Washington white nationalist rally sputters in sea of counterprotesters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A white nationalist rally within the coronary heart of Washington drew round 20 demonstrators and a whole bunch of chanting counterprotesters on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A big police presence stored the 2 sides separated in Lafayette Square, in entrance of the White House. After roughly two hours and some speeches, the “Unite the Right 2” rally ended early when it started to rain and two police vans escorted the demonstrators again to Virginia.

Sunday’s occasions, whereas tense at occasions, have been a far cry from the road brawls that broke out in downtown Charlottesville a yr in the past, when a neighborhood girl was killed by a person who drove his automotive right into a crowd of counterprotesters.

“Unite the Right 2” had been denied a allow in Charlottesville this yr, however did safe one for Washington. Organizers deliberate for as much as 400 protesters.

At the top of the white nationalist group was Virginia activist Jason Kessler, who helped arrange final yr’s occasion in Charlottesville. He emerged with a handful of fellow demonstrators from a subway station holding an American flag and walked towards the White House ringed by police, whereas counterprotesters taunted them and referred to as them Nazis.

Dan Haught, a 54-year-old pc programmer from Washington, was attending his first protest on the White House holding an indication that mentioned “Back under your rocks you Nazi clowns.”

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

The violence final yr in Charlottesville convulsed the nation and sparked condemnation throughout the political spectrum. It additionally was one of many lowest moments of President Donald Trump’s first yr within the presidency.

At the time, Trump mentioned there have been “very fine people” on each side, spurring criticism from throughout the political divide that he was equating the counterprotesters with the rally attendees, who included neo-Nazis and different white supremacists.

Jason Kessler arrives at Vienna Metro Station, for the white nationalist-led rally, marking the one yr anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protests, in Vienna, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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

Kessler mentioned the rally was geared toward advocating for “free speech for everybody,” and he blamed final yr’s violence in Charlottesville on different teams and the media.

He thought Sunday’s rally went effectively as compared.

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

In Washington on Sunday, counterprotesters organized a day program of music, speeches and poetry readings at Freedom Plaza, east of the White House.

Sean Kratouil, a 17-year-old who lives in Maryland, was carrying a vest with “Antifa” on the again and mentioned he was there to assist begin a motion of peaceable anti-fascists. He mentioned he was involved that when rallies flip violent, it makes his facet look unhealthy. “Public perception is key,” he mentioned.

In the picturesque school city of Charlottesville, a whole bunch of cops had maintained a safety perimeter across the usually bustling downtown district all through the day on Saturday. Vehicular visitors was barred from an space of greater than 15 metropolis blocks, whereas pedestrians have been allowed entry at two checkpoints the place officers examined baggage for weapons.

Hundreds of scholars and activists took to the streets on Saturday night. Many of the protesters directed their anger on the heavy police presence, with chants like “cops and Klan go hand in hand,” a yr after police have been harshly criticized for his or her failure to stop the violence.

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

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

Slideshow (14 Images)

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

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