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'Unite The Right' Charlottesville Rally Organizer Seeking To Hold Anniversary Event

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

An organizer of the deadly white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., canceled his petition to stage another gathering this year. Jason Kessler went to court in Charlottesville today, and he had planned on requesting a court order compelling the city of Charlottesville to issue a rally permit on the first anniversary of that march. At the last minute, he withdrew his request. Reporter Chris Suarez of The Daily Progress attended the hearing and joins us now from Charlottesville. Hi there.

CHRIS SUAREZ: Hey.

SHAPIRO: So what happened in court today?

SUAREZ: It was kind of bizarre. It was a very brief hearing. It didn't last more than, I would say, an hour and a half. An attorney and Jason Kessler, they did not show up on time. They were a bit late. They went into a brief recess so they could try to find Jason to see where he was. And as soon as they came back into session, the judge declared that the plaintiffs had withdrawn their motion for a preliminary injunction.

SHAPIRO: What argument had he been making?

SUAREZ: They had been arguing that the city had denied the permit late last year for this anniversary rally based on the content of his message. He proposed holding a pro-white civil rights rally, and the city had said that's not the case. We're worried about public safety and that based on the events of last year and how that went, they found Jason to be untrustworthy and incapable of being able to hold a rally that would be safe.

SHAPIRO: Do you know why he changed his mind at the last minute and withdrew this petition?

SUAREZ: It appeared that they weren't necessarily ready. The attorney who showed up late, the judge sort of chastised him for not having submitted a few court documents before the hearing. He said that was due to some travel issues, so they were unable to really make a good case. And he just seemed not confident moving forward.

SHAPIRO: Does this mean that there will be no rally in Charlottesville on the anniversary of that violent march last year?

SUAREZ: Well, it's difficult to say at this moment. Again, this attorney - after the hearing, he said that he had spoken with Jason several days ago and that Jason had said he has no intention of holding a rally in Charlottesville if he does not have a permit. But he's working with the National Park Service to hold an event in Lafayette Square across from the White House on August 12.

SHAPIRO: In Washington, D.C., yeah.

SUAREZ: In Washington, D.C., yes.

SHAPIRO: Are there concerns about violence at that rally?

SUAREZ: I haven't spoken to anyone from the National Park Service in a few weeks. They said that they're trying to put a security plan in place. And I understand that they're working for that. But here in Charlottesville, local authorities and the state police, they've been meeting with the community in recent weeks in different forums and at city council meetings. And they're saying that they're preparing for the worst-case scenario. Even if there is no permit, they expect there to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people coming to Charlottesville on the weekend of August 11 and 12 to hold, you know, a demonstration of some sort. And they're concerned about that as well. So even if there is no permit, the city is anticipating that we will see some kind of event.

SHAPIRO: Chris Suarez is a reporter for The Daily Progress newspaper. Thanks for joining us.

SUAREZ: Absolutely, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.