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Counterprotests overshadow white supremacist rally in Washington, D.C.

White supremacists gathered in Washington, D.C., on Sunday for a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the deadly “Unite The Right” event in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed. They were outnumbered by a coalition of hundreds of counterprotesters. NewsHour’s P.J. Tobia joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    They called it “Unite The Right Two” but in Washington D.C. today, it was nothing like last year’s violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    A very small group of white supremacists turned up for a protest across from the White House. Counterprotesters far outnumbered them, and police kept the two groups separated. The rally’s organizer, Jason Kessler, used the train ride to complain about what he says is unfair treatment.

  • JASON KESSELER:

    My primary contention here is not just about civil rights abuses in society in general to white people, or to people in general, but the civil rights abuse that happened in Charlottesville.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In Charlottesville, Virginia, this morning, on the one-year anniversary of the deadly white nationalist rally. A group of more than 100 protesters held an anti-racism rally and march.

  • GROUP:

    This is our space!

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    A line of police briefly cordoned off the area where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed last year. Shortly after, Heyer’s mother and a group of people were allowed onto the street and gathered around a memorial for her daughter.

    Newshour’s P.J. Tobia joined us from Washington D.C. at the start of today’s march. P.J. What have you seen so far?

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Hari, this day so far has been marked by unity and protest. Hundreds, maybe thousands, on the street already. More than 30 groups have assembled at different areas around Washington D.C. to protest Jason Kessler’s white civil rights rally that’s going to be starting in a few hours here. Groups as diverse as Black Lives Matter and women’s marchers to more radical fringe left wing groups like Antifa. Behind me is a group of protesters here in Lafayette Park directly across from the White House. They’ve got a P.A. system. They’re protesting and chanting and singing. On my right, is an empty space right now where Jason Kessler and his followers will be arriving soon. They’re building a stage and constructing a P.A. system as we speak.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We’ll talk a little bit about his protesters or his marchers versus the hundreds that you’re seeing behind you.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    As I said, our reports are that there are just a couple of dozen of white nationalists, Kessler’s followers [who] will be making their way here. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of people behind me and thousands throughout the rest of Washington D.C. and it’s not just local people. I was in Charlottesville yesterday. So many people I spoke to there, said they would not miss the chance to come here and protest Jason Kessler in person. I’ve spoken to folks from New Jersey, from New York, from North Carolina even. So folks have come from not just this area but all over the region for this protest.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    P.J., you’ve done a lot of reporting on different extremist groups and white supremacist groups around the country. What’s changed in the past year?

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    So much has changed. This time last year these groups really put the white supremacist message forward. Every time they marched, there were swastikas and other kinds of what we think of as the traditional signifiers of white supremacy in America. But now, they’ve calibrated their message a little. Like today with Jason Kessler’s rally — he’s calling it a white civil rights rally saying we don’t think we’re better than everyone, we just want to be treated the same way. So we’ve also seen this throughout the summer in Portland with the Patriot prayer group. Their rallies are anti immigrant, pro First Amendment, free speech rallies they traditionally call them. They say we’re not about hate were just about asserting rights that the Constitution guarantees all people, even white people.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    P.J., the people that you spoke to in Charlottesville and the ones that you might have talked to today, do they feel like the issues that Charlottesville surfaced last year have been resolved?

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Well, yes and no. They feel that there’s been a change. that a lot of these issues that you mentioned around inequality and access to public resources and policing are now brought to the surface. But they’re very, very far from being resolved. As as one African-American business owner told me yesterday, the problems aren’t solved but now we know where everybody stands. So a process. It’s really a process of beginning to address these issues came out of the tragic events of the “Unite The Right” rally this time last year.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. NewsHour’s P.J. Tobia joining us from WashingtonD.C. this afternoon. Thanks so much.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Thanks.

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