CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - A white nationalist rally dubbed "Charlottesville 3.0" could provide a blueprint for future controversial protests across the nation even as livid political leaders struggle to halt the demonstrations they consider racist.
The rally on Saturday, featuring white supremacist leader Richard Spencer, was the third prompted by the Virginia city's plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its Emancipation Park.
The previous rally in August escalated into violence that left one counter-protester dead and ignited a political firestorm when President Trump cited "blame on both sides."
The tiki torch-lit, 10-minute rally Saturday night drew 40 to 50 protesters, who listened to fiery speeches, sang Dixie and chanted slogans such as "the South will rise again."
"You are going to have to get used to the alt-right," Spencer said to applause. "You are going to have to get used to white identity."
Charlottesville police said in a statement that there was no violence and that the group left the city by bus immediately after the rally ended. Miriam Dickler, a spokeswoman for the city, told the local Daily Progress that such protests are protected by the First Amendment "unless we perceive a legal or safety issue.”
Spencer called the rally a "great success."
"We came, we triggered, we left," Spencer said. "We are going to do it again."
Spencer told USA TODAY the model of quick protests without advanced publicity could become the norm for his efforts.
"We obviously want to speak our piece, talk about the importance of these monuments," Spencer said Sunday. "We came in peace in May, we came in peace in August, we came in peace on Saturday. We do not want violence."
"Alt-right" is a loosely defined group whose far-right ideology can include racism, populism and white nationalism. Its rallies in Charlottesville have consistently drawn the ire of local officials, University of Virginia administrators, students and faculty, as well as public figures across the nation.
After news of Saturday's rally spread, counter-protesters gathered outside the residence of UVA president Teresa Sullivan. Among the chants: "No cops, no KKK, no fascist UVA." By contrast, thousands of counter-protesters showed up in August because that rally had been promoted in advance.
Spencer, a UVA graduate, already has plans to speak later this month at the University of Florida, which grudgingly gave consent on free speech grounds. Alt-right lawyer Kyle Bristow said Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati have until Friday to approve Spencer's appearances there or face litigation.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer blasted Saturday's gathering as "despicable." Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, tweeted his opposition "to these racists." City Councilman Wes Bellamy called for felony intimidation charges against the protesters.
The statue from Emancipation Park has been covered with a black tarp for weeks, its removal delayed by litigation. The statue has been a lightning rod for protests by white nationalists, who consider Confederate leaders as heroes, and opponents, who consider the leaders racists for fighting to maintain slavery and want the statues removed.
The uproar has led to the removal of Confederate statues in Baltimore; Durham, N.C.; and other cities. Hundreds more remain in dozens of states.
After the rally, Signer tweeted: "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."
Spencer was quick to reply on social media: "Lol. How are we "cowards"? We came back. Also, you have no authority to ban American citizens from C'ville, doofus."
Local officials aren't laughing out loud. Bellamy asked Commonwealth Attorney David Chapman to file charges against Spencer and all his protesters.
"When white supremacists make odes to White Power, and clearly use torches to send a message to our community that they are the superior race while trying to strike fear and intimidate others, they are breaking the law," Bellamy said. "Our community does not deserve this."
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