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White-supremacist protesters from the group Aryan Nations marched on Congress Saturday. Fortunately, they were only part of the news. There were four different types of people you could meet at the protest:
Aryan Nations Supporters: Well, not so much meet as watch from 30 feet behind police fences. From their starting point at Lincoln Park to their march to the Reflecting Pool, the 14 Aryan Nations protesters were surrounded by a thick layer of police with bikes, cars, and horses.
The march was ostensibly about atrocities committed against white South Africans. “We’re not talking about racism,” insisted one speaker at Lincoln Park.
But that was tough to believe when he used it as a pivot to talk about which races are more prone to commit crimes, and it became even less credible when he chanted that the K.K.K. “is here to stay.”
It was hard to hear much of what he or any protester was saying, though, because of the…
Counter-Protesters: The easiest way to square a massive public commitment to the exercise of such hideous views is to treat it like a tribute to the First Amendment. But that wasn’t good enough for the 30 or so counter-protesters who stopped the march every few blocks, only dispersing minutes before they were arrested.
The most dedicated counter-protesters pushed their bodies against the police horses—-take this guy—-or forced the march to go around them, like D.C. resident Kayeen Thomas.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to stop these people from being here,” Thomas told me, shortly after getting into a shoving match with police.
Police: For a second, it looked like MPD was losing control. Officers on horseback were pushing back counter-protesters in front, but counter-protesters had come in behind them, too. One counter-protester remarked how easy it would be to reach the Aryan Nations members.
But then Capitol Police officers in riot gear showed up. With Capitol Police lining the road, it was much harder to get close to the Aryan Nations protesters. “Thanks, guys, we’ve got them behaving now,” yelled one MPD officer.
Spectators: To show how much more sedate the District’s reaction to racist marches is these days, compare Saturday’s protest with a 1982 K.K.K. march. At that rally, counter-protesters broke windows and looted businesses. This time, people brought their babies and dogs.
While dislike for the Aryan Nations was universal, differences between spectators and counter-protesters soon became clear. Early in the march, one counter-protester accused of a man on the sidewalk of being a Nazi…because he had an American flag on his shirt.
Photo by Will Sommer