Hundreds of white nationalists marched and rallied at the University of Virginia Friday night. They carried torches and chanted “you will not replace us and “Jews will not replaced us.”
A major rally by various white nationalist groups — under the name “Unite the Right” — is planned for Charlottesville today. The city is progressive and not at all a center of white nationalism. But various groups have made Charlottesville a target because the city plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park. The Ku Klux Klan and supporters rallied in the city in July, causing concern at the university, but Friday night’s march was on campus, and ended at the Rotunda, a hallowed space at the university.
The site of hundreds of white nationalists — most of them white men — with torches at night stunned many at the university, even as they were preparing for Saturday’s rally.
Skirmishes broke out near the Rotunda between the white nationalists and counter-protesters, including some students.
Teresa A. Sullivan, president of the university, issued a statement late Friday.
“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protestors that marched on our grounds this evening. I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including university personnel who were attempting to maintain order,” she said. “Law enforcement continues to investigate the incident, and it is my hope that any individuals responsible for criminal acts are held accountable.”
Mike Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville, issued this statement: “I have seen tonight the images of torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia. When I think of torches, I want to think of the Statue of Liberty. When I think of candelight, I want to think of prayer vigils. Today, in 2017, we are instead seeing a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance march down the lawns of the architect of our Bill of Rights. Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here’s mine: not only as the mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.”
Some in Charlottesville have been trying (without success) to get courts to ban Saturday’s rallies. Sullivan, in statements prior to Friday’s march, has condemned the ideas behind the planned rallies, but also defended the right of the white nationalists to express their views.
“UVA is public in the most profound and meaningful sense of that word; we are committed to the public good, and we seek to recognize and represent the great diversity of the public in our commonwealth and in the country,” said one earlier statement. “We believe that diversity is an essential element of excellence, and that intolerance and exclusion inhibit progress. We also support the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. These rights belong to the ‘Unite the Right’ activists who will express their beliefs, and to the many others who disagree with them.”
Sullivan also urged students to stay away from the protest (then expected to be off-campus).
“One may stand up for one’s beliefs without physical confrontation. I urge students and all UVA community members to avoid the August 12 rally and avoid physical confrontation generally. There is a credible risk of violence at this event, and your safety is my foremost concern,” she wrote.
Sullivan added: “Moreover, to approach the rally and confront the activists would only satisfy their craving for spectacle. They believe that your counter-protest helps their cause. One advocate of the rally said, ‘We should aim to draw the SJWs [social justice warriors] out in Charlottesville and create a massive polarizing spectacle in order to draw as huge a contrast as possible. They will reveal themselves to be violent, intolerant, opposed to free speech, the insane enforcers of political correctness, etc.’ The organizers of the rally want confrontation; do not gratify their desire.”
The university had planned a series of discussion and talks for Saturday on the theme of “reflective conversation.” Topics of talks include: “Enfranchising Citizens in the United States: A Short History,” “The Importance of Public Space for Perpetuating or Reducing Social Inequity,” and “What’s Right About Conservatives Today.”