CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – A man organizing a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, originally set for this weekend claims in federal court the city violated his free speech rights by revoking his permit just days before the demonstration.
Jason Kessler, organizer of the Unite the Right rally, claims in a 17-page complaint filed Thursday that the city used unreasonable attendance estimates to revoke his permit less than a week before his rally.
Kessler says the attendance figures the city cited were nothing more than a ruse to stop the rally, which is expected to draw white nationalist groups and members of the so-called alt-right. He claims that while the city said “many thousands” of protesters might arrive for the event, a Facebook event for the group showed 700 people going with another 1,300 interested.
“This case is about viewpoint discrimination by defendants against plaintiff,” the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, states. “Plaintiff’s views are highly controversial and have evoked strong protests and demands heard by City Council that his permit be revoked.”
Kessler initially applied for a permit to hold the rally in May, describing it as a gathering to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park that once bore Lee’s name. The city changed the park’s name to Emancipation Park on June 5, and a week later granted Kessler a permit to hold a rally in the park to protest the change.
But as the rally drew more public scrutiny, the city backtracked – telling Kessler that he could hold his rally in McIntire Park, which is located more than a mile from Emancipation Park, according to the complaint.
Kessler also claims it would be impossible to hold his rally anywhere else because he specifically wants to demonstrate against the park’s name.
“Plaintiff’s choice of location is critical to the message of the rally, which specifically opposes two city policy choices about the park,” the complaint states.” Holding the protest elsewhere would dilute and alter plaintiff’s message.”
Kessler says the city did not treat the people who planned to counter-protest his rally the same way, claiming two groups have been able to keep their permits while others will be able to use Emancipation Park without a permit.
Represented by ACLU attorney Hope Amezquita, Rutherford Institute attorney John Whitehead and Alexandria, Virginia, attorney Victor Glasberg, Kessler seeks a temporary restraining order or injunction allowing his rally to continue.
Kessler names the city of Charlottesville, as well as City Manager Maurice Jones, as defendants in the lawsuit. The parties were scheduled to hold a hearing on Kessler’s motion for an expedited ruling on his injunction Friday afternoon.
Charlottesville spokeswoman Miriam Dickler said the city does not comment on pending litigation.