In 2017, an assortment of alt-right and far-right affiliated groups gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of Confederate monuments and names from a city square. It ended in the death of a Charlottesville woman.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A couple dozen far-right activists holding a “Unite the Right 2” rally Sunday were heavily outnumbered by law enforcement officers and counterprotesters, who shouted emphatically and urged the group to go home.
Unite the Right 2 organizer Jason Kessler said he expected 100 to 400 white nationalists to attend. A much smaller group arrived at a subway station near the White House and was escorted by police to the rally site at nearby Lafayette Square.
Prior to their arrival, thousands of counterprotesters were out in force all day to mark the one-year anniversary of a white nationalist rally a year ago in Charlottesville, Virginia. That event, the first Unite the Right rally, sparked chaos, violence and resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, 32.
Some of the counterprotesters went to Lafayette Square as well, but police kept the two groups apart.
White nationalists wearing American flags around their faces and capes arrived in the city to expletives and livid demonstrators. Police escorted them in a tight square, blocked by bicycles and motorcycles.
As the white nationalists proceeded to Lafayette Square, counterprotesters tried pushing into the group and at least one hurled what appeared to be stones at police and the rally-goers. It’s unclear whether anyone was injured.
One counterprotester reached over the caution tape and grabbed one of the nationalists, ripping his American flag.
“Punch a Nazi in the face!” a large group of antifa protesters screamed. The group joined forces with Black Lives Matter protesters and walked back and forth around the heavily guarded White House perimeter.
At one point, a counterprotester ignited what appeared to be a smoke flare, leading to Secret Service pulling out batons to break up the crowd.
Tensions escalated further as a rain spell came through about 5 p.m. Counterprotesters threw water and a chemical substance on a man and woman wearing “Trump 2020” T-shirts as they walked away from Lafayette Square.
Some counterprotesters who had their faces covered and wore all black pushed the couple, pulled their hair and screamed, “how you like my city now?”
The couple were protected by a group of peace officers who held one another’s hand to keep a barrier until they got to police. It was unclear whether the couple were with the white nationalists.
Meanwhile, Kessler kicked off Unite the Right 2 speeches, discussing what he sees as the injustice of last year’s events in Charlottesville.
“That’s why I wanted to speak to President Trump at the White House,” he said. “It was criminal conduct by the Charlottesville government.”
Those watching the speeches carried American flags and White Lives Matter signs. Speakers addressed alleged civil rights abuses, including “interracial rape of white women” and attacks on white people in South Africa. Others spoke more generally about free speech and being American, arguing any white person who loves their country counts as a white nationalist.
Charles Edward Lincoln, the second speaker, slammed the “power elite” that is “trying to destroy everything that’s good about the United States of America.”
But his words were nearly drowned out by the continuing cries of counterprotesters.
Earlier, a few blocks away at Freedom Plaza, rap and reggaeton blared from large speakers where hundreds of counterprotesters carried anti-fascist flags and signs. One group chanted, “No KKK, no fascist USA.” That atmosphere was buoyant, and seemingly every phrase from the energized speakers earned a cheer from the crowd, accompanied by clapping and drums.
“When I first heard that these folks were coming to D.C., I had to say, ‘Hell no, not in my town,’ ” the Rev. Graylan Hagler told the crowd.
The speakers addressed nearly every form of modern oppression – from racism and anti-Semitism to injustices against LGBTQ, disabled and indigenous people. The speeches were often emotional, and the crowd frequently erupted into chants such as “Chop, chop, chop, chop, this racism crap has got to stop.”
John Walsh, 43, said he traveled from Boston to help ensure that counterprotesters overwhelmingly outnumbered white supremacists.
“I’m here to drown out hate and amplify this message,” he said. “As a white, middle-age man, I think I have a voice and feel a duty to use it to counter this insanity.”
Bob Baker was one of the few counterprotesters whose only protest symbol was an American flag. He said he was unwilling to relinquish it to white nationalists who frequently wave it.
“I am a patriot,” he said. “I deeply love my country, I’m deeply disturbed by what I’m seeing these days.”
Walt McGuire and his 9-year-old daughter, Summit, proudly held up their anti-Nazi and Black Lives Matter signs.
“It’s our first protest ever,” he said. “I thought it’d be important for her to see what it looks like to speak out.”
Kessler had abandoned his efforts for a rally in Charlottesville, and the city stayed calm Sunday with peaceful vigils and a memorial service for Heyer.
President Donald Trump weighed in Saturday, tweeting that the mayhem a year ago “resulted in senseless death and division.” He wrote that the nation must come together, and he condemned “all types of racism and acts of violence.”
That drew criticism from the NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill, who tweeted back: “ ‘All types.’ ‘Both sides.’ Continuing to advance a narrative of moral equivalency between racists and those opposed to racism, so as not to tick off his white supremacist supporters.”
Contributing: Susan Miller and Emily Brown
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