McAuliffe and Mayor of Charlottesville Planned Police Response Ten Days Before Emancipation Park Rally

McAuliffe AP PhotoSteve Helber
AP/Steve Helber

Clinton confidant Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe called Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer on August 2 to plan the police response to the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally in the city’s Emancipation Park.

The revelation comes one day after Signer posted a lengthy statement on Facebook pinning the blame for the civil unrest that followed the shutdown of the rally ordered by McAuliffe on Charlottesville Chief of Police Al Thomas and City Manager Maurice Jones.

“Though Signer said he had little ability to direct the police response himself, security concerns the Virginia State Police raised before the rally were relayed to Signer in an Aug. 2 phone call from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, according to state officials,” reported late Thursday:

According to Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, McAuliffe took the unusual step of relaying several specific recommendations to Signer, including the possibility of restricting weapons, requiring rally attendees to meet at one location to be bused in for the event, and shortening the duration of the five-hour permit.

“Throughout this process there were conversations between Colonel (W. Steven) Flaherty and Charlottesville,” Moran said in an interview this week, referring to the state police superintendent. “There came a time that the state police had recommendations to us. And they shared them with me and then we shared them with the governor so that he could communicate those recommendations with the mayor of Charlottesville.”

In an interview, Signer confirmed that he received advice from the governor, but said he did not receive any written recommendations.

“He’s a friend and I know he was trying to help us,” Signer said.

McAuliffe’s call to Signer came two days after the City of Charlottesville granted University of Virginia professor Walt Heinecke a permit on July 31 that authorized separate counter protest events on August 12 at two city parks that flank Emancipation Park — McGuffy Park, one block to the west, and Justice Park, two blocks to the east. Unlike the Emancipation Park “Unite the Right” rally permit, which had been granted on June 17, and was scheduled to run from only noon to 5:00 p.m, the permit granted to Heinecke ran from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Heinecke’s public suggestions made on July 18 when he applied for his permit about how the City of Charlottesville should respond to the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally appear to have been adopted shortly thereafter as the policy of the city.

“Curry Prof. Walt Heinecke applied for two permits from the Charlottesville Department of Parks and Recreation Thursday, asking to reserve McGuffey and Justice Parks to protest the Unite the Right rally Aug. 12,”

“We saw what happened after the Klan left [their legally permitted rally at Justice Park on July 8], and the police moved quickly to declare that an unlawful assembly,” Heinecke told the Cavalier Daily on July 18.

“I learned something being at that protest and that rally about the police discretion to declare any group of three or more an unlawful assembly in terms of shutting it down,” Heinecke added:

Heinecke said he hopes the police de-escalate action against protesters. At the last rally, 22 people were arrested.

“I think that part of the problem that occurred was that police were over-militarized,” Heinecke said. “I think that that kind of police presence leads to more problems and creates a situation of tension. I thought that maybe the next time around they could do a better job of thinking about the appearance of militarization that’s going on here.”

Heinecke also wrote City Council requesting they revoke the permit for the Unite the Right rally.

“I wrote them an email and urged them to either cancel the permit based on safety and cost or if not, I thought that they should move it to a more secure location,” Heinecke said. “Barring that, I urged them to get with the police department and ensure that there was a space for lawful assembly was provided to protesters so we didn’t repeat the mistakes of after the Klan rally.”

The subsequent conduct of the Charlottesville Police Department and the Virginia State Police in Charlottesville on August 12 has been criticized by all sides.

“The policing on Saturday was not effective in preventing violence,” Claire Castagna, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said on Monday, August 14:

I was there and brought concerns directly to the secretary of public safety and the head of the Virginia State Police about the way that the barricades in the park limiting access by the arriving demonstrators and the lack of any physical separation of the protesters and counter-protesters on the street were contributing to the potential of violence. They did not respond. In fact, law enforcement was standing passively by, seeming to be waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an “unlawful assembly” and clear the area.

On Monday August 21, former Charlottesville City Council member and current talk radio host Rob Schilling told author Dick Morris, “There was certainly, and I’ve had reports here, there was certainly an order to not engage and to let these people fight it out.”

The reason was because when they had the KKK rally here on July 8 there was such an outcry over the police use of tear gas they did not want to go down that road again.

I believe that the conversation was we’re not going to do that. We’ll let them bang each other up, and then we won’t have to get involved.

Why were there only three arrests at this entire event, which was incredibly violent?

You can hear Schilling’s comments here, beginning at the 32:42 mark.

On August 15, three days the  after the violent events in Charlottesville, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police Steven Flaherty told Richmond talk radio host Jeff Katz, “We felt early on we would probably have to declare an unlawful assembly” at the Emancipation Park rally.

But evidence continues to mount that the ultimate decision-maker in the events leading up to August 12 was Governor Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe’s call to Signer on August 2 suggests that the planning to set up the violent confrontations that police used as a pretense to shut the Emancipation Park rally had been going on for some time.

On Monday, August 7, the City of Charlottesville revoked the permit it had granted to Jason Kessler on June 17 to hold the “Unite the Right” rally at Emancipation Park on August 12, and said the rally could be only held at McIntyre Park, a location one mile away. The City did not, however, revoke the permit granted a week earlier to counter protester Heinecke to hold rallies on August 12 at the two downtown locations that flanked Emancipation Park, McGuffy Park and Justice Park.

On Thursday, August 10, Kessler, represented by the ACLU of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute, sued the City of Charlottesville and asked a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the City from revoking the permit. On Friday, August 11, U.S. District Judge Glenn A. Conrad issued his Memorandum Opinion stating in conclusion, “the court will grant the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunctive relief. Specifically, the court will enjoin the defendants from revoking the permit to conduct a demonstration at Emancipation Park on August 12, 2017.”

“[Secretary of Public Safety Brian] Moran said the state mobilized its resources in ‘unprecedented fashion’ to support the city for the Aug. 12 rally, but as with any other disaster such as a tornado or a hurricane, the locals were in control,” reported  on Thursday.

On August 14, two days after the Charlottesville violence, Secretary Moran told Richmond talk radio host Jeff Katz that Gov. Terry McAuliffe “made the decision . . . to shut things down.”

McAuliffe has used the August 12 Charlottesville violence to raise his national profile as he considers a 2020 bid for the Democratic nomination for president.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post, which is now owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, ran a story with the headline “McAuliffe emerges from Charlottesville crisis as a counterbalance to Trump.”


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