RICHMOND, Va. –Two separate groups with different causes may rally along Monument Avenue on Sept. 16, and the possibility of the unexpected has led to the cancellation of some previously scheduled events in the city of Richmond.
One group, Indivisible Richmond, first organized in response to a pro-monument rally previously scheduled for Sept. 16. The event, called “Fight White Supremacy,” has not itself been canceled, though a contact for the event declined to say on record at this point whether the event is scheduled or not, and said they have not released many details due to safety concerns.
Another group, CSA II: The New Confederate States of America, led by out-of-towners Tom and Judy Crompton and Tara Brandau, plan to host a “Heritage not Hate” rally at the Robert E. Lee Monument.
“Because of the possibility of a larger group and or a demonstration on that weekend the department has closed all extra duty and or extra assignments,” said James Mercante with the Richmond Police Department.
The week prior could see a flaring of tensions around the controversial issue of removing monuments, with Councilman Michael Jones expected on Sept. 11 to introduce a resolution to remove the monuments. Then on Sept. 13, a group that calls themselves ANTIFA Seven Hills (ASH) has called for its members to flood the Monument Commission Avenue public hearing on Sept. 13.
A representative with the Children’s Hospital Foundation confirmed their event was canceled by RPD and posted online that the permit was revoked due to the “uncertainty of anticipated protests and in the interest of public safety.”
Matt Brady, Race Director and Vice President of Development and Communications, declined an interview but said, “Our organization’s top priority is the safety of our community.”
The popular, annual St. Benedictine’s Oktoberfest is still slated for Sept. 15-17 and will have security from outside the RPD.
“Should a permit request involve extra duty officers needing to be present, those permits would not be able to be issued unless the organization secures extra duty officers from the Richmond Sheriff’s Office,” Mercante explained.
The organizer of the 43rd Street Festival of the Arts said that she is still waiting to hear about her permit, and said it does involve street closure, but not extra duty officers. The Sportsbacker’s event “Ales and Trails” said their permit is fine, and their event doesn’t involve any street closures.
There have been no special event permits (the type for public assembly/demonstrations) requested for Sept.16, according to police but the department has issued four ‘street permits’ for small events for that date. None of the small events involve RPD officers.
Crompton said that the Department of General Services denied the permit, but they plan to rally regardless. Crompton said he has now focused his ire on Governor Terry McAuliffe, who issued an executive order barring demonstrations at the Lee Monument – this was after Crompton filed for the permit.
“We understand that the governor has taken away our First Amendment right for free speech and free assembly,” Crompton said.
Crompton, whose group is based in Tennessee, said he plans to pursue legal action, though the American Civil Liberties Union in Richmond had not been contacted by him at time of publication. “We will pursue any and all avenues to get the permit activated,” Crompton said.
Crompton said the requested permit for his event was for 50 people, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sept. 16. He also emphasized their focus is “protecting our congressionally deemed monuments of our Confederate veterans.”
A local activist, who wished not to be identified out of concern for the safety of other activists and herself, said she “suspects if white nationalists show up in RVA permitted or unpermitted, there will be a community response.”
“We don’t associate with white supremacy,” Crompton said. “We do not believe in those groups or any other hate groups – nor will we stand for that.”
Brag Bowling, with the Coalition for Monument Preservation, canceled the event he previously had planned for Sept. 16 and said that after witnessing the violence in Charlottesville he did not want to see similar violent protests in Richmond. He said he did not want "outside elements" to descend upon Richmond.
"I'm totally opposed to those groups that were in Charlottesville and the causes that they wanted. I'm here for preserving Richmond's monuments, not to get in some racial fight with radicals."
When asked how they would attempt to distance themselves from any hate groups that attempted to unite through his rally, Crompton said they “don’t stand for bigotry or hate.”
“An organization that would attempt to rally with us that has any hate linked to them, they will be asked to leave or go to a separate area because we do not support their ideas,” he said.
Crompton said they are willing to face arrest “if need be because we can only protect our rights to Free Speech and our rights to peaceful assembly” but that “we are not about causing any disturbances.”
The RPD is continuing to discuss options to their operational plans.
“Chief Alfred Durham addressed this earlier when he said ‘the department, having a long history of policing in Virginia’s capital city has extensive experience in handling crowds and demonstrations,’” Mercante said. “The department balances the public’s right of free expression with the important need for public safety.
When asked what would happen to individuals organizing without a permit, Mercante said the Commonwealth’s Attorney would be the best person to talk to about the law, but also referenced people’s First Amendment rights – and that walking on the sidewalk isn’t illegal.
“Should event organizers wish to hold their events on a different date, the extra duty and permit units stand ready to assist,” Mercante also said.