CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WSET) -- About 50 members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, some of them armed with guns, gathered to protest against the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville.
The group, mostly cloaked in KKK garbs and carrying confederate flags, gathered just before 4 p.m. at Justice Park in Charlottesville. KKK members were there protesting the city's decision to remove the Gen. Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park.
More than 1,000 residents also showed up for their own rally: to counter-protest the KKK. Some of those counter-protesters were arrested for trying to stop the KKK from gathering.
The city reports that a total of 23 people were arrested as of 6:15 p.m. They say protesters outnumbered the KKK by at least 20-to-1.
The city says three individuals were transferred to the hospital. Two for heat related issues and one for an alcohol related issue.
Due to the size of the assembled crowd, the city says Charlottesville Police and Virginia State Police resources were deployed to secure access to the park and ensure the safety of all involved. The KKK was escorted into Justice Park at approximately 3:45.
The KKK began leaving the park around 4:25 p.m.
A large number of people followed the KKK to where their vehicles were parked and impeded their departure, the city says.
The crowd was asked to move back to allow the exit. The city says the protesters refused to move, and at 4:40 p.m., an unlawful assembly was declared.
Officers began moving back the crowd to allow the group to leave the parking area and the City of Charlottesville.
At one point, police ordered the crowd to disperse. The crowd did not disperse and the State Police released three canisters of tear gas. The city says the crowd immediately dispersed.
Police returned to the park and the area cleared.
The statue became an issue in this year's gubernatorial election after Republican Corey Stewart used it as a rallying point. He decried calls for removal of the statue as misguided political correctness.
City leaders say they had more than 100 officers staffed in and around the park for the protest to ensure everyone's safety.
The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is headquartered in Pelham, N.C.
The Virginia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans released a statement following the rally saying:
The Virginia Division Executive Council, meeting on July 8th, 2017 in Bristol, Virginia, reaffirms the following statement relating to Charlottesville Virginia activities occurring on this date:
The Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans neither embraces nor espouses acts or ideologies of racial or religious bigotry and further strongly condemns the misuse of our sacred flags, symbols, or monuments in the conduct of the same.