Despite urging from the city’s mayor to ignore the racist group, about 1,000 people showed up to protest a few dozen members of the Ku Klux Klan who gathered in Charlottesville, Va. Saturday.
Klan members had called for a rally to oppose the city’s plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. About 30 to 50 Klan members were escorted by police to and from the city’s Justice Park.
But counterprotesters surrounded and largely drowned out the small group of Klan members.
Charlottesville’s mayor, Mike Signer, asked residents to avoid the rally and to not “take the bait — to deny the KKK the confrontation and celebrity they desire.” Signer promoted alternative events during the day under the name “Unity Cville.”
But anti-Klan protester Precious Williams told WVTF’s Sandy Hausman that she wanted to come “because I believe that if you just stay silent, nothing gets done.”
The KKK arrived around 3:45 p.m., according to the Charlottesville Daily Progress. Klan members only stayed at the scene for less than half an hour, Hausman reports. When they began to leave, “the crowd tried to stop the Klansmen from driving off” she says.
The Daily Progress reports police declared an “unlawful assembly” at 4:40 p.m., and “a line of officers in riot gear donned gas masks and set off canisters of tear gas.”
Law enforcement made 23 arrests, according to a statement from the mayor, who added that “2 people were treated for heat injuries and one for an alcohol-related issue.”
The Charlottesville City Council earlier this year voted to remove the Lee statue, but it remains in the park pending a court decision on a legal challenge to its removal.
Signer wrote on his Facebook page that the “difficult but necessary journey to finally tell the truth about race in our City … made us a target for many fringe groups who oppose that very mission – who see no problem with a false history founded on systemic racism.”
In May, white nationalist Richard Spencer led a march around Charlottesville and a torch-wielding gathering in what was then called Lee Park to protest the statue’s removal.
There are about 3,000 active “Klan members and unaffiliated individuals who identify with Klan ideology,” according to a June report from the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL says 42 Klan groups are currently active in 33 states, though most groups have fewer than 25 members. The report adds that many Klan groups have recently joined forces with other white supremacists, including neo-Nazis.