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One year after white nationalists and white supremacists, including members of the neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, organizer Jason Kessler is planning for a follow-up rally in D.C. at Lafayette Square near the White House this weekend. His “Unite the Right Rally” last year resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. This year’s event in D.C. will mark the first anniversary of her death.
The National Park Service approved Kessler’s application on Thursday for the two-day “United the Right Rally 2” event. Kessler, Samaria Ruiz, Mark Harriman, and Al Stankard are listed as the on site coordinators.
In the application, Kessler writes that the purpose of the event is “protesting civil rights abuse in Charlottesville, Va./white civil rights rally,” and that he expects 400 people to attend.
Hundreds of mostly young white males in white polo shirts and khaki pants holding tiki torches marched through the University of Virginia’s campus last year in an event that sparked 24 hours of chaos. They chanted anti-Semitic and white supremacist phrases in unison. Protesters and counter-protesters met the following day as racial hatred and rage turned tragic when a vehicle driven by a 20-year-old who espoused white supremacist beliefs rammed through the crowd, killing the 32-year-old Heyer.
Kessler initially wanted to hold the rally again in Charlottesville, but the city denied his request.
According to the Unite the Right rally’s website, a parade will begin Sunday at Foggy Bottom Metro Station at 5 p.m. and marchers will head toward Lafayette Square, where they will likely be met by a heavy police presence and groups of counter-protesters. And from 5:30 until 7:30 Kessler’s group will host a demonstration near the White House.
Though the confirmed list of speakers for the rally hasn’t been publicly announced, emails released by the NPS through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a number of noted white supremacists, including the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke, will be speaking. The other confirmed speakers are Kessler, Holocaust denier and neo-NaziPatrick Little, Simon Roche, Kevin Cormier, Avi Horton, Corey Mahler, and Tom Kawczynski.
“This puts MPD in a very precarious position,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said in a press conference on July 30. “I have to say people come to Washington D.C. expressing all types of First Amendment rights. Sometimes when they’re expressing their views, they can be contrary to some of our personal views. But that’s not our role as a police department. Our role is to make sure that we have a First Amendment event that goes on without any types of violence or destruction of property. And so we intend to have the entire police department engaged to make sure that we handle this.”
Emails released by the NPS show that Kessler expressed safety and security concerns for his rally from the time he filed his application.
Kessler requested law enforcement officer protection for his demonstrators and, in a July 16 email to NPS officials, indicated that he had met with MPD to discuss safety concerns. “After meeting with MPD it was suggested that it would be easier for law enforcement if my demonstrators gathered at Foggy Bottom for the planned march to Lafayette Square,” Kessler wrote.
In a June 21 email to a WMATA official, Kessler first indicated transportation concerns for those attending his rally, writing to “coordinate transportation issues” out of concern that “violent left-wing extremist groups (Antifa, BLM, etc) will be looking to … vandalize cars … [and] intercept those traveling via metro [sic] for stalking, harassment, intimidation and violence,” he wrote.
D.C. residents are planning peaceful opposition events throughout the weekend. On Friday afternoon, August 10, CongresswomanEleanor Holmes Norton and Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) will hold an interfaith vigil and teach-in “on the effects of extremist groups in American communities and effective ways to push back against the spread of hate,” according to a statement from her office. The event will be from 3 p.m to 6 p.m. at the Washington Hebrew Congregation at 3935 Macomb St. NW.
Following that event, Adas Israel Congregation at 2850 Quebec St. NW will host a 6:30 p.m. service and Shabbat dinner with Rabbis Lauren Holtzblatt and Aaron Alexander. “We have an obligation provide a constructive vessel to hold the complex emotions this weekend will bring,” says Rabbi Alexander. “We’ll soulfully sing together, offer prayers of hope and strength, share inspiring words of compassion and kinship, and demonstrate through this shared space what we believe a powerful religious message for today can be—which is essentially—we’re all in this together.”
A number of counter protests are also scheduled for the weekend. Shut It Down D.C., a collection of nearly 40 groups and organizations that include Black Lives Matter D.C. and various antifa groups, are planning a “rally against hate” from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday at Freedom Plaza.
“We are calling all anti-fascists and people of good conscience to participate in international days of action August 10 through August 12 and a mass mobilization in Washington D.C.,” the counter-protest’s website reads. “This is for Heather Heyer, Corey Long, Deandre Harris, ICE abolition, open borders, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and ending the settler colonial system. We will confront fascism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and state violence on August 10-12.”
April Goggans, a core organizer with Black Lives Matter D.C., says she expects a few hundred counter-protesters at the event. She also worries that white nationalists will venture into majority black neighborhoods in Southeast D.C. and Columbia Heights to sow violence, and hopes that counter-protesters will show Kessler and his supporters that they are not welcome in a city that has been known as “Chocolate City.”
“There’s a large population of folks who say, ‘Just ignore them. Why are you engaging with them?’ But we decided to take a different approach,” Goggans says, “and that is, fascism doesn’t get ignored out. History tells us that ignoring fascism doesn’t make it go away.”
A collaborating group is gathering at the Freedom Plaza under the slogan “Still Here, Still Strong.” One of the organizers, Mark Lance, who is 59 and has lived in D.C. for about 25 years, says: “This will be a celebratory rally highlighting the diversity of this city.” He expects a majority local crowd.
“My father fought in the Pacific in World War II, and I thought that this was his battle,” says Lance. “But yet with the current regime in Washington, it is making a resurgence, and it’s getting at least tacit and sometimes explicit support from our government, and that should terrify every American citizen.”
He says that if you talk to anyone who was alive in Germany in the 1930s, “the only thing that determines who you were is what you did to stop it. I really think that Americans are facing the same question right now.”
Heading into Sunday, Lance says: “What I’m counting on, because I do believe that the D.C. police are more professional than police in most cities, is that they recognize the difference in these sides. No one on our side is calling for violence or mass murder or driving cars in to crowds. I hope that a large police presence will be structured with that in mind.”
Nearby on the Mall, the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church is hosting a rally called “United to Love” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. near the National Museum of the American Indian at 4th Street SW. All faith communities are invited to participate.
Several individuals have applied for permits for counter protests and demonstrations on Sunday: Yasmina Mrabet of the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, Aaron Marks of the Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America, and political activist Gene Stilp.
According to Marks’ permit application, his group plans to meet at Freedom Plaza in the early afternoon, where there will be speeches, followed by a march to Lafayette Square. “We are peacefully demonstrating in protest against the white pride march happening in D.C.,” Marks writes in his application, adding that he expects a thousand participants.
The ANSWER Coalition applied for permits for Lafayette Square, the White House sidewalks, Farragut Square, and McPherson Square. In total, Mrabet expects 1,500 participants, according to her application. The Coalition’s website states that participating organizations include various student groups at the George Washington University and CodePink.
In the box asking for purpose of event, Mrabet writes, “Stand against FASCISM and White Supremacy.”
Stilp, a 60-something self-described “citizen activist” from Pennsylvania who lives in the Leesburg area, plans to burn a homemade flag that has the Nazi symbol on one side, and the Confederate flag on the other.
He has traveled the country and done similar protests, including at NASCAR races.
“The idea is both of these flags represent horrible value systems: hate, racism, bigotry, intimidation and death, and therefore it should be burned in the trash can of history this Sunday evening,” Stilp says. “I think it’s a good counter protest to the white supremacy march.”
The flag-burning, Stilp says, will take place around 6:30 in the evening, and in his application, he writes that he expects about five participants. “It doesn’t take many people to burn this flag,” he says.
If you’re planning an event in D.C. for the weekend of August 11, please email the details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Anthony Crider on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.