UPike to parents: Consider asking students to leave as white nationalists rally

Main Street in Pikeville, Ky., on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007.
Main Street in Pikeville, Ky., on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007. LEXINGTON HEARLD-LEADER

Parents of University of Pikeville students concerned about the safety of their children during a white nationalist rally Saturday should consider having them leave town, the college president said.

There is a potential that violence will break out during the rally, UPike President Burton Webb told parents in a letter posted on the school’s website.

The city issued an advisory Friday saying that while police have plans in place to try to keep peace at the rally, authorities could not guarantee the safety of everyone there.

The Traditionalist Workers Party, the National Socialist Movement and affiliated groups plan to hold a rally in downtown Pikeville from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The site is a short walk from UPike’s campus.

Webb said authorities have received information that groups which strongly oppose the white nationalists also plan to be in town. When the TWP held a rally at the state capitol in California in June 2016, protesters clashed with the white nationalists and 10 people were hurt in the fighting, the New York Times reported.

“Usually, Pikeville is a quiet and safe town in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. This weekend could be different,” Webb said in his open letter. “… There are grave concerns among the law enforcement community that Pikeville was chosen by these groups precisely because it is a rural, safe town.”

Webb urged parents to tell their children at UPike to avoid the rally.

If there is still a concern about their safety, parents should tell their children to visit someone out of town, he said.

The school cannot guarantee safety when uninvited, outside hate groups “have determined to pitch their battle on our streets,” Webb said.

Pikeville officials have said the city will have heightened security during the rally, with the goal of warding off any physical confrontation between the white nationalists and opponents.

In the advisory issued Friday, the city of Pikeville said it is difficult to figure out how many people will attend the rally or what will happen there.

But as Webb did in his message, the city said that some groups expected to show up and oppose the white nationalists have been involved in inciting violence elsewhere.

Internet postings indicate some of the groups expect there to be violence in Pikeville, the notice said.

“Based on similar events where violence has broken out, again, we cannot ensure the public that there will not be personal or property damage,” the notice said.

Anyone attending the event should be vigilant and avoid confrontation with people who have different views, the city said.

Police plan to close Main Street in Pikeville and side streets at noon.

Pikeville residents had organized a counter event called the Rally for Equality and American Values to take place on UPike’s campus at the same time as the white nationalist rally, but organizers decided Thursday to reschedule the event after consulting with police and others.

“This has been a tough decision, but real and previously unforeseen credible threats to the safety of our attendees and our community have led us to believe this is the right call,” organizers said on Facebook. “While we understand any disappointment, and share in it ourselves, our original goal of a safe, family-friendly celebration of equality and American values is no longer possible.”