Richard Spencer, who in August led white nationalists and white supremacists in a torchlight march across the University of Virginia campus that touched off a weekend of deadly clashes, returned Saturday night to Charlottesville.
Spencer, a white nationalist, posted video on social media of torch-bearing followers heading to the statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park, which the city has sought to remove.
The rally, led by Spencer, included 40 to 50 people and lasted five or 10 minutes, according to Lt. Stephen Upman, a spokesman for the Charlottesville Police Department. There were no incidents of disorder at the rally.
The group then left, boarding a tour bus at another location. Police followed to ensure that the group left the city. “Our department is conferring with city leadership and the commonwealth attorney’s office to determine what legal action may be taken in response to this event,” Upman said.
The march coincided with the university’s celebration of its bicentennial.
“It was a planned flash mob,” Spencer said in an interview Saturday night. “It was a great success. We’ve been planning this for a long time.”
“We wanted to prove that we came in peace in May, we came in peace in August, and we come again in peace,” he said.
Their message, he said, is that “our identity matters. We are not going to stand by and allow people to tear down these symbols of our history and our people — and we’re going to do this again.”
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer sent a tweet denouncing the march: “Another despicable visit by neo-Nazi cowards. You’re not welcome here! Go home! Meantime we’re looking at all our legal options. Stay tuned.”
Wes Gobar, leader of the U-Va. Black Student Alliance, who was trying to finish a paper for class when he learned of the rally, said it was difficult balancing studies while bracing for the next burst of hatred that might seize Charlottesville. On Saturday, some members of his group knelt in protest during the national anthem and the school’s “Good Old Song.”
Spencer, a U-Va. graduate, said he was unaware that the school was marking its bicentennial. He said the marchers had been planning their rally “for a long time.”
WVIR-TV reported that Spencer and his group arrived at Emancipation Park about 7:45 p.m. and departed 15 minutes later.
The video Spencer posted show him and his crowd chanting, “You will not replace us.”
They promised to keep returning to Charlottesville, which they argued had become emblematic of their right to speak and had come to symbolize the tearing down of symbols of the nation’s history. They chanted:
“You will not erase us.”
“We are about our heritage. Not just us Virginians. Not just as Southerners. But as white people . . . we’ll take a stand.
“You’ll have to get used to us.
“We’re going to come back again and again and again.”
Then they began singing about Dixie.
They also chanted: “The South will rise again. Russia is our friend. The South will rise again. Woo-hoo! Wooo.”
U-Va. spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
The August march at U-Va. — with people chanting “Jews will not replace us!” — touched off violence between demonstrators and counterprotesters the next day. A man drove into a crowd, killing one woman and injuring others, and two police officers who were monitoring the protests died when their helicopter crashed.
In the days that followed, several public universities denied Spencer a platform.
Last week, the University of Florida reluctantly agreed to allow Spencer to speak later this month, saying it had no choice because as a state institution, it must allow the free expression of all viewpoints.
The university, in Gainesville, is charging the National Policy Institute, which Spencer leads, $10,000 to rent a campus facility and to provide security inside the university’s performing arts center.
It is planning to spend $500,000 to ensure security for the event.