Family festival could thwart ‘Unite the Right’ anniversary rally

The site of last year’s “Unite the Right” rally at a Virginia park may host an entirely different attraction on the anniversary of the deadly protest if a Charlottesville businessman gets his wish: to hold a family-friendly event featuring a dunk tank and a petting zoo.

Justin Beights, an entrepreneur and real estate developer, has filed an event permit application for the inaugural “Festival of the Schmestival” in Charlotteville’s Emancipation Park, where 34-year-old Heather Hayer was killed last year when a man drove his car into a group of people protesting the white supremacist rally, the Daily Progress reports.

Beights said the timing of the proposed festival – on the same two days as a proposed anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally on Aug. 11-12 was entirely unintentional.

“It’s funny,” Beights told the newspaper. “That’s the date that worked for us. It was kind of a coincidence. It didn’t dawn on me until I submitted the application.”

Beights — who said he understood if people thought the timing of his proposed festival was deliberate — later decided that he would be obvious to critics if his event ultimately gets approved and stops an anniversary gathering of white nationalists.

“Screw those guys,” Beights told the newspaper. “If the park’s available, we’ll have our event.”

Beights hopes to donate proceeds from the festival – which could attract up to 400 people, according to his application – to several organizations but is awaiting approval to finalize that process.

A Charlottesville city spokesman, meanwhile, told the newspaper Wednesday that city officials are considering Beights’ request. Spokesman Brian Wheeler also confirmed that Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year’s white power rally, has also requested an event permit for that same weekend.

“Last week, Jason Kessler filed a motion in federal court seeking a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit by which he is challenging the city’s December 2017 denial of a permit for his proposed rally on the same dates,” Wheeler told the newspaper in an email. “At this time, no hearing date has been scheduled on the motion. The city’s response will be filed in federal court by July 6.”

Calls seeking additional comment from Wheeler Friday were not immediately returned.

The National Park Service has approved Kessler’s application to hold a “White Civil Rights Rally” on the National Mall in Washington, DC, beginning on Aug. 11, although a permit has not been issued.

If his vision is approved, Beights also wants to include a dunk tank at the festival, one that will sit at the foot of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. If his proposed event blocks Kessler’s group from Emancipation Park, it’ll be the “greatest side effect in the history of side effects,” Beights said.

He continued: “What would be more perfect than something that is the polar opposite of what occurred last year?”

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