The potential removal of a Lee statue in Charlottesville inspired a protest last weekend attended by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan, under the banner of a rally called “Unite the Right.” The demonstrations turned violent, eventually resulting in the death of one counter-protester and two state police troopers, who died when their helicopter crashed into a nearby field.
McAuliffe said in a statement that he issued the executive order after hearing about the possibility of similar rallies taking place in the future at the Lee monument in Richmond.
His order temporarily prevents demonstrators from acquiring permits to rally at the Richmond Lee monument.
“In spite of weeks of preparation, the city of Charlottesville was the target of an act of domestic terrorism that cost one woman her life, and had a helicopter accident lead to the deaths of two state troopers,” McAuliffe said. “In the aftermath of this tragedy, several groups have requested permits to hold similar-styled events at the Lee Monument in Richmond. State and local officials need to get ahead of this problem, so that we have the proper legal protections in place to allow for peaceful demonstrations, but without putting citizens and property at risk.”
In the coming months, a release from McAuliffe’s office said, a state task force will work with the Department of General Services to make new regulations on how to manage crowds like those that convened in Charlottesville last weekend.
The release said McAuliffe wants to weight those safety concerns with demonstrators’ First Amendment rights to assemble.
Current demonstration rules at the Richmond Lee monument, which is located in a residential neighborhood in the capital city’s downtown, present “serious threats to both traffic and private property,” the release said.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the city and capitol police officers were on watch at the monument Friday night, citing rumors of a possible protest.
“This is a temporary suspension, issued with the singular purpose of creating failsafe regulations to preserve the health and well-being of our citizens and ensuring that nothing like what occurred in Charlottesville happens again,” McAuliffe said.