By Bill Estep and Beth Musgrave | Lexington Herald-Leader
White nationalist groups might hold a flash demonstration in Lexington to protest moving two Confederate statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County courthouse instead of a publicly announced rally, according to an organizer.
Louisville Metro Police Department said it was not aware of any upcoming protests.
Matthew Heimbach, chairman of a white nationalist group called the Traditionalist Worker Party, told the Herald-Leader last week that his group and others were planning a rally in Lexington to oppose the removal of statues in downtown Lexington. When asked this week whether he had picked a date for the event, though, Heimbach said it probably will be a “flash demo.”
He confirmed that that meant an event with no public announcement of the time or place.
“As long as we don’t block the street, we should be OK,” Heimbach said.
He said an alliance of white nationalist groups called the Nationalist Front would carry out the demonstration.
Heimbach didn’t provide other details.
The change in plan might help avoid a repeat of the angry, violent clashes between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators that have happened elsewhere recently, including Charlottesville, Va.
Dozens of people in Virginia were hurt in fights between the two sides, and a woman was killed Aug. 12 when a man who had stood with the white supremacists drove his car into protesters. Last weekend, a “free speech rally” planned in Boston was canceled after a reported 40,000 counter-protesters marched through downtown.
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city of Lexington, said Wednesday that the city has not been contacted by any group wishing to come to Lexington. Straub said the city has been monitoring social media and has been in contact with the FBI, Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement agencies and has received no information about a demonstration in Lexington.
Police chief: Avoid counter-protest in same location
Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard has said the city has a plan if white nationalists come to Lexington to demonstrate. He also encouraged the public not to stage counter-protests in the same location, saying the groups thrive on conflict.
“Don’t give any time to people that promote hate,” Barnard said during Thursday night’s Lexington council meeting. “Don’t show up downtown. That’s what they want.”
On the same day as the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced his plan to move the statues of Confederate icons John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge.
Morgan was a general in the Civil War, and Breckinridge was the secretary of war for the Confederacy.
Gray said the statues should not remain on the same ground that was once the site of one of the largest slave auctions in the nation.
“It’s just not right for us to continue to honor these Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery on the same ground that men, women and even children were once sold into a life of slavery,” he said.
Gray wants the statues moved to another location, not destroyed.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted unanimously last week to move the statues, giving Gray 30 days to find a new place for them.
The Kentucky Military Heritage Commission must approve the move.
Heimbach has said the push to move the statues is part of an effort to erase white heritage, culture and identity.
“When you’re tearing down the statues, that is a clear attempt to replace and erase us,” he said.
Heimbach, who has previously said he lives in southern Indiana, has been to Kentucky before. The Traditionalist Worker Party and others held a rally in Pikeville in April. In July, Heimbach entered an Alford plea to an amended charge of second-degree disorderly conduct for pushing a woman at a Donald Trump rally in March in Louisville. An Alford plea means he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that there was enough evidence to convict him.
Louisville is taking an inventory of public works of art to determine whether they can be interpreted to honor bigotry, racism or slavery. The city removed a controversial Confederate monument last year.
After the clashes in Virginia, anti-fascist protesters marched through Louisville Aug. 13. LMPD responded, and its actions were criticized on social media.
LMPD told Insider via email that it was not aware of any upcoming protests.
“We do have contingencies in place to ensure the safety of our community,” the department said.