Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran told Richmond talk radio host Jeff Katz on Monday that Governor Terry McAuliffe “made the decision . . . to shut things down” at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville on the morning of August 12.
Appearing on Katz’s 1140 AM WRVA radio program, Moran explained the rapidly moving sequence of events that began at 11:22 a.m. when he phoned Governor McAuliffe from the City of Charlottesville Command Center located on the sixth floor of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Charlottesville, just a few blocks from Emancipation Park.
“In light of the escalating violence we had to shut things down,” Moran told Katz (beginning at the 4:15 mark in the audio recording of the interview).
“At about 11:22 I called the governor and he immediately made the decision yes, go ahead, and of course, in consultation with the Virginia State Police, Colonel Flaherty, we put in the appropriate place to clear the park and clear the streets,” Moran said.
Katz was able to confirm Moran’s statement the following day, Tuesday, when he interviewed Virginia State Police Superintendent Stephen Flaherty, who said that both he and Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones were with Secretary Moran at the Wells Fargo building command center that morning.
“The [Charlottesville] City Manager was in the command post with us [on the 6th Floor of the Wells Fargo building downtown Charlottesville],” Flaherty told Katz.
But seconds later in that interview, Flaherty let slip what critics of the police response to the Emancipation Park rally and related brawls between two opposing groups have been saying since the event occured.
“We felt early on we would probably have to declare an unlawful assembly,” Flaherty said.
An eyewitness account described the events that morning that Secretary Moran told Katz comprised “the escalating violence.”
“Shortly before 10 a.m. we noticed protesters making way for a new group marching from the east. We ran over to discover that the new group was a battalion of antifa members from all across the country,” Phillip Stucky, a reporter for the Daily Caller who was on the scene at Emancipation Park that morning, wrote in an article published on Wednesday:
Protesters began testing the limits of the civilian barriers. The “faith leaders” were the first to go as they silently fell back towards the down town mall, but the militia and the state police stayed in place for the time being. Members of both groups threw filled water bottles at each other. Often, the targeted group would return fire by throwing the water bottles back.
It wasn’t long before protesters fell back to the other stairs to focus on the eastern entrance of the park. We made our way to the heart of the action, where we saw individual protesters throw themselves against the white supremacist shield line. Police remained on the other side of the park as protesters slammed themselves against the alt-right shield line. Both sides eventually advanced on the other, and we were again caught in the crossfire. Several bottles hit us, and members of both sides began swinging wooden stakes and batons at each other all around us. Police remained still on the scene.
Protesters then brought out a “battering ram” made out of plywood and reinforced with a metal step ladder. Members of the protest charged at the white supremacists, knocking us down in the process. Enforcers managed to stop the device before it reached the actual shield line, but a new group of protesters tried to push the ram further. The force of both groups was enough to tear the metal ladder and break the device in two.
We looked up and noticed that the militia and members of the police had both retreated to behind Emancipation park, meaning that there was no one between the alt-right demonstrators and the protesters. I looked in the distance to the northern part of the park and noticed that police in full riot gear were gathering, and I noticed two armored transports were working their way into position, a line of police officers filed in behind the transports.
After receiving the green light to shut down the legally permitted rally, events unfolded rapidly.
At 11:28 a.m., Gov. McAuliffe declared a state of emergency throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, a mere 22 minutes after the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County had simultaneously declared a local emergency, effective at 11:06 a.m.
Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones apparently signed the local emergency document while at the City of Charlottesville Command Center in the Wells Fargo building. Interim County Executive Doug Walker signed the local emergency declaration at Albemarle County’s Emergency Operation Center, which was located at an undisclosed location about three miles from Emancipation Park, county director of communications Lee Catlin told Breitbart News.
“The moment the emergency was declared, police officers started announcing on loudspeakers that the gathering was an unlawful assembly, and called for the crowd to disperse, cutting off the rally before it officially began. Both Mr. Moran and Mr. McAuliffe said the police needed time to get the demonstrators out of the park, and off the streets, before riot police officers could move in,” The New York Times reported.
It is unclear how McAuliffe’s verbal order — given over the phone to Secretary Moran at 11:22 a.m. to “shut things down” — was translated into an official tweet 13 minutes later at 11:35 a.m. from the City of Charlottesville official Twitter account that “a state of emergency has been declared,” and also about five minutes later at 11:40 a.m., into an announcement made by a police officer at Emancipation Park that “This gathering has been declared to be an unlawful assembly.”
It is also unclear what, if any, legal basis McAuliffe had for issuing the order to shut the legally permitted rally down, or the evidentiary basis by which the Virginia State Police and the City of Charlottesville declared the rally an “unlawful assembly.”
Nowhere in his executive order declaring a state of emergency for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia issued at 11:28 a.m. does Governor McAuliffe refer to the Virginia statute that defines unlawful assembly (18.2-406):
Whenever three or more persons assembled share the common intent to advance some lawful or unlawful purpose by the commission of an act or acts of unlawful force or violence likely to jeopardize seriously public safety, peace or order.
“On this date, August 12, 2017, I am declaring a state of emergency to exist for the Commonwealth of Virginia due to civil unrest leading up to, resulting from, and subsequent to the Unite the Right rally and counter-protests in the City of Charlottesville. The actions of the event participants have caused numerous injuries, damage to local infrastructure, and severe damage to public and private property,” McAuliffe’s executive order began.
The words “unlawful assembly” do appear in the executive order, but only in this context:
Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by § 44-146.17 of the Code of Virginia, as Governor and as Director of Emergency Management, and by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article V, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia and by § 44-75.1 of the Code of Virginia, as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Commonwealth, and subject always to my continuing and ultimate authority and responsibility to act in such matters, I hereby confirm, ratify, and memorialize in writing my verbal orders issued on this date, August XX, 2017, whereby I am proclaiming that a state of emergency exists, and I am directing that appropriate assistance be rendered by agencies of both state and local governments to alleviate any conditions resulting from the incident, and to implement recovery and mitigation operations and activities so as to return impacted areas to pre-event conditions in so far as possible. . .
This shall include Virginia National Guard assistance to the Virginia Department of State Police with the Governor’s authority to arrest individuals for felonies committed in their presence, to arrest individuals for offenses against public safety (riot, unlawful assembly, etc), to take action necessary to protect lives and preserve property, and to perform such other law enforcement functions as the Superintendent of State Police, in consultation with the State Coordinator of Emergency Management, the Adjutant General, and the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, may find necessary. (emphasis added)
In a video shot about 11:40 a.m. and posted on Twitter, a rally attendee is heard shouting, “What is the law that says a permit is no longer relevant?” at a blonde woman with glasses, wearing a grey shirt with a Virginia State Police logo and with a lanyard around her neck labeled “VSP,” and holding a cell phone whose camera she is pointing at the crowd.
The woman, whose identity Breitbart News has not confirmed, is behind a barrier and adjacent to a row of riot clad Virginia State Police officers and in physical appearance looks like Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller.
“It was posted on Twitter. It was just posted on Twitter,” the woman responds.
“Nobody has answered that. It’s not lawful, it’s bullshit,” the rally attendee shouts back.
“Read his opinion, it is,” the woman appears to say, though the recording is garbled and it is difficult to make out exactly what she said.
“That’s not true,” the rally attendee responds.
“When a permit is acquired, that’s . . . that’s a permit. It can’t just be revoked at the last minute. What kind of nonsense is that?” the rally attendee says.
At this point, a police officer with a megaphone, probably a member of the Charlottesville Police Department, judging by the multi-color patch on his upper left arm sleeve, enters the video picture.
“This gathering has been declared to be an unlawful assembly,” the officer announces through the megaphone.
“Why?” shouts the rally attendee.
“In the name of the Commonwealth of Virginia, you are ordered to immediately disperse,” the officer says, as the rally attendee once again shouts, “Why?”
“If you do not disperse immediately, you will be arrested,” the officer continues.
“This is what a police state looks like! This is a police state!,” the rally attendee shouts.
After receiving the green light to shut down the legally permitted rally, events unfolded rapidly.
In his interview with Secretary Moran on Monday, Katz pointed out that the “Unite the Right” rally attendees gathered inside Emancipation Park at the time had a legal permit to assemble there, while the counter-protesters on the street immediately in front of the park did not have a permit to conduct a protest or assemble there.
“Is there any reason why the people without the permit were not immediately dispersed?” Katz asked of Moran.
“Well, you know, we had a situation on July 8 when we had to disperse counter-protesters to the KKK,” Moran responded:
Of course that was able to be done, there was only about 40 members of the KKK, so we could separate the two groups because there was a small number of individuals, we were able to separate them and keep physical confrontations to a minimum, and this time, because of the large, there’s close to a thousand, my estimate . . .about a thousand alt right members in the park, which, the park was just too small to accomodate that number first of all, and then there was probably twice that number on the surrounding streets… You know, we didn’t want this event at Emancipation Park … in planning, public safety, my number one goal is public safety.
“Obviously, we balance defending first amendment and free speech with public safety concerns, but it was clear to us that it would be a challenge to provide adequate resources to ensure public safety in a small park in the middle of the city so close to the Mall,” Moran continued:
Your listeners, I’m sure, are familiar with that Mall. It’s right there, and all the store fronts. So we were very concerned that it would just turn into mayhem on that Mall once we cleared the park, so we tried to keep the demonstrators moving, and not allow them to reassemble in the Mall, and we were successful.
At the end of the day, if you look back, not a pane of glass was broken. No property damage.
It was absolutely tragic that that young woman was run down. She was run down about four blocks, four to five blocks, from where the demonstrations took place, about two hours after we cleared the park. If you have pedestrians and you have automobiles, I don’t know how you protect that.
We’re obviously … you know all of us, we’re going to have to sit down with everybody involved and figure out what we could do.
“But the question, Mr. Secretary, is, you have the one crowd that has the permit, and I get it, you want to keep them moving, you want to keep them out and all the rest of it, but then you have another crowd, equally charged, heavily armed, and looking to hurt the first crowd, why was that second crowd, the so-called ‘counter-protesters,’ why were they not immediately dispersed?” Katz asked.
“Well, we’ll review all of this,” Moran responded:
Of course, that’s a public street. You know, I mean, the pedestrians … you’ld have to, you know, we’re going to have to sit with Charlottesville and we’re going to have to prepare for those types of questions in relation to the Richmond protests that are being requested, I mean, I was on the phone with Col. Flaherty today and I said, Colonel, and I’ve been on the phone with him constantly for several days now, but this morning I remarked, you know, I just think this is the new norm, there was a flash mob last night of about 250 people, one arrest, that was uh, the Richmond Police Department’s, but we were there again, in support, and this is the new norm.
So, you know, we’re going to have to sit down and go through this training, and um, how to keep these groups separated, uh, the permits themselves, I mean, we didn’t want weapons brought, we didn’t want, you know, poles, uh, do you have to express your first amendment rights with, you know, helmets and shields?
“I think we all agree on that. Again, I think the question then becomes, we agree, you shouldn’t be armed. It’s agains the law here in the Commowealth of Virginia for an adult to be wearing a mask, any sort of face covering, so why were those laws not enforced?” Katz said.
“Why were there not public safety personnel specifically addressing those issues?” he asked Moran.
“Well, I think, again, I think we’re going to have review all of this,” Moran responded:
Jeff, what you dealt with there, it was a scheduled, permitted, as you say, and that’s why Kessler was in communications with the Chesterfield Police about how you would enter and exit the park.
Uh, and so there was a prior agreement, and there were discussions, now, and if I had my druthers I would have put more restrictions on it, but that’s up to the city and localities have that authority, as they should.
Breitbart News has repeatedly emailed and phoned both City of Charlottesville Communications Director Miriam Dickler and Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller with a number of questions related to details surrounding the declaration of unlawful assembly at the Emancipation Park rally and its subsequent evacuation by Virginia State Police, but has received no response.
You can read a detailed timeline of the events that preceded the declaration of unlawful assembly in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park on August 12 in this Breitbart News report published on Wednesday.