Opponents are mobilizing in Washington, D.C. to confront hundreds of white supremacists after an organizer of last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was granted permission to stage another demonstration outside the White House on the one-year anniversary Sunday.
This follows a wave of white nationalist events across the country so far this month, including one in Portland and one in Berkeley. Portland Police is conducting an internal investigation into its use of force on Aug. 4, which included flash bangs, after a June 30 rally there turned into a riot, sending at least four to area hospitals by ambulance.
The National Park Service approved an application for what was described as a “white civil rights” rally on Aug. 12, at D.C.’s Lafayette Park. Jason Kessler, organizer of last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, submitted the application and wrote that he expects 400 supporters of the alt-right agenda.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old counterprotestor, was killed last year when a self-identified Nazi drove a car through a crowd of demonstrators. Two police officers were also killed in a separate incident.
Kessler has been promoting this year’s event on various social media platforms and blames the city of Charlottesville for violence during last year’s rally, when armed neo-Nazis descended on the normally tranquil southern town.
Kessler, who is from Charlottesville, submitted an additional request for a permitted rally in his hometown at a monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, but was denied.
Kessler tweeted in July that “as Trump said, ‘There were MANY FINE PEOPLE’ at the first event & I stand by that.”
Response from D.C. officials
Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham have called press conferences, in July and August, addressing community concerns.
“This puts M.P.D. in a very precarious position,” Newsham said, adding that officers will be “on high alert for anyone carrying a firearm.” Newsham repeatedly referred to Kessler’s group as “white supremacists.”
“We 100 percent are going to make sure the groups remain separate,” Newsham added, noting that Secret Service are working closely with local police.
Initially, Washington Metro went as far as considering separate trains for Unite the Right attendees. That plan was abandoned after ATU Local 689, a union representing paratransit and maintenance workers, publicized the plans.
“We draw a line at giving special accommodations to hate groups and hate speech,” Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said in a statement.
On Friday, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton hosts a “teach-in” on the effects of extremist groups in America, followed by an interfaith vigil to “promote community engagement and feature experts and leaders who have spent their lives effectively responding to hate and bigoted speech.”
Shut it down D.C. coalition
The Shut it Down D.C. Coalition, comprised of 38 organizations and community groups, meets regularly to plan counter attacks to the white nationalists.
“Kessler doesn’t have the entire park,” said Makia Green, a core member of Black Lives Matter D.C. organizing the local response. “We want to be in the streets before they get there.”
Mark Lance, a professor of justice and peace at Georgetown University, and a member of Shut it Down D.C., has been an activist for 35 years.
“We have a lot of folks in organizing here who were present for the murder of the young woman last year,” Lance said. His group is trained to help with physical injuries or psychological trauma that may come out of the rally and staffed with social workers and nurses. Other volunteers will help move crowds along to avoid unnecessary arrests.
“The group is by and large a lot younger than me and very diverse in many ways, not just demographics but also political orientations and approach to protest,” Lance said.
Shut it Down will host a rally that it’s calling “Still Here, Still Strong” at Freedom Park to march toward Lafayette Square at 3:30 p.m. that day and Black Lives Matter will host a separate meet-up at 2 p.m. called “Rise Up, Fight Back.”
“To be honest, I never expected to be mobilizing against Nazi’s,” Lance said.
Lance says he’s feeling good about the D.C. counter protests and skeptical that the Unite the Right rally will reach 400 members, as estimated by the group.
“I think 400 is optimistic but we’ll see,” he said told NewsHour, after reading Kessler’s permit application. “We’ll certainly be in the thousands.”