CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – A white supremacist organizer has sued Charlottesville, Virginia, after the city manager denied his permit application to hold an “anniversary rally” in the same location as last year’s deadly Unite the Right rally.
Jason Kessler filed the complaint, citing violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights on Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia at Charlottesville. He is represented by attorney Elmer Woodard of Blairs, Virginia.
Kessler claims in the 25 page complaint that he “properly applied for a permit on November 27, 2017, requesting the dates of August 11 and 12, 2018 for the purpose of a political demonstration.”
The dates are critical, he contends, because they are “relevant to his political message.” They mark the one year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally which he organized last year in response to the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and rename the park bearing the general’s name.
Kessler’s first permit application was filed in May of last year. He described the Unite the Right rally as an opportunity for himself and others to protest the statute’s removal.
In June, the city changed the park’s name to Emancipation Park and a week later, granted Kessler permission to hold a rally protesting the change. But as August approached, and attention on Kessler’s associations with white supremacist groups grew more public, the city backtracked, revoking his permit.
At the time, Kessler was told he could gather in nearby McIntire Park, a little over a mile away from the contested statue.
This time, Kessler says his grievances are essentially the same: He wishes to hold a rally to draw attention to the unjust removal of the statue and park’s renaming.
Moving the rally to another date would “dilute and alter his message,” he says. And if a permit is not issued soon, it would “place [him] in a position where few people will be willing to plan to attend.”
“A reduced crowd will dilute Mr. Kessler’s message,” the complaint states.
Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones, also named as defendant, denied Kessler’s request on Dec. 11 citing three reasons for the refusal: the rally poses a threat to public safety, the proposed timeframe for the rally exceeds park hours and puts unfair duress on local police Kessler has requested attend the rally and there is no “person or legal entity willing to accept responsibility for the group’s adherence to the limitations set forth within the city’s special events regulations.”
But Kessler says these reasons are unfounded. The city, he says, has a “legal obligation to protect protestors from violent counter protestors”
“The city has already demonstrated that it has the ability to protect those exercising their free speech rights from those who would deny those rights as it did so successfully during a [KKK] rally on July 8, 2017,” the complaint states. “Its knowing and intentional choice not to do so for the Unite the Right Rally on August 12 does not relieve them of this obligation.”
Further, he claims, he sent letters to the city promising to obey park hours.
Insofar as the city’s requirement that he find a party willing to be legally responsible for the actions of the group, Kessler claims as an individual applicant, “he cannot be held responsible for the actions of others and conditions of exercising First Amendment rights.”