The Charlottesville City Council sued Thursday to try to block white supremacists from returning to the city for future rallies, arguing they constitute a private army and can be denied entry.
Georgetown Law and local business and community groups are also part of the lawsuit, saying clashes during an August rally — which left one counterprotester dead from a car attack, and two state police troopers dead after a helicopter crash — turned the city into a “military theater.”
The lawsuit, filed exactly two months after the rally, asks a state court to issue an injunction against right-wing protesters to prevent their return.
“Virginia law clearly reflects the American tradition that private armies are anathema to a well-organized society,” said Mary McCord, senior litigator for Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. “Our complaint shows that there are legal tools available to ensure that the streets do not become battlefields for those who organize and engage in paramilitary activity.”
The August rally, which involved white supremacists, neo-Nazis and “alt-right” sympathizers, was spurred by a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee which stands in a city park, and which the city has been trying to tear down. A legal battle over the statue has been raging for months.
But the rally, in which some of the white supremacists carried firearms and other weapons, drew a mass of counterprotesters. Police were unable to control their interactions, and in the aftermath, authorities say, one of the white supremacists plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing one woman.
The new lawsuit says David Duke, a former senior Ku Klux Klan official, and Richard Spencer, a prominent alt-right figure, vowed in August to return to Charlottesville. Mr. Spencer has, in fact, held another rally earlier this month.
Named as defendants are a number of self-described militias, and several individuals alleged to be leaders of those groups.
The lawsuit says private armies are illegal and the “Unite the Right” organizers, who appeared in uniforms carrying weapons, were “private military forces” which “transformed an idyllic college town into a virtual combat zone.”
“Virginia law has long recognized the threat to civil order and public safety posed by organized groups prepared to use force outside the careful strictures of the Commonwealth’s supervision,” the complaint reads, citing the Virginia Constitution.
In addition to blocking the groups’ return, the lawsuit asks a court to declare them illegal and dangerous militias whose firearms and weapons training amounts to a danger to public safety.
Charlottesville City Council voted Thursday morning to join the lawsuit.
“The laws regulating civilian militias were put in place by our forebears for a crucial purpose,” said Michael Signer, Charlottesville’s mayor. “What Charlottesville saw the weekend of August 12 were armed organizations parading their violence in public and attacking citizens. Such a blatant assault on democratic government itself may be integral to today’s ‘alt-right’ movement, but it cannot be allowed to continue.”
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