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In Charlottesville, Counter-Protesters Could Outnumber White Nationalists

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is asking residents to "make alternative plans to engaging with planned demonstrations of hate" this weekend. (Anthony Crider/Wikimedia Commons)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is asking residents to "make alternative plans to engaging with planned demonstrations of hate" this weekend. (Anthony Crider/Wikimedia Commons)
August 10, 2018

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – With a state of emergency declared ahead of the one-year anniversary of violence that sprung from a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, fewer disruptions are expected this weekend – despite the continued rise of hate groups and hate speech.

Several events planned in the Charlottesville area through Sunday mostly involve groups aiming to counter hate and prejudice.

Heidi Beirich, intelligence project director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, tracks the nation's hate group activity and says so far, she's seen no indication that white supremacists will return to Charlottesville this weekend, although there might be a few.

"I think the city and it's decision to declare a state of emergency is a good preemptive step,” says Beirich, “just to make sure that we don't end up with the sad outcomes like we did last year, with Heather Heyer's death and the other violence."

Heyer was struck by a car that plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Organizers of last year's "Unite the Right" rally are planning to hold their follow-up event in Washington, D.C., claiming they'll be protesting civil-rights abuses in Charlottesville. Counter-demonstrations have also received permits, including Black Lives Matter and an individual who plans to burn a Confederate flag in Lafayette Park.

Beirich says many of the major players and instigators in last year's rally have had a pretty tough year. There's been infighting among white nationalist groups, and they've lost PayPal accounts, Facebook pages and other efforts to amplify their message.

But she warns the movement still has a lot of energy.

"We still have white supremacist hate groups at very high numbers,” says Beirich. “We still have street protests, especially out west right now. So, it's not as though the movement is in some great decline – which is, of course, what I would hope for if it was possible."

She adds that law enforcement in the nation's capital is much more prepared for protesters and counter-protesters, so she doesn't expect a repeat of last year's Charlottesville clashes.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - VA