Jason Kessler, the white supremacist organizer of the deadly August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, arrived 45 minutes late on Tuesday for his civil hearing in federal court in Charlottesville, Virginia, only to withdraw his request for a preliminary injunction to require officials to give him a permit for another white supremacist gathering.
The turn of events increases the likelihood of a second planned rally in Washington, D.C., on August 12.
Kessler had filed a federal lawsuit against the city, appealing their denial of a permit for “Unite the Right 2.0,” which he had planned for either August 11 or August 12. But city attorneys filed a motion in early July asking the judge to seize and search Kessler’s phone for emails and text messages that they said had been withheld from the legal discovery process. Dropping his request for a preliminary injunction may avoid a ruling on that request.
Kessler’s lawsuit against the city for alleged violation of his civil rights might move forward, but he is no longer demanding that a judge force the city to give him a permit for the weekend of August 12.
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Meanwhile, Charlottesville resident Justin Beights insists that his plans to organize “The Festival of the Schmestival” in the city park where last year’s deadly white supremacist riot occurred on the anniversary of that riot is a coincidence.
There’s no connection between the two events, he says, claiming that if his permit to hold the “Schmestival” prevents Kessler from entering the park with his supporters, that’s pure happenstance. On the other hand, Beights says,“If I was someone that was trying to block a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville I would be sitting here telling you it was a total coincidence, and you can take that for what it’s worth.”
The City of Charlottesville found itself in a difficult position after Kessler announced his intent hold a second white supremacist rally in Emancipation Park. In 2017, a court ruled days ahead of the first rally that Kessler’s permit could not be denied by local government on the basis of his white supremacist views. But after the deadly white supremacist rally—which saw hundreds of people engaged in violent street battles, dozens of people injured, and one dead after a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, along with two police officers dead in a helicopter crash—city attorneys have made the case that Kessler should not be granted a permit based on the violence that resulted from his 2017 event.
Even without a permit, there is no law preventing Kessler from showing up with a band of followers and speakers—including white supremacist David Duke—and exercising free speech in Emancipation Park on August 12. But if someone else receives a permit for a different event that day in the park, they would be able to legally prevent Kessler and his people from demonstrating.
Beights, a former real estate developer who now raises money for alternative energy enterprises, was in Boston visiting family on August 12, 2017. He was affected deeply by what happened.
“We sat there and watched everything transpire on CNN and we couldn’t believe what we were watching,” Beights told Rewire.News. “My office is right on Fourth Street and I saw this car plow into people on a street where I walk every day.”
Beights’ permit application drew raised eyebrows when it was first made public. It included a hastily-drawn sketch showing a celebrity dunk tank near the infamous statue of Robert E. Lee and a petting zoo with a giraffe. He promises to go through with all of it—giraffe included—if his permit application is approved.
Many have jumped in with offers of assistance to help Beights pull off the Festival of the Schmestival on short notice.
“People started coming out of the woodwork to help,” Beights said. “I’ve got sound equipment donated, I have tents donated, a friend has an event company in D.C. that has done inaugural events, and he said ‘I know that you don’t know what you’re doing but I do and you can have our help for free.’ … I’ve had friends in local law enforcement reach out and say, ‘we’re going to coordinate this with you.’ … I’ve assembled a team that will be able to pull this off without a problem. And I do have a giraffe reserved.”
The giraffe would be provided by a company called Animals in Motion, which typically provides exotic wildlife to production companies for TV and movies. Beights became familiar with the company when they provided giraffes, elephants, and other animals for the filming of Evan Almighty, a 2007 comedy starring Steve Carrell and Morgan Freeman that filmed on Beights’ property near Charlottesville.
Beights said he has formed a tax-deductible non-profit to run the event and is looking for possible corporate sponsors. No politicking would be allowed by either the white supremacists or their opponents at Beights’ Schmestival.
“I want this to be a totally apolitical event,” Beights said. “We need to acknowledge what happened last year, we’ll never move on from last year, but part of this is to allow the healing process. We want to remember who died last year, but the last thing we want is for this to turn into a political event. I’ve reached out to Weird Al Yankovich and to Penn and Teller. I’ve reached out to their management. That’s how I want this to feel.”
Neither Weird Al nor Penn and Teller have responded yet to Beights’ requests. But Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy, who was the subject of controversy over misogynistic tweets—an incident that helped propel Kessler into the spotlight—has agreed to take a turn in the dunk tank.
Kessler has applied for a permit to hold a rally on August 12, 2018, in D.C.’s President’s Park, directly adjacent to the White House. That permit, which requested the use of a stage and a P.A. system, has not been finalized. But without another permitted event taking place in President’s Park at the time, Kessler and his followers may legally appear in the park to demonstrate and make speeches.