Rutherford Institute founder responds to rally violence

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- In the days since the violence of the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally, anger has mounted, some of it directed at the civil rights organizations that represented rally organizer Jason Kessler in his legal fight to keep the rally in Emancipation Park.

The Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead said he doesn't regret taking the case and notes that it's about defending the First Amendment, not supporting the mission of the rally.

"If you're going to believe in the Constitution, you're going to believe in the Constitution," said Whitehead. "If you don't believe in the Constitution, you should just take it and shred it and throw it away. The Constitution is for everyone."

The Rutherford Institute and the ACLU of Virginia took Kessler's case after the city, citing expected crowd size and online threats of violence, revoked the rally permit and said the event would have to be held in McIntire Park.

Whitehead said he wouldn't have objected to the city moving the rally if it had also moved counter-protests that had received permits for McGuffey and Justice parks. Moving only the Unite the Right event violated the First Amendment, Whitehead said, by targeting the content of the speech being expressed.

"All the city had to do in my opinion was go ahead and deny all three permits and move them all to McIntire Park and put in a good buffer, the police between each group," said Whitehead. "Let the so-called Unite the Right speak and move 'em out of there."

In federal court on Friday, less than 24 hours before the rally's scheduled start, the city argued that the other permits were given to groups who planned to gather away from Emancipation Park and who were only expecting to have a few dozen people.

On Saturday, the groups in those parks were indeed much smaller than the number of counter-protesters who came to Emancipation Park, the bulk of whom did not have a permit to protest.

The city also argued that the counter-protesters would likely follow Kessler to McIntire if it was moved, but Kessler had expressed determination to hold the event near the statue of Robert E. Lee.

"No matter what they say about this, people are still going to be in Lee Park," he said.

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