Following recent white supremacist violence across the country including a racism-motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, the upcoming fifth anniversary of the deadly Unite The Right rally is on the minds of many in the area and across the country.
Charlottesville officials say there’s always reason to be on alert following a white supremacist tragedy, but they’re not aware of any specific threats surrounding the anniversary of the 2017 violence.
“We all have the concerns. We will continue to monitor events and we will adjust as events unfold.” said Tito Durrette, the city’s acting Chief of Police.
“We are always aware of [Aug. 12] as a potential flashpoint,” he said. “However, the potential of a flashpoint can occur any day and we are prepared to investigate any threats to our community. Currently, we are not aware of any threats within the city surrounding the five-year anniversary.”
The city monitors online chatter about potential threats and has an intelligence analyst that works with law enforcement partners to respond to information that could indicate potential threats, Durrette said.
Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers said there is a plan to close certain streets on the Downtown Mall to allow for people to gather to recognize the anniversary of the tragedy.
“The Police Department will increase its presence on and around the Downtown Mall with officers using bicycles and Segways and foot patrol,” Rogers said.
Mayor Lloyd Snook said that while city staff is deeply involved in security discussions, he’s not sure how the city should handle commemorating the anniversary or if there should be an officially recognized event.
He said the city is a long way away from any decision or public discussion.
“There are a number of folks who feel that we shouldn’t be looking to do really much of anything. There’s not a lot of appetite in Charlottesville for ‘Hey, let’s relive the glory days of five years ago.’ What that means in practice, we haven’t decided yet,” Snook said.
Snook said he also doesn’t want to hold an event that could potentially provoke bad actors to descend upon the city again.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told The Daily Progress last week that the Buffalo shooting and the rally in Charlottesville are connected by a supremacist conspiracy theory.
During their torchlight night march through the UVa Grounds on Aug. 11 and the violent and deadly Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, neo-Nazis and white supremacists chanted, shouted and screamed among other slogans of racist rhetoric that “Jews will not replace us.”
The phrase refers to a white supremacist conspiracy called replacement theory. The conspiracy is usually blamed on Jews and involves somehow using immigration, integration, abortion and a variety of other methods to take power away from white people.
Snook said it has raised alarms for him to hear about this connection.
“The news reports that I’ve heard [about Buffalo], people have been talking about sort of the history of the ‘Jews will not replace us’ chant. And they keep bringing up Charlottesville. They’re making a connection that we’ve not paid a lot of attention to,” Snook said.
“The last week or two is really the first time that I’ve given more than just a fleeting thought to [the chant],” he said.
Snook said it’s important for the city to start paying attention to these connections to other white supremacist events.
“Every year there’s definitely a lot of community trauma and fear that come up around the [August 12] anniversary,” said councilor Michael Payne. “It’s certainly heightened after the attack in Buffalo just because it’s back in the news as a prominent national storm.”
Payne said he feels it’s important to provide a space for people who want to commemorate the tragedy.
“It’s important to have a plan, to have heightened monitoring, heightened security, and be paying attention,” he said. “But also for us to not be so paralyzed that we’re unable to have a community event or to hold space, and to not be so overtaken by fear that we’re unable to do that.”
Snook said while there aren’t any known threats to the Charlottesville area, “The events of Aug. 11 and 12 are a bell that continues to ring.”