Charlottesville Police Were Told to Stand Down During Protests-Reported as Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
Charlottesville Police were told to stand down during demonstrations there in August 2017 that brought violent clashes between white nationalist protesters and counter-protesters that led to the death of a 32-year-old counter-protestor.
Police response to demonstrations in Charlottesville have drawn criticism from people on both sides of the issue — but there’s no evidence to support claims that Charlottesville Police were told to stand down.
The rumor appears to have started with right-wing commentator and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones during an August 14, 2017, segment on his “InfoWars” talk show.
In a clip posted on YouTube under the headline “Confirmed: Mayor Ordered Police Stand Down/Caused Death In Charlottesville , VA,” Jones argues that Charlottesville Police were told to stand down so that white nationalist protesters could be portrayed as violent by the media:
…People playing in this whole white nationalist thing are morons. In my view, marching out there in the middle of this, you know you’re going to give George Soros and the media the target they need. Especially in a Democratic-controlled city where police are going to stand down. And then you’re going to be attacked, and then the media is going to say that you attacked.
Jones said that a camera crew heard a police officer say they were told to stand down and played clips of media reports that were critical to the police response. But neither of those things prove that Charlottesville police were told to stand down by the mayor. In fact, it doesn’t appear that that would be possible.
First, the Charlottesville mayor and vice mayor are largely “symbolic” titles that don’t carry much weight outside of city council chambers. The city has a five-member city council, and the council — not the voters — elect two council members to serve as mayor and vice mayor, the city’s website explains:
Council chooses one of its own to serve as Mayor, and another to serve as Vice Mayor. Both are two-year terms. Mike Signer was elected as mayor in January 2016, and Wes Bellamy became vice mayor.
The Mayor presides over meetings, calls special meetings, makes some appointments to advisory boards and serves as the ceremonial head of government. The Vice Mayor substitutes whenever the Mayor is unavailable.
While the Mayor has no more power than any other Councilor, the position carries with it the ability to set the agenda. That means the Mayor can control how the meeting flows.
In short, the mayor wouldn’t have the authority to order police to stand down, even if he wanted to.
The second problem with claim that the mayor told Charlottesville Police to stand down is that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, bringing in outside state resources. The Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan states that state agencies and local police coordinate responses to those situations, making it impossible for a mayor to single-handedly order police to stand down.
For his part, Charlottesville Police Chief Al S. Thomas, Jr., defended police response to the protests. When asked if officers were told to avoid arresting protesters for fear of a violent backlash from armed protestors, Thomas responded, “That is simply not true.”
Thomas said police forces became strained when protesters gathering at Emancipation Park didn’t follow police orders to go through a single point of entry. Soon after, the rally was deemed an “unlawful assembly,” and police forces were stretched thin when protestors disbursed throughout the city, the Washington Post reports:
Thomas denied that his officers were intimidated by the firepower of the protesters, including the presence of militia with military-style semiautomatic rifles, but said it was prudent for them to change into riot gear before returning to confront the violence. After clearing the park, it took police about an hour to regain control of the streets, and officers begin following different groups of “mutually combative” troublemakers but did not specify who Thomas thought was ultimately responsible for initiating the violence.
“It was a challenge,” he said. “We were spread thin once the groups dispersed.”
So, while the police response to Charlottesville protests has been criticized, there’s no indication that police were told to stand down. That’s why we’re reporting this one as fiction.