The heavy weaponry in the hands of angry far-right protesters provided an ominous context for the deadly rally in Charlottesville on August 12. The local police chief had warned about it when the city sought to redirect the rally from Emancipation Park to another locale he said could be policed more easily, but that concern was brushed aside when the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU) successfully urged a federal judge to let the extremists rally in the park of their choosing.
In an affidavit filed at a federal court in Virginia, Police Chief Al S. Thomas said that intelligence reports showed that participants in the rally would be carrying guns. “The risks associated with the presence of firearms would be exacerbated by holding a Rally with a large number of participants in the relatively confined area of Emancipation Park,” he wrote.
He said police had learned from far-right agitator Augustus Invictus that 150 “security personnel” from groups called the Alt Knights and the American Guard would participate. These groups delight in portraying themselves as a menace.
On their Facebook page, the Alt Knights sell a sort of uniform for rioting: black helmet, respirator, goggles and shin guards, black hoodie, Second Amendment sticker in the shape of skull and crossbones. Cudgel not included but clearly part of the look. The American Guard’s Facebook page is topped by an image of Daniel Day-Lewis in his role as the fearsome Bill the Butcher in the film “Gangs of New York,” wearing the Trump campaign’s signature red baseball cap marked “Make America Great Again.” In keeping with the butcher theme, the group’s shield features a pair of crossed meat cleavers. Bill the Butcher—William Poole—was a historical figure, a vicious Nativist gang leader who fought to the death against Irish-Catholic immigrants who had fled the Famine to settle in New York’s squalid Five Points section.
This is not the “well regulated” militia the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the Second Amendment.
In its legal brief, the ACLU contended that since the city had allowed a large multicultural festival to be held in Emancipation Park, it could also accommodate a big crowd at the rally that was proposed for August 12. Not to do so showed a political bias on the part of the city government, the ACLU argued successfully.
But people were not toting assault rifles and wearing flak jackets at Charlottesville’s Festival of Cultures, “a day of free family-friendly fun with all-day entertainment.” Nor did they arrive at the festival spouting Nazi-like propaganda and announcing that they were going to take over the town; the aim was “to create a space where all can meet, share in, and learn about each others’ cultures.”