The weather forecast for Feb. 7, 2017, was a balmy 71 degrees in the Charlottesville area.
The headline “Lee Park statue will be removed” ran in large letters across the day’s issue of The Daily Progress. The article discussed the 3-2 vote by city councilors and mentions a separate vote to rename the park.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s new book, “Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism,” states that the vote by the City Council to remove the statue “did not generate much immediate press attention,” and that there was “little newspaper coverage at first beyond a short item that Wednesday in the Staunton, Virginia News Leader on the vote.”
The book claims to be “the definitive account of an infamous chapter in our history,” but includes factual errors and omits important context around what happened in Charlottesville in 2017.
The book, while mainly focused on the preparation for, response to and aftermath of the summer of 2017, including the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally — which resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer and two state troopers whose helicopter crashed — touches on McAuliffe’s run for office and his time as governor in general.
In an interview Friday, McAuliffe said he wrote the book because he wanted to “tackle the issue of white nationalism in the country.”
“I think what Charlottesville did, as horrible as the events were, I think it did rip off the scab as it relates to issues of racism and antisemitism,” he said. “I think we needed a discussion in the country of how did we get to a place where 1,000 of these white nationalists and neo-Nazis could feel comfortable that they could talk down a street and scream the most vile things that I’ve ever heard.”
Last year, he said, he traveled to 25 states, and people everywhere asked him “about Charlottesville and how did it happen,” and that there were “a lot of misperceptions.”
“They thought a lot of the folks, the protesters, were actually Virginians and folks from Charlottesville,” he said. “I said, ‘No no no, they came from 39 states.’”
He called it a “seminal moment in our nation’s history.”
In the book, McAuliffe states that he “knew without a doubt that we’d done everything we could at the state level to prepare for Charlottesville, but obviously somewhere in the implementation and coordination, those plans went off the rails.”
A post-rally report, authored by former federal prosecutor Tim Heaphy, was sharply critical of Charlottesville and state police preparations for and response to the rally. The report, which was commissioned by the city, is not mentioned in McAuliffe’s book.
Heaphy declined to comment on the report or McAuliffe’s book, and referred to the report itself for reference.
The Virginia State Police only provided one document to Heaphy and his team from Hunton & Williams, and only made one person who was present on Aug. 12, 2017, available for interviews: Col. W. Steven Flaherty, then-superintendent of the state police, according to the report.
A state-organized after-action report was prepared by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and described many of the same problems identified in the Heaphy report.
The state after-action report was much shorter and less detailed than the city-commissioned report, and was part of a larger final report by the Governor’s Task Force on Public Safety Preparedness and Response to Civil Unrest. The 25 members of the state task force included Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran and Flaherty.
Up to now, McAuliffe’s book includes the most extensive public narrative about how the state responded in the lead-up to and during the Aug. 12 weekend.
When asked if his book was the most comprehensive, detailed publication of the state’s response thus far, he said the book was written from his perspective.
“It’s a book about my journey dealing with racism and the issues around that, and antisemitism, going back to my days as chairman of the national [Democratic] Party and those things,” McAuliffe said.
“It’s a comprehensive look from my perspective of all the challenges I have faced as it relates to issues around racism and the things that I’ve tried to do around the issues of racism,” he said.
In the chapter about the morning of Aug. 12, 2017, McAuliffe writes about what led him to declare a state of emergency. He writes that Flaherty was waiting on then-Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas to declare an unlawful assembly “because the city wanted to issue their declaration first,” before anyone asked McAuliffe for the declaration.
Omitted from the book, however, is that the city and Albemarle County had declared local states of emergency ahead of both the state emergency declaration and the unlawful assembly, according to emails and tweets from that day, as well as the Heaphy report.
Another omission is why the unlawful assembly took so long to call. The Heaphy report states that every member of the CPD command staff was asked about the timing.
“Uniformly, everyone ascribed the delay to the time it took to bring the VSP mobile field force to Emancipation Park from the Jessup House,” the report states. “They also told us that VSP insisted on extracting its undercover officers from the crowd before the unlawful assembly was declared, and that process took much longer than expected.”
The report says Flaherty “acknowledged that some portion of the delay in declaring the unlawful assembly was due to the failure to locate one VSP undercover officer who had been deployed within the crowd. He indicated, however, that the undercover agent had been out of the park for some time.”
In the book, McAuliffe writes about calling then-Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer about 10 days before the rally and recommending that the city ban weapons, including guns, from the park.
