Charlottesville’s Mayor claimed Thursday that he and other members of the city council “were not given the security plan for August 12,” which was developed and closely held by the City Manager, the Police Chief, and the Fire Chief.
Mayor Mike Signer’s Facebook statement about city preparations in Charlottesville prior to the brawls between self-described white supremacists, white nationalists, and progressive street groups said:
I asked the Police Chief what I could do to be helpful during that day as Mayor, he answered, ‘Stay out of my way.’ Despite repeated requests, I was not allowed into the City’s Command Center (run by City staff) and was instead asked to be in the Emergency Operations Center (where fire, rescue, and other stakeholders were monitoring the situation).
Signer revealed the political motivations behind the City of Charlottesville’s actions leading up to the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Emancipation Park:
Understanding from our staff and other experts that the state of our law regarding these events meant that any attempt to cancel the rally would certainly have been shut down in court, I spent dozens of hours conferring with lawyers, law professors, staff, other mayors, security professionals, and other experts to develop another option.
That option was to move the event to a more spacious location where there could have been substantial “green field” between the protesters and counter protesters. After reviewing all locations in the City with the City Manager, the best option was McIntire Park. In the weeks leading up to August 12, I advocated for McIntire Park, including extensive discussions with my colleagues and staff. I successfully led the drive to hire an outside law firm to advise the City Manager and Police Chief on how such a plan could be developed on the strongest legal grounds.
Despite these efforts, the state of First Amendment law regarding these events is badly antiquated. We saw what happened. After the City Manager and Police Chief announced their decision that the rally would be relocated to a safer location—relying principally on the advice from our attorneys that the size of the event was the most “content-neutral” grounds for moving it—Jason Kessler immediately stated he would not respect the decision: that he would still head with his people to Emancipation Park. We were then sued by the Virginia ACLU and the Rutherford Institute. And a federal judge ruled against our decision on Friday night, just as we had feared.
Signer declared in January that Charlottesville would become a “capital of resistance” to recently inaugurated President Donald Trump.
On the morning of August 12, the groups from both factions clashed early as the white supremacists/white nationalists pushed their way through a human barrier of progressive protesters — which assembled under a street barrier declaring “Diversity Makes Us Stronger” — and then got themselves into the park.
The rally was legally permitted to begin at noon on August 12, but Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered it shut down at 11:22 a.m. The City of Charlottesville Police Department tweeted out and posted on Facebook at 11:35 a.m. that “unlawful assembly had been declared at the rally.”
The Virginia State Police then pushed the “Unite the Right” rally out of Emancipation Park, and into the large crowd of counter protesters gathered in the street at the south entrance of the park. The violence between the two groups spread as a long line of white-power groups walked back through the gauntlet of progressives and away from the park.
At about 1:42 pm, a Dodge car drove into a crowd of counter protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. “The driver of the Dodge, James A. Fields, Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, was taken into custody and charged with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit-and-run,” the City of Charlottesville reported.
Before the riot, “during that week [from August 7 to August 12], City Council was under firm instructions not to speak about the rally at all, except to refer to its size,” Signer wrote:
For a public looking for condemnation of groups like the KKK and Nazis, this was very frustrating. It was frustrating for me, too. But if we had spoken out against the content of the speech that was coming to Charlottesville—against its bigotry and hatred—it would have made it even more likely that a judge would have found the removal decision to be “content-based.”
So we were muzzled. And it didn’t even make a difference, because in the tragic decision issued at 9:30 on Friday night, the federal judge still cited prior statements I had made about the bigotry and hate coming to our loving town. Our public statements of our feelings about this evil were held against us.
I hope this has explained some of what City Council can and cannot do. Where City Council does have a role, though, is in accountability. The City Manager works at our pleasure, and he is responsible for the staff under his command, in our form of government.
That is why we have called for an independent review of all decisions related not only to August 12, but the July 8 KKK rally and the prior torch-lit rally at Emancipation Park. This review will also include recommendations of reforms and new policies going forward. This process will require care and diligence, and will take skilled professionals 2-3 months. I expect the review to be announced shortly.
Signer explained that “this is why City Council deemed it necessary to hold an emergency closed session today with the City Manager to discuss personnel matters.”
“The events on August 12 have raised serious questions about the City’s handling of security, communications, and governance. These are questions Council can and should ask as the ultimate authority over the City Manager in our form of government, and we are starting that process today,” Signer concluded.
Last Wednesday, Breitbart News reported on the timeline of events leading up to the declaration of unlawful assembly at the Emancipation Park rally on August 12, and Signer’s statement confirms many of the details reported in that story.
Last Thursday, Breitbart News reported that Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran told Richmond radio talk show host Jeff Katz that Governor McAuliffe “made the decision . . . to shut things down” at the Emancipation Park rally at 11:22 am on August 12. Signer’s statement also confirms many of the details reported in that story.
You can read Signer’s full statement on his Facebook page below: