Around 50 people gathered Sunday afternoon at the Loudoun County Courthouse lawn in Leesburg -- just steps away from a perched 1908 statue honoring fallen Confederate soldiers -- to combat hate and racism and to honor the Charlottesville woman who died during Saturday's race-fueled riots.
"Hate has no home here," said Minister Alice King of Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun. "It's up for us to root out the racism ourselves, to name it for ourselves and those around us. Whatever brought you here today - grief, resilience, commitment and anything I have left unnamed - may you bring it here, have it be held in this circle, and brought to the altar of humanity."
Thousands of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and counter-protesters sparked chaos in Charlottesville Friday night and Saturday. A 32-year-old woman, Heather D. Heyer, was killed when a 20-year-old Ohio man drove a car through a crowd of people, and dozens more were seriously injured.
Sunday's event in Leesburg, organized by Loudoun resident Randy Ihara and local Democrats, was a chance for local citizens "to stand in solidarity with those in Charlottesville who died, were injured or assaulted by the forces of hate and racism unleashed in this country," Ihara said.
The gathering was also ripe with politics, most notably from Loudoun County Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg).
"We need to stand for love, and we need to stand for democracy and for truth," Umstattd said. "The current occupier of the White House stands against all of us in that, and he is strengthened by the racism and the hatred we saw in Charlottesville yesterday and Friday."
|From left, Minister Alice King, Loudoun County Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), South Riding resident Randy Ihara, Loudoun County Supervisor Koran Saines (D-Sterling) and Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk. Times-Mirror/Bill Clare|
President Donald Trump (R) condemned the violence in Virginia Saturday, but Trump's critics and several Republican senators rebuked the president for not singling out the white nationalist and Nazi elements on display in Charlottesville. Instead, president said the violence came from "many sides."
On Sunday, the White House issued a second statement that specifically noted "white supremacists" for inciting the violence.
By happenstance, a Leesburg rally in support of the Confederate monument was scheduled for yesterday, but organizers canceled due to fringe parties wanting to join in for the event.
The Confederate monument in downtown Leesburg has been the subject of controversy in recent years, with several elected officials, including Umstattd and Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), calling for it to be moved outside the courthouse grounds. A 2015 rally at the Leesburg statue brought out scores of Confederate monument supporters and opponents. Supporters waving Confederate flags stood in front of the statue to proclaim their cause.
Anti-monument voices say the statue is a symbol of racism and inequality that doesn't belong next to the courthouse, a place meant to usher in justice and equality. Monument supporters say it's a part of history that should remain in its place.
On Sunday, Phillip Thompson, president of the Loudoun NAACP, aired his view that yesterday's events were necessary.
"When that kind of hate comes out, it demonstrates what it is, who it is. You saw it up close," Thompson said. "It's good to have that hate. We needed to have that hate come out to show what it was and who these people are, and what they stand for."
Thompson continued, " " It's sad what happened, but had to happen. Every once in awhile in America, we've got to see this. Just like people had to see the hoses get turned onto the black people in Alabama. We had to see it before we finally opened our eyes and say, 'Oh, this is what we're up against.'"
Umstattd, the former mayor of Leesburg, said the town "may well be the site of another statue rally."
"We have to be ready, because those who carry the Nazi flag will try to dominate any flag," she said.
Mayor of Leesburg Kelly Burk, who has not taken a stance on whether the statue should remain on the courthouse grounds, was on hand for the event.
Speaking to the Times-Mirror at Sunday's gathering, Burk said town staff plans to meet Monday morning to examine what measures and precautions can be taken to ensure Charlottesville-like violence doesn't erupt in Leesburg.
While Sunday's gathering commenced with around 25-30 people on hand, more passersby joined as the event proceeded.
Harold Brown, a Leesburg resident, was strolling by the event. A Republican, Brown stepped in and urged the Democratic leaders "not to fight."
"No, no, no - no fighting," Brown interjected. "You do not have to fight to be free. You do not have to be free to love your neighbor. No fighting. If [the pro-Confederate groups] come, just walk away from them. Once it starts into a fight, there are going to be winners and losers. You do not want to be a losers."
Tensions flared for a moment between Brown and Thompson, before Minister King and Leesburg Town Councilman Marty Martinez, the chairman of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, stepped in.
Martinez responded to Brown's comments, saying, "Just change fight to resist, we need to continue to resist."
Speaking to the Confederate statue, Martinez said "we're not trying to do away with our heritage."
"We're trying to do away with the symbolism that perpetuates this hate and this racism," he said.
Contact the writer at tbaratko@LoudounTimes.com or on Twitter at @TrevorBaratko.