The organizer of last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is no longer seeking a permit from the city to commemorate the event one year later, city officials said.
In a federal court hearing on Tuesday, Jason Kessler withdrew his request for a special event permit, city spokesman Brian Wheeler said. Kessler and his lawyers have not returned CNN’s requests for comment.
Kessler could still turn up in Market Street Park the weekend of August 11 with less than 50 people without needing a permit, Wheeler said. And the city is evaluating applications from others who wish to use the park that weekend.
“We are still expecting a large spontaneous crowd to commemorate the anniversary,” Wheeler said.
Charlottesville is still grappling with fallout from the August 12, 2017, rally, which left one person dead and turned the city into another battleground in America’s culture wars.
Tuesday’s hearing was part of Kessler’s lawsuit against the city over its denial in December of his permit application. Kessler applied in November 2017 for the permit in the park, formerly known as Lee Park because of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on its grounds.
The statue was a rallying point for white supremacists and neo-Nazis who attended the August “Unite the Right” rally after the city voted in February 2017 to remove the statue and changed the park’s name to Emancipation Park in June.
City officials said turnout of protesters and counterprotesters exceeded expectations. Counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed when, police say, a self-professed neo-Nazi drove his car through a crowd. Others were injured.
Kessler said last year’s events were critical to his application and the underlying message of the anniversary rally, which he described in his lawsuit as a “political demonstration.”
In his application, he described the event as a demonstration “against government civil rights abuse” and its “failure to follow security plans” for the 2017 rally.
“We are opposing any changes to Lee (Emancipation) Park and memorializing the sacrifices made by political dissidents in Lee Park on August 12, 2017.”
The city denied the application on the grounds that it would “present a danger to public safety.” Kessler sued, claiming city officials violated his First Amendment rights by denying his request.
He requested a court order in March 2018 compelling the city to issue the permit, The withdrawal does not end the lawsuit, just his request for a court-ordered issuance of a permit, Charlottesville Acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson said in a statement.
“Kessler did not give a reason for withdrawing his request, but we are glad that he did, it was the right thing to do.”