Rep. Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
The events that transpired in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12 were truly vile and disgusting. Set into motion under the guise of protesting the city’s decision to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, the gathering instead devolved into a display of violence and intolerance that struck at the face of democracy and the ideals upon which our country was built.
The left is quick to cast its aspersions upon the white nationalist groups that organized the rally under the leadership of Jason Kessler. By the same token, it is quick to dismiss whatever disruptive behaviors may have taken place on the part of counter-protesters also present.
There are, however, three facts that are indisputable.
First, despite the repugnance of the message Kessler and his Unite the Right activists were delivering that Saturday, they had all the right in the world to deliver it as they were armed with the protections conferred by the First Amendment and a permit.
Second, the City of Charlottesville had a duty to maintain order during the demonstration especially since it knew that the outermost fringes of our political spectrum would be in attendance.
And third, the outermost fringes of our society’s political spectrum did indeed show up.
Since March 2017, Charlottesville knew this rally was coming. As a matter of fact, it acted to inconvenience Kessler and his band of protesters, ostensibly in the name of public safety, to the point of rejecting their petition unless they agreed to hold their rally at nearby McIntyre Park.
In fact, following the city’s Aug. 7 decision to reject Kessler’s original request, Kessler had to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking injunctive relief. On Aug. 11, the day prior to the rally, U.S. District Court Judge Glen E. Conrad granted Kessler the relief he sought stating, “Based on the current record, the court concludes that Kessler has shown that he will likely prove that the decision to revoke his permit was based on the content of his speech. . . Kessler’s assertion in this regard is supported by the fact that the city solely revoked his permit but left in place the permits issued to counter-protesters.” (emphasis added)
As a result, Conrad concluded that the city’s decision to disallow Kessler’s request was “based on the content of his speech” rather than on public safety, something that is specifically prohibited by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
And the city had already gotten a taste of what was coming. On July 8, a similar rally was held at Emancipation Park where approximately 50 clansmen were in attendance and over a thousand counter-protesters showed up. In that rally, a mere month prior to Kessler’s event, 23 arrests were made. (Editor’s note: This conflict is a natural result of identity politics, which we explain here.)
Moreover, the city stated prior to the rally that it was expecting anywhere between 2,000-8,000 people to be at Emancipation Park, and it still provided an inadequate police force to handle such a gathering.
Everyone understands that Charlottesville is a small town, but if the city’s police force was insufficient to protect the protesters in what was predicted to be a volatile situation, then it should have asked the Commonwealth of Virginia for help.
The bottom line is that there was no excuse for the inadequate police presence at the beginning of the rally. Charlottesville’s duty, just like that of any American governmental entity, was to protect Kesler’s right to peacefully speak and the counter-protester’s right to peacefully counter his speech. Sadly, Charlottesville shirked its responsibility, and the rest, as they say, is (another dark stain upon our) history.
There are many who place the blame on the white supremacists accumulated that day at Emancipation Park. It seems, though, that the only reason they point fingers at them is the true repugnance of their message. However, such repugnance can never be the primary reason to assign blame since doing so is tantamount to censorship and suppression.
Although we would have all loved it if these Nazi whackos would have sat down and shut up, the reality is they had all the rights afforded them in the Constitution to speak that Saturday at Emancipation Park.
Sadly, if we are to blame anyone for this tragedy, it is the City of Charlottesville, which failed to maintain the peace that day under the statue of Robert E. Lee because it didn’t like the petitioner and the message he was set to deliver.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and serves in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.
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