Currently, and in 2017, the state code only allows eight cities and five counties to prohibit open carry of certain loaded firearms in public places, and Charlottesville is not one of them.
In an interview, McAuliffe said he knew the city couldn’t ban guns from the park.
“You want to go for the max you possibly can, and you want to send a signal to people that we are not going to look kindly on people bringing guns,” he said. “And, you know what, I’d love to have gone through [the process] and people have sued and question[ed] the authority of people to ban guns.”
The city and councilors were sued in 2017 after the council’s vote to remove the Robert E. Lee statue. The plaintiffs claim the vote violated a state code section that bans the removal of war memorials.
A judge recently has issued orders that the city’s two statues of Confederate generals are war monuments and that the individual current and former city councilors have legislative immunity in the lawsuit, but the case is still moving forward against the city of Charlottesville and the City Council as a body.
McAuliffe said that by banning guns and “creating the issue, I think it puts pressure on the legislature to finally do something about it.”
“Banning guns would give an impetus that we could go back to the General Assembly and say, ‘These laws have to be changed,’” he said.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “At some point, you just gotta keep pushing the edge. I restored the felon rights, they sued me on that, but you know what, I ultimately prevailed and a couple hundred thousand people got their right to vote back.”
After 2017, bills that would have added both Charlottesville and Albemarle County to the list of localities that prohibit open carry of certain loaded firearms in public places and allowed localities to prohibit firearms at permitted events, and other gun-related bills, failed in the General Assembly in 2018 and 2019.
In some instances in the book, McAuliffe changed his tune from what he has said previously.
In 2017, he told The New York Times that militia members had “better equipment than our state police had.”
In his book, McAuliffe now cites Moran “sarcastically” telling McAuliffe, “Governor, these guys have better weapons than our state police.”
When asked if he thought the state police could have done more, McAuliffe said there were “practical lessons,” and cited the after-action report and the recommendation for a unified command, which also was recommended in the Heaphy report.
“No more will, let’s say, the state, who puts in the most of the resources, be in a support role,” he said. “That’s a good thing. What you want to come out of this thing is what do we do going forward, and how do we keep people safe?”
The book also states that the city automatically approved Jason Kessler’s permit for the rally on June 13, but the permit was not approved until August.
Other inaccuracies, while small, are littered throughout the rally-weekend chapters of the book: McAuliffe said an Aug. 13, 2017, vigil for Heyer was canceled, which it was originally, but it ultimately happened that day. He said Kessler was punched by a woman at his post-rally press conference, but Kessler was punched by a man. He said “we’d never find out what exactly happened to Trooper 1,” the helicopter that crashed, but a final decision is not expected until sometime in 2020.
“Governor McAuliffe’s book is yet another example of a politician’s effort to pass the buck of responsibility when there was a clear failure of leadership,” the ACLU of Virginia said in a statement.
“The leaders had ineffective and uncoordinated plans for managing the protest. Law enforcement did not keep the protesters apart or follow other best practices,” the statement said. “These well-documented facts may not fit with the former governor’s narrative, but they are indeed the facts.”
Survivors recently protested two of McAuliffe’s book tour events in Washington, D.C. No tour events have been scheduled in the Charlottesville area thus far.
A statement from three of the survivors — Anna Malinowski, Constance Young and Star Peterson — called the book “a daft attempt at anti-racism and serves as an absolute characterization of the white savior complex.”
“He not only fails to mention his moral obligation to inhibit the convening of the largest, armed, racist, white nationalist militia group gathering in decades, but he openly idolizes the police officers who participated in and actively endorsed violence by their refusal to intervene and protect anti-racist activists,” they said.
The survivors have a list of five demands for McAuliffe, including to give book proceeds to survivors of the car attack, to put the book tour on hold and to meet with survivors.
McAuliffe told The Daily Progress that this was the first he had heard that survivors still had outstanding medical claims.
“You know, the book’s not going to make much money, but if this is an issue, I will jump in feet first and help people,” he said.
Since the book event protests, McAuliffe’s office has reached out to survivors to schedule a meeting and he has said he will donate proceeds to the Heal Charlottesville Fund.
“I’m glad they raised the issue. This is something I didn’t know about beforehand, and if that’s an issue, I want to help them,” he said.
When asked why his book tour has not yet come to Charlottesville, McAuliffe said the publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, had scheduled events at places that had requested one.
“I’m hoping to [come to Charlottesville],” he said. “I’ve been trying to work to see if I can get [Georgia Rep.] John Lewis and I to come down and do like a town hall. I’m sure we will.”