Home Public Safety Beyond Belief: McAuliffe’s Failure to Lead in Charlottesville

Beyond Belief: McAuliffe’s Failure to Lead in Charlottesville


by Dan Sullivan

Despite the McAuliffe administration’s haphazard leadership leading up to the “Unite the Right” weekend, his story in Beyond Charlottesville details one specified task. Somehow the president of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan, had “intelligence” the state Fusion Center in “hyperdrive” didn’t: that there would be a demonstration on the grounds of the University the night before the rally. Sullivan asked Larry Sabato to be “on hand, just in case.”

McAuliffe describes a meeting at the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond the day before the scheduled rally attended by the right people doing the wrong things. Jeff Stern, the State Coordinator of Emergency Management briefed outreach; essentially post-disaster preparations. They were planning for failure.

“It was all hands on deck,” as Brian Moran put it.

It was at this meeting on the eve of the rally that McAuliffe says he activated the National Guard. It had taken six months to come to this decision. Valuable planning, preparation, and training time had been squandered. Characterized as “on standby,” that best describes the posture of every asset in Charlottesville from that moment until the vehicular attack. Local, state, and National Guard assets stood by.

That was just as well, because they had no clear idea why they were in Charlottesville. State police officers tell of being ordered to Charlottesville without any riot gear or any idea of why they were there other than to stand by. McAuliffe writes that he asked Colonel Flaherty, Virginia State Police, and General Williams, Virginia National Guard:

“Do you have everything you need?”

“Yes, sir, Governor.”

“Go do your job.”

Seriously? That was the commander’s guidance? For what McAuliffe counts as 570 members of the guard, military police and infantry, apparently the job was sitting on their hands somewhere distant from the fray and unnoticeable. Better that than employed without proper training, equipment, and leadership.

“We had everything in place and just hoped there wouldn’t be too many issues with coordination and communication”

There’s that “hope” word again.

There were “well over a hundred” Charlottesville police officers and “several hundred officers” from the Virginia State Police on hand (my emphasis) according to the Charlottesville Police Chief. And none of them were certain why they were there or what they were doing.

On Friday afternoon, Christopher Cantwell, the infamous “crying Nazi,” and a group of followers descended on a WalMart to empty the store of tiki torches. Brian Moran reported this to McAuliffe. There is an odd passage in the book about the shopping spree. It indicates that Cantwell and his peeps were brandishing weapons in the parking lot and that the police were called. They “checked his open-carry permit.” That would be quite an accomplishment in a state without a requirement for or even the existence of such a thing.

The now infamous tiki torch procession was set. Despite the supposed unified command center, it seems that no one mentioned knowledge of the event. In contrast to that Fusion center in hyperdrive performing counter-intelligence work or whatever it had been doing, the University had reached out to the alt-right organizations and had been informed the event was planned. Nevertheless, it was all a surprise to the “unified command center.”

“Larry Sabato was at home that Friday afternoon, as requested by the UVA president, keeping an eye out on the Rotunda.”

Sabato, according to McAuliffe, tells of being in close proximity to the demonstrators and that “I was lucky I wasn’t hurt.” A student RA started gathering (think about this for a moment) Jewish and African American students and ushering them to Sabato’s quarters where he “ordered them down to the basement where they would be safe, with a hidden exit door that could take them away in darkness, if it came to that.”

At some point Brian Moran arrived and texted McAuliffe a picture of the marchers. McAuliffe says he could not believe his eyes. Sabato ran into Moran who was on the phone briefing Colonel Flaherty.

“Let’s go back to my office and have a shot of bourbon,” Larry suggested.

Moran and Sabato were struck by how well organized the neo-Nazis were. Maybe because it so contrasted with the unorganized state and local response. In the midst of this, the court ruling came down that the rally the next day would not be moved to McIntyre Park. It would be at Emancipation Park just off the downtown mall.

Here at this moment, they had had six months during which to analyze and prepare for this. There were some twelve hours remaining to issue orders. The Governor demurred.



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