Virginia declares state of emergency ahead of anniversary of Charlottesville rally

Gov. Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency in Virginia ahead of the one-year anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville rally.

Officials said the declaration was made for the events planned for this weekend to mark the anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally, which resulted in the death of a counterprotester and two Virginia State Police troopers in 2017.

The declaration would “enhance planning and cooperative response efforts,” according to Northam’s office.

“Virginia continues to mourn the three Virginians who lost their lives in the course of the demonstrations a year ago. We hope the anniversary of those events passes peacefully,” Northam said in a written release. “I am urging Virginians to make alternative plans to engaging with planned demonstrations of hate, should those arise. Declaring this state of emergency in advance of the anniversary and the related planned events will help us ensure that the state and the city have all available resources to support emergency responders in case they are needed.”

Officials said the declaration would allocate $2 million in state funds and authorize the Virginia National Guard to assist in security efforts. Virginia State Police Superintendent Gary Settle said more than 700 state police will be activated during the weekend and "state police is fully prepared to act" to prevent any incidents like last year.

After Charlottesville denied him a permit this year, event organizer Jason Kessler turned his attention to Washington, D.C. with a rally scheduled to be held at Lafayette Park near the White House on Sunday.

Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act between organizers for the white nationalist event and the National Park Service reveal potential speakers at the rally include former grand wizard of the KKK David Duke, who made headlines in 2016 when he signed up to run for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, and neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier Patrick Little.

Along with the rally, the National Park Service said three other groups have applied for permits for counter-protests. The first of those permits has been to a group called DC United Against Hate. They will start at Freedom Plaza, but also plan on marching to Lafayette Park.

ANSWER Coalition also plans on demonstrating in Lafayette Park – the same location as the Unite the Right rally.

“We are not going there looking for anything negative to happen, but we plan to be prepared," said Eugene Puryear of ANSWER Coalition. "We plan to be organized and ready to certainly defend our people and defend our space."

Puryear recognizes the white nationalist's ability to exercise their First Amendment rights.

“Allowing the government to start banning groups is a slippery slope," he said.

But he doesn’t believe local leaders have spoken up enough against these types of demonstrations.

“I think there is still this mistaken belief that if you ignore these people to some degree, that there won’t be as many problems," said Puryear.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said he had a very frank conversation with Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney ahead of this weekend's rally. He admitted there were many lessons to be learned from last year’s violence in Charlottesville.

Newsham declined to give specifics about a closed-door planning meeting held Wednesday with city and homeland security, but he did address concerns that alt-right and KKK groups would be escorted by police.

“There is no intention to accommodate one side or the other," Newsham said. "The only accommodation that the Metropolitan Police Department is providing is to make sure that everybody who is in our city on that day doesn’t get hurt.”

“We will not be seeing a repeat of Charlottesville," said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. "For one thing, our police forces here have a lot of experience with demonstrations. A lot of experience.”

Park Police will also be on hand and the National Park Service said any approved groups will be sectioned off to different areas of the park.

According to Unite the Right rally’s website, marchers plan to meet at the Vienna Metro station and then they will convene at the Foggy Bottom Metro station where they will be escorted by law enforcement as they make their way down to Lafayette Park for a 5:30 p.m. rally.

Recently, Metro said it will not provide private trains to transport the white nationalists after reports they were considering it sparked outrage on social media.

Authorities said the current plan is to keep the white nationalists and the counterprotesters completely separated from each other on Sunday.

In Aug. 2017, hundreds of people traveled to Charlottesville to participate in the Unite the Right rally and protest the city's plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park that was named after the Confederate general. The list of scheduled speakers included several leading white nationalist figures, including Richard Spencer.

On the eve of the Aug. 12 rally, dozens of young white men wearing khakis and polo shirts marched through the University of Virginia's campus, carrying torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. The next day, hundreds of white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed in the streets before a car plowed into a crowd, killing 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.

James Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, is charged with murder in Heyer's killing under Virginia state law. He is charged separately in federal court with hate crimes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.