Update: Rally organizers have renamed the event.
Several Republican candidates are scheduled to attend a political event later this month called “Unite the Right” — the same name used at the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The event is hosted by Kim Klacik, a WBAL Radio talk show host and former candidate for Congress who is founder and president of Red Renaissance, a political action committee. It also will feature James McCoy Taylor, a musician and former contestant on “The Bachelor” dating television show, who is a supporter of former President Donald Trump and a celebrity in conservative circles.
An online invitation to the event shows several Republican candidates are scheduled to attend, including gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox and his running mate, Gordana Schifanelli. Congressional candidates and local candidates in Anne Arundel County are also listed on the invitation to the event, which is scheduled for Oct. 22 at a restaurant in Arnold.
After The Baltimore Banner published an article about the event Monday afternoon, the Cox campaign said that Cox and Schifanelli did not know the event was called “Unite the Right.” They no longer plan to attend.
“It has just come to our attention that an event entitled ‘Unite the Right’ rally has been publicized without the campaign’s knowledge of the title,” read a statement emailed to The Baltimore Banner from campaign manager Zach Werrell. “Upon discovery, Delegate Dan Cox and the Dan Cox For Governor campaign have immediately disassociated themselves from any further involvement.”
The statement said that Cox and Schifanelli are denouncing the event. “We will not be associated with anything that is reminiscent, accidental or otherwise, of the unspeakable tragedy that took place in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. Anything less is unacceptable. Dan Cox and his campaign remains committed to the empowerment, safety and freedom of all Marylanders,” the statement read.
Two co-hosts of the event said they were not aware that “Unite the Right” was associated with the deadly rally in Charlottesville. After this article was first published, one co-host said plans are under way to change the name.
“We were just thinking of something that would bring people together. It looks like it created the opposite reaction,” said Dawn Pulliam, a co-host who ran unsuccessfully for the Anne Arundel County Council this year.
Pulliam said in planning the event, organizers debated whether to call it “Unite the Right” or “Maryland United.” She said there was “no ill intent” in picking “Unite the Right” as the name. No one mentioned the Charlottesville rally, she said.
“I think we need to discuss it and change it right away,” Pulliam said.
LaToya Nkongolo, the other co-host of “Unite the Right,” said the event is intended to be a meet-and-greet for candidates to talk with voters and answer their questions. Nkongolo, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the House of Delegates this year, said she hoped it would foster party unity.
Nkongolo said Klacik invited her to co-host the event.
“I felt I could use this opportunity to bring the party together, just to create that unity that we need to support Republican candidates getting across the finish line in November,” she said.
Nkongolo said she did not know that the term “Unite the Right” is associated with the events in Charlottesville.
“I’ll be honest, I had no idea,” Nkongolo said. “All I know is when you say ‘Charlottesville’ my antennae go up.”
Asked if the Maryland event would be related to the ideas promoted in Charlottesville, Nkongolo said: “Not at all.”
Klacik indicated in a Twitter post Monday evening that the event would go forward as planned.
“The ‘Unite the Right’ rally on Oct 22nd is happening!” Klacik posted on Twitter. “Simply laughable ‘journalists’ are trying to make a big deal about the name. I’m bringing the GOP in MD together. As a BLACK woman, it’s a shame white liberals are trying to suppress my voice.”
Klacik did not respond to a direct message from The Baltimore Banner, and her Red Renaissance organization did not respond to voicemail and email messages.
Klacik has been promoting the event on her social media channels in recent days.
In a video posted on Twitter last week, Klacik said Republicans need to join together ahead of the general election.
“I know I complain a lot about Republicans being somewhat fractured ... Instead of just complaining, we are hosting a Unite the Right rally,” Klacik said in the video, which has been viewed more than 17,000 times.
The fact that political hopefuls are attending an event that shares a name with the deadly white supremacist rally is alarming to Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
The Charlottesville rally attracted participants who engaged in racist, antisemitic and anti-Islamic behavior, including a tiki-torch-lit night rally where participants chanted “Jews will not replace us.” One woman was killed and dozens more were injured when a man drove through a crowd of counter-protesters nearby, and two Virginia State Police troopers were killed when their helicopter crashed while flying to the event. The driver of the car, James Alex Fields, pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges and was sentenced to life in prison.
“The phrase ‘Unite the Right’ has become associated with the terrible events of Charlottesville and it seems to serve as a dog whistle for antisemitic white nationalists,” Libit said. “I can’t speak to the intentions of the people organizing this rally, but when I hear a rally named like that, that’s what I think of — and I’m sure many others in the Jewish community and the broader community think of it, too.”
Libit said a Maryland event called “Unite the Right” brings to mind the horrors of the Charlottesville event and “causes all of us to relive that trauma.”
Klacik gained national political prominence in 2019, when then-President Donald Trump spotted her social media videos of trash and vacant homes in Baltimore and launched a Tweet tirade against the city.
In 2020, Klacik ran for a Congressional seat representing Baltimore, losing both a special election and the regular election that year, despite raising millions of dollars.
Klacik remains active in Republican circles and hosts a four-hour midday talk show on WBAL Radio.
WBAL’s general manager did not immediately respond to an email.
Even though Cox withdrew from the “Unite the Right” event, that did not spare him from criticism from the Maryland Democratic Party.
Democrats said that Klacik is one of Cox’s “top contributors,” noting that Klacik sent $5,000 from her Congressional campaign account to Cox’s gubernatorial campaign, according to state and federal campaign finance records.
“It’s shameful for a Marylander, or any human with an ounce of morality, to attend an event like this. It reeks of desperation, racism, and hatred,” Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Stoneburg said in a statement. “Dan Cox needs to immediately return any money donated to his campaign by the groups or individuals leading this event.”
Cox faces Democratic candidate Wes Moore and three third-party candidates in this fall’s general election for governor.
Polling shows Cox significantly trails Moore. A Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR Radio in early September showed Moore with a 53%-31% lead over Cox, while a more recent poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland had Moore with a 60%-28% lead over Cox.
This article has been updated.