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Alt-right rally: Charlottesville braces for violence

Alt-right rally: Charlottesville braces for violence
From Al Jazeera - August 11, 2017

Beating. Hanging. Shooting.

These are the sorts of threats that Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, a 30-year-old African American, says he has received in recent weeks from far-right activists before "Unite the Right", which is expected to be one of the largest white supremacist rallies in the US' recent history.

"I have been told I am going to be hung from a tree, that I am going to be shot, that I am going to be beat up,"he tells Al Jazeera."You name it, every kind of n-word - I have been called it online."

Charlottesville, an otherwise sleepy city of 46,000 in central Virginia, is bracing for an influx of hundreds of far-right activists - among them white supremacists and neo-Nazis from across the United States on Saturday to protest against the planned removal of a Confederate monument.

Although locals, anti-racist activists and anti-fascists are expected to hold a much larger counter-demonstration, Unite the Right will be attended by an array of groups: the alt-right, the Traditionalist Worker Party, the League of the South, Identity Evropa, Vanguard America, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and the Proud Boys, among others.

The far-right groups have enlisted the Warlocks, a One Percenter motorcycle gang, for protection.

Since the city council voted in April to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, the foremost Confederate military leader during the US Civil War, far-right activists have turned Charlottesville into a nexus for protests and counterdemonstrations.

Saturday's rally will be the third of its type in Charlottesville in the last four months. Asked why the far right has focused on the city, Bellamy points to plans to remove the statue and a fund to invest millions of dollars into marginalised communities.

He adds: "I also think one of the bigger reasons is that we have a young, black vice mayor who is unapologetic in his blackness and who's been getting a lot of support."

READ MORE: Threats and attacks as white supremacists target campuses

Following a similar rally in May, a slew of anti-Semitic and racist tweets was directed at Mayor Mike Signer, who is Jewish, after he published a post condemning the event.

Although the city has mandated Unite the Right to move the protest to a different park, organiser Jason Kessler, who is a member of the ultra-nationalist Proud Boys group - who describe themselves as "Western chauvinists", told his followers on Periscope that "there is no way" the rally wo not be held at Emancipation Park, where the Robert E Lee statue is located.

"[The Robert E Lee Statue] is the first and foremost reason that we are having this rally, is for that park and for that statue. It's about white genocide. It's about the replacement of our people, culturally and ethnically," he said. "And that statue is the focal point of everything."

Anticipating clashes, the city is expected to deploy police, sheriff's deputies and riot-equipped officers from the Virginia State police.

'Time to stand with communities of colour'

Unite the Right has been billed as an attempt to seek common ground between a host of far-right groups, many of which have found themselves at odds with one another in recent months.

Those expected to attend the event include far-right figures Mike Enoch, a blogger and host of the Daily Shoah podcast, and Richard Spencer, a leader in the alt-right, a coalition of far-right groups that includes white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Before the rally, David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), called on his supporters to descend on Charlottesville.

The League of the South also urged its members to be prepared for violent confrontations with anti-fascists and the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement.

In a blog post on its website, the neo-Confederate organisation said the rally would "affirm the right of southerners and white people to organise for their own interests just like any other group is able to do, free of persecution".

Matthew Heimbach, leader of the white supremacist Traditionalist Worker Party, issued an anti-Semitic plea for supporters to join Unite the Right, calling on them to stand up to the "Jewish power structure".

"I am inviting all nationalists and patriots to join us on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, to take a stand not just for our Confederate monuments but for our European identity," he said in a video posted on YouTube, saying that white Americans "will not be replaced".

Along with Black Lives Matter, anti-racist and anti-fascist groups are expected to hold much larger counterdemonstrations.

READ MORE: Black Lives Matter - What has the movement achieved?

"We invite you to choose to believe in the fight for justice and the solidarity of community," Black Lives Matter said in a statement. "We invite you to take part and together face this consolidation of hate groups, and the risk of police use of excessive force, with nonviolent direct action."

Citing expectations of violence, Teresa Sullivan, the president of Charlottesville's University of Virginia, has urged students not to attend the counterprotest, according to local media reports. "There is a credible risk of violence at this event, and your safety is my foremost concern," she said.

But local activist Emily Gorcenski says it is important for people to show up and voice their opposition to Saturday's rally.

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