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Task force: Charlottesville officials failed to act on intelligence that rally would be violent

12/8/2017, 6:13 a.m.
Virginia Public Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Brian J. Moran said last week that state officials had intelligence indicating that ...
People fly into the air after being struck by a car that plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters at he Aug. 12 valley in Charlottesville. One person was killed and 19 others were injured. The driver, James A. Fields Jr., was charged with second degree murder. Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress/Associated Press

By Saraya Wintersmith

Virginia Public Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Brian J. Moran said last week that state officials had intelligence indicating that the rally of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville would become violent, and shared that information with local officials in advance of the Aug. 12 event.

But Charlottesville officials failed to heed recommendations made by state authorities that may have stemmed the violence and bloodshed that resulted in the death of one person and injuries to dozens more.

Mr. Moran

Mr. Moran

Ms. Gastanaga

Ms. Gastanaga

Mr. Moran’s comments were made Nov. 30 during a panel on free speech and public safety sponsored by the Virginia Press Association.

His comments were echoed in a 106-page report on the Charlottesville rally that was issued Tuesday by a gubernatorial task force that Mr. Moran headed.

According to the report, Virginia State Police began gathering information about the rally after Jason Kessler, a white nationalist and alt-right organizer, submitted a permit application with the City of Charlottesville in May for the “Unite the Right” rally.

The rally, which authorities said drew hundreds of white supremacists from 35 states, was to protest Charlottesville’s plans to remove the statues of Confederates Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from city-owned parks.

State Police “identified the potential for violence,” according to the report, and communicated it to the Charlottesville leadership and Mr. Moran “in order to enhance public safety preparations.”

However, the report goes on to describe mounting concern by top state officials over the city’s failure to take precautionary actions. Eventually, Gov. Terry McAuliffe conveyed specific recommendations to Charlottesville’s leadership. Those recommendations, according to the report, included banning guns and other weapons, limiting the permitted protest hours, escorting protesters by bus to the site and strongly communicating a no-tolerance policy for violence or property damage. 

“After Gov. McAuliffe communicated these concerns and recommendations with the mayor of Charlottesville on Aug. 2, (State Police) also briefed the mayor, city manager and members of the City Council that same day. The recommendations contained in the memorandum and communicated to the city were not followed,” Mr. Moran stated in the report.

“When asked why the governor’s recommendations were not followed during our final task force meeting, the International Association of Chiefs of Police indicated that interviews suggested that advice from the city’s legal counsel played a role.”

The report by the Governor’s Task Force on Public Safety Preparedness and Response to Civil Unrest is the latest analysis to suggest that state and local officials did not collaborate as closely as they could have to prevent violence at the Unite the Right rally.

POLITICO reported shortly after the event that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a warning to law enforcement authorities suggesting the Aug. 12 rally would be “among the most violent to date” between white supremacists and anarchists.

A separate, recently published review led by former federal prosecutor Timothy Heaphy concluded that local officials were ill-prepared and made multiple mistakes leading up to the rally, including attempting to move the gathering to a larger public park.