall into that trap.”

Gibson said he would hold a press conference in San Francisco on Saturday afternoon to further explain his decision.

San Francisco city officials including Mayor Ed Lee had lobbied the National Park Service to deny a permit for Patriot Prayer to hold its event at Crissy Field, which is under federal control as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

When that permit was granted on Wednesday, Lee told residents of San Francisco to essentially boycott the rally.

“I ask our public and our residents of the San Francisco Bay Area to honor our request to not dignify people who are coming in here under the guise of patriot and prayer words to really preach violence and hatred,” Lee told a press conference.

The mayor urged locals to instead attend city-hosted events on Friday and Saturday that he said would focus on “inclusion, compassion and love rather than hate.”

U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, in a written statement, slammed the Patriot Prayer gathering as a dangerous “white supremacist rally.”

Left-wing counter-protesters, meanwhile, were planning a march to Crissy Field, where police were concerned a confrontation could erupt. San Francisco-based artist and designer Terrence Ryan, known professionally as Tuffy Tuffington, put out a call on Facebook for canine owners to litter the field beginning on Friday with dog poop ahead of the Patriot Prayer event.

The nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, does not classify Patriot Prayer as a hate group and reported on its website that Gibson denounced white supremacists and “neo-Nazis” at a rally in Seattle earlier this month.

On Sunday, conservative activists planned a so-called “No to Marxism” rally in nearby Berkeley, an event that left-wing groups were also expected to protest. However, city of Berkeley officials on Thursday denied that group’s request for a rally permit.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Diane Craft and Cynthia Osterman)