SHARE
Advertisement

By Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters)

A white nationalist rally in the heart of Washington drew two dozen demonstrators and thousands of chanting counterprotesters on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia

A large police presence kept the two sides separated in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House. After two hours and a few speeches, the “Unite the Right 2” rally ended early when it began to rain and two police vans took the demonstrators back to Virginia.

Sunday’s events, while tense at times, were a far cry from the street brawls that broke out in downtown Charlottesville a year ago, when a local woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

 

Opponents of a white nationalist-led rally marking the anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests gather in Washington
Opponents of a white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protests, hold a Black Lives Matter flag in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

 

“Unite the Right 2” had been denied a permit in Charlottesville this year, but did secure one for Washington. Organizers had planned for up to 400 protesters.

At the head of the white nationalist group was Virginia activist Jason Kessler, who helped organise last year’s event in Charlottesville. He emerged with a handful of fellow demonstrators from a subway station holding an American flag and walked toward the White House ringed by police, while counterprotesters taunted the group and called them Nazis.

 

White nationalist leader Jason Kessler rides a subway to leave the area after a rally in Washington
White nationalist leader Jason Kessler arrives to ride a subway to leave the area after a Washington rally. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

 

Dan Haught, a 54-year-old computer programmer from Washington, was attending his first protest at the White House holding a sign that said “Back under your rocks you Nazi clowns.”

“We wanted to send a message to the world that we vastly outnumber them,” Haught said.

 

 

Police said that as of 6 p.m. ET (2200 GMT) they had made no arrests and would not give a crowd estimate. Late in the day, a small group of counterprotesters clashed with police in downtown Washington.

The violence last year in Charlottesville, sparked by white nationalists’ outrage over a plan to remove a Confederate general‘s statue, convulsed the nation and sparked condemnation across the political spectrum. It also was one of the lowest moments of President Donald Trump‘s first year in office.

 

Demonstrators walk near a white nationalist-led rally in Washington
Demonstrators walk near a white nationalist-led rally marking the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ protests in Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

 

At the time, Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, spurring criticism that he was equating the counterprotesters with the rally attendees, who included neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

On Saturday, Trump condemned “all types of racism” in a Twitter post marking the anniversary.

ANTI-FASCISTS AND FAMILIES

Kessler said Sunday’s rally was aimed at advocating for “free speech for everybody,” and he blamed last year’s violence in Charlottesville on other groups and the media.

 

Opponents of a white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, celebrate in downtown Washington
Opponents of a white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protests, celebrate in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

 

He thought Sunday’s rally went well in comparison.

“Everybody got the ability to speak and I think that was a major improvement over Charlottesville,” Kessler told Reuters. “It was a precedent that had to be set. It was more important than anything.”

 

Police officers use pepper spray towards counter-demonstrators during a white nationalist-led rally marking the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ protests in Washington
Police officers use pepper spray towards counter-demonstrators during a white nationalist-led rally marking the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ protests, in Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

 

The counterprotest which began earlier in the day was a smattering of diverse groups – from black-clad anti-fascists, to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement to families who brought children in strollers. Tourists took pictures and both protesters and observers zoomed around on electric scooters.

 

Opponents of a white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, celebrate in downtown Washington
Opponents of a white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protests, celebrate in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

 

Sean Kratouil, a 17-year-old who lives in Maryland, was wearing a vest with “Antifa” on the back and said he was there to help start a movement of peaceful anti-fascists. He said he was concerned that when rallies turn violent, it makes his side look bad. “Public perception is key,” he said.

In the picturesque college town of Charlottesville, hundreds of police officers had maintained a security perimeter around the normally bustling downtown district throughout the day on Saturday. Vehicular traffic was barred from an area of more than 15 city blocks, while pedestrians were allowed access at two checkpoints where officers examined bags for weapons.

 

Police officers control a crowd of counter-demonstrators during a white nationalist-led rally marking the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ protests in Washington
Police officers control a crowd of counter-demonstrators during a white nationalist-led rally marking the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ protests, in Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

 

Hundreds of students and activists took to the streets on Saturday evening. Many of the protesters directed their anger at the heavy police presence, with chants like “cops and Klan go hand in hand,” a year after police were harshly criticized for their failure to prevent the violence.

On Sunday morning, activist Grace Aheron, 27, donned a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and joined hundreds of fellow Charlottesville residents who gathered at Booker T. Washington Park to mark the anniversary of last year’s bloodshed.

 

People protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in downtown Washington, DC, U.S.
People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

 

“We want to claim our streets back, claim our public space back, claim our city back,” Aheron said at the park.

Charlottesville authorities said four people had been arrested on Sunday.

 

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in Charlottesville and David Shepardson and Michelle Price in Washington; Writing by Dan Wallis and Mary Milliken; Editing by Grant McCool, Cynthia Osterman and Susan Thomas)

 

Thompson draws the shape of a heart on the sidewalk outside of Foggy Bottom rail station ahead of a planned demonstration by white nationalists in Washington
Bennett Thompson, 3, of Arlington, Virginia, draws the shape of a heart in chalk on the sidewalk outside of Foggy Bottom rail station ahead of a planned demonstration there by white nationalists in Washington, U.S., August 11, 2018. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

 

People protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in downtown Washington, DC, U.S.
People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one-year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

 

People protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in downtown Washington, DC, U.S.
A person holds an “Antihomophobe Action” flag while holding an “Antifascist International” banner as people gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white nationalist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

 

People protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in downtown Washington, DC, U.S.
Organizers attach a banner to its poles as people gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white nationalist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

 

People protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in downtown Washington, DC, U.S.
People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

 

Opponents of a white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, set a Kekistan flag on fire in downtown Washington
Opponents of a white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protests, set a Kekistan flag on fire in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis