Lexington police have stepped up patrols downtown this weekend around two Confederate statues after an organizer with a white nationalist group said the groups don’t plan to get a permit or give advance notice if they protest here.
Lexington police were more visible Thursday night and Friday around the two statues of John C. Breckinridge — a former U.S. vice president and the last secretary of war for the Confederacy — and John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate general.
Brenna Angel, a spokeswoman for Lexington Police, said that increased police presence will continue this weekend. Lexington officials say no groups have contacted the city about a protest date or time. Lexington police also monitor social media and have not seen any groups discussing coming to Lexington.
Earlier this week, Matthew Heimbach, an organizer with the Traditionalist Worker Party, told the Herald-Leader the group will likely hold a “ flash” demonstration with little notice and would not say when that rally would take place. Heimbach has previously said that he is working with other white nationalist groups to stage a rally in Lexington.
Last week, the Lexington council voted unanimously to move the two statues that have stood for more than 100 years on the lawn of the former courthouse on Main Street. A state military commission still must sign off on moving the statues.
Some patrons noticed the police presence this week at Lexington’s popular Thursday Night Live, which features bands in the Fifth Third Pavilion adjacent to the former courthouse and behind the Breckinridge statue. Kathryn Minton, interim Executive Director of the Downtown Lexington Corporation, said the group that organizes downtown events such as Thursday Night Live has no plans to cancel any events, and is “staying in close contact with the Lexington Police Department.”
Lexington and other cities are struggling with how to respond to the threat of protests from white nationalists. One woman was killed and dozens injured after a man who identified with white supremacists drove into counter-protestors at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month. On Saturday, a reported 40,000 people turned up to drown out speakers at a free speech rally in downtown Boston. Rallies and counter-protests are also planned this weekend in the San Francisco Bay area.
Take Back Cheapside, a group that has pushed for the statues of Breckinridge and Hunt Morgan to be moved, urged people in Lexington this week not to stage a counter-protest if white nationalists come to central Kentucky.
“If a Neo-Nazi group shouts hate into nobody’s ears, faces or cameras, they’re less likely to make progress toward achieving their goals,” according to a post on Take Back Cheapside’s website. DeBraun Thomas, one of the organizers of Take Back Cheapside, said they are working with other groups to form a counter-protest rally but not at the same time.
“We’re pleading for people to be non-violent and to be non-confrontational,” Thomas said. “Showing up and trying to punch a Nazi is not what we would recommend.”
Thomas said Lexington police have said if white supremacist groups show up downtown, the police can respond within minutes.
Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard has also advised the public to stay home if such groups come to Lexington.
“Don’t give any time to people that promote hate,” Barnard said last week. “Don’t show up downtown. That’s what they want.”
Another Lexington group that organized on Facebook looked to a small town in Germany for ideas on how to counter white supremacists and hate groups. Fed up with an annual Nazi march through the town of Wunsiedel, the people there decided to fight back in 2014.
For every meter pro-Nazi groups marched in a 2014 demonstration, people in Wunsiedel donated money to a group that helped white supremacists escape such groups and rebuild their lives. People in Wunsiedel also put banners up along the march route thanking the Nazis for helping other Nazis escape their hate groups.
The more than 1,000 people associated with the Lexington Wunsiedel Project Facebook page are encouraging people to donate to two groups: Kentucky Refugee Ministries and the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to organizers, the Lexington Wunsiedel Project will be stepping up its push to encourage people to donate this weekend.