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Why does Charlottesville attract white supremacists

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/12/2017 Nick Penzenstadler and Sarah Toy

White nationalist demonstrators walk into Lee park surrounded by counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and police dressed in riot gear ordered people to disperse after chaotic violent clashes between white nationalists and counter protestors. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © The Associated Press White nationalist demonstrators walk into Lee park surrounded by counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and police dressed in riot gear ordered people to disperse after chaotic violent clashes between white nationalists and counter protestors. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The “Unite the Right” rally that turned violent in Charlottesville on Saturday marks the third time white nationalist groups gathered there this year.

The protests began after the Charlottesville City Council voted in May to sell the Lee statue. A judge issued a temporary injunction that blocked the city, a progressive college town where over 80% of residents voted for Hillary Clinton, from moving the statue for six months, The Daily Progress reported. 

The city also voted to rename Lee and Jackson parks this spring. Statues of Confederate leaders nationwide have been removed in recent years as communities viewed them as symbols of slavery, but a USA TODAY analysis in May found that more than 700 Confederate monuments in 31 states still stand.

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Several dozen torch-wielding demonstrators, led by prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer, gathered by the Lee statue on May 13 to protest the vote for its removal. Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said the event harkened “back to the days of the KKK.” 

Virginia State Police distributed a photo of Saturday's rally that appeared to show Unite the Right members arrested at what police called an "unlawful assembly."

In a video posted by Spencer Saturday after the rally and before the incident, the white nationalist leader expressed anger at the police response to the gathering-- and pledged to return to the city of 46,000.

"We are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe," Spencer said. "We are going to come back here often. Your head's going to spin how many times we're going to be back down."

In July, Ku Klux Klan members held a rally in Charlottesville in Justice Park, where they were met with more than a thousand upset counter-protesters.

White nationalist groups continue to return to Charlottesville partly because they saw the May torch light gathering as a great success, noted Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“They loved the imagery of that. They were over the moon about that,” she said. “They viewed it as having been a wonderful recruiting tool.

In New Orleans, where four Confederate monuments were removed, protesters threatened work crews so city officials removed three of the four under the cover of darkness. The final statue of Lee came down in May with no major incidents.

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