On the first anniversary of the deadly August 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, organizer Jason Kessler unsuccessfully tried to replicate his white supremacist event in Washington, D.C., near the White House.
In contrast to the roughly 700 white supremacists who showed up in Charlottesville the previous year, Kessler mustered around 30 people on Sunday in the face of thousands of counterprotesters, as happened last year in Boston. Kessler’s speakers and supporters were a collection of little-known figures from the fringes of the so-called alt-right movement. Many factions of the right wing were not represented at the rally, and other white supremacist leaders criticized Kessler beforehand, urging people not to attend the D.C. rally.
“If I knew on August 11th, what I know today, I would never have followed this guy into combat,” wrote white supremacist Chris Cantwell, who recently plead guilty to several misdemeanors for pepper-spraying opponents in August 2017 in Charlottesville.
Emily P. (last name withheld at her request), a D.C.-based political organizer and former lead organizer of the 2017 Women’s March, manned a table in Lafayette Park in front of the White House the day before the rally while providing food, water, and information to counterprotesters as they poured into the city.
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“We started Occupy Lafayette Park as a 72-hour demonstration to fight back against this fascist regime under Trump and Pence,” Emily said, “as well as to provide capacity for the counterdemonstrators fighting back against white supremacists.”
On Sunday morning, Occupy Lafayette had been pushed out of Lafayette Park as police barriers were erected. But tents in a nearby park were erected with first aid and water stations. Protest groups organized, began speaking through bullhorns, and thousands of opponents to white supremacy filtered into the area.
Kessler and his small band of followers around 2 p.m. appeared at the Vienna, Virginia, Metro stop, where hundreds of police officers secured the area and held back media and counterprotesters as the white supremacists fumbled to use the Metro fare card machines. They boarded an exclusive car on a train marked “Special.” Media and a small number of ordinary passengers were allowed to board other cars on the train, which took them to the Foggy Bottom Metro station in D.C.
Metro officials and D.C. council members had said there would be no special travel arrangements for the neo-Nazis and white supremacists rallying in the nation’s capital. Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689, a labor union representing Metro workers, accused Metro of lying about making plans for neo-Nazis commuting from the D.C. suburbs into the city. “The special accommodation for a hate rally in Washington D.C. was dishonest, unprecedented, and not a reflection of the principles of ATU Local 689 or
#DCValues,” the union tweeted.
ATU Local 689 has called for the removal of Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.
The white supremacists were led out of the station and followed by police cars and flanked by dozens of officers on bicycles and motorcycles on a parade to Lafayette Park. Hundreds of counterprotesters followed. One man was arrested when he tried to run through the motorcycles towards the white supremacists while holding a cardboard box.
Once inside the park, barricades were closed behind the white supremacists. Thousands of opponents surrounded the barricades, shouting at them. It was not possible to hear the white supremacists’ speeches over the roar of the crowd.
At the entrance used by the white supremacists at the intersection of 17th Street and G Street, a “black bloc” of hundreds of masked and black-clad counterprotesters reacted to the police presence, marching a few blocks toward the National Mall before stopping and throwing smoke bombs. Police did not retaliate other than ordering everyone present to leave the sidewalk and remain in the street. The crowd was pushed by police back toward the intersection of 17th and G Streets.
Later in the afternoon, as a thunder storm rolled in and rain began to fall, a small group of masked counterprotesters wearing red—including a leader recognized by this reporter as a veteran of the fighting last year in Charlottesville—slipped away from the main group and traveled three blocks to retrieve a half dozen grocery store carts covered in cardboard and filled with supplies including sticks and juice boxes. After waiting for a signal, they wheeled the metal carts back to the intersection of 17th Street and G Street.
In an effort to disrupt the white supremacists while leaving, the carts were tied together and stretched across the gate into the park. Uniformed Secret Service officers charged through the carts, knocking them down. A brief melee followed, in which the officers retreated into the park. Soon after, an unknown person began shooting off fireworks above the heads of the officers.
As the code word “Scatterbrain!” was announced, another attempt was made to link the grocery carts as thunder rumbled overhead. The rain increased. But word began to spread among the crowd that the white supremacists had packed up early and left through another route.
Jubilant, the counterprotesters dispersed, leaving one carton of eggs, several overturned grocery carts, and no visible injuries or property damage in their wake.