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White nationalist rally sputters in D.C. on anniversary of bloody Charlottesville protest

Free Press wire reports | 8/16/2018, 6 a.m.
A white nationalist rally in the heart of Washington drew two dozen demonstrators and thousands of chanting counterprotesters last Sunday, ...
Hundreds of students and activists march down Rugby Road in Charlottesville on Saturday, marking the year anniversