Officials in Charlottesville, Virginia, installed fencing Tuesday surrounding two of the city’s Confederate monuments in an effort to prevent people from removing tarps placed on top of the statues to mourn a woman who died last month in a controversial rally that ended in violence.
In August, a rally held in support of a Robert E. Lee statue slated for removal attracted white supremacists and neo-Nazis, descended into violence and led to the death of a counterprotester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Fencing and “No Trespassing” signage went up Tuesday around the statues of Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, two Confederate Army generals who unsuccessfully fought against the federal government during the Civil War. Previously, activists had repeatedly ripped down black tarps that were draped across the monuments, placed there as a gesture of mourning following Heyer’s death, the city’s Daily Progress newspaper reported.
Authorities are prepared to file charges against anyone who crosses the orange fencing, said Dave Chapman, commonwealth attorney for the city of Charlottesville.
“The intent was to carve out an area within which no one would be permitted without authority,” Mr. Chapman told Daily Progress. “If someone enters it without authority, they can be prosecuted for trespassing.”
The Charlottesville City Council voted in February to remove the Lee monument, but the statue has remained in place pending ongoing legal proceedings.
Supporters of the statue attempted to hold a rally in the interim Aug. 12 dubbed “Unite the Right,” but the event was canceled when clashes broke out between participants and counterprotesters. Heyer died that afternoon after James Alex Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man, drove his automobile into a crowd of counterprotesters, according to police. The suspect faces multiple charges.
Charlottesville officials decided to temporarily cover the Lee and Jackson statues, beginning Aug. 23, as a gesture of mourning, but the black tarps they used were taken down a half-dozen times as of earlier this week, the newspaper reported.
Jason Kessler, a white nationalist blogger who organized the “Unite the Right” rally, most recently led a group of people Monday evening to remove the shrouds from both statues, according to Charlottesville’s NBC 29. Police didn’t act at the time because Mr. Chapman said simply removing the tarps wasn’t a criminal offense. By fencing off the statues, however, the city can potentially pursue trespassing charges against anyone caught bypassing the barriers,
“The tarp should be placed over Charlottesville City Council and Virginia Governor Terry MacAuliffe,” Mr. Kessler, 33, told The Washington Times. “They’re the ones who refused to use law enforcement to keep the peace at a constitutionally protected rally. They’re the ones who allowed armed rioters to block traffic and attack cars 3 hours into a state of emergency.”
“The ‘no trespassing’ mesh is illegal,” Mr. Kessler added, citing a Virginia state statute barring government officials from preventing citizens from protecting, preserving and caring for memorials dedicated to war veterans.
Charlottesville spent about $5,400 on the tarps, the NBC affiliate reported, including nearly $400 for each of the 12 tarps ordered so far in addition to labor costs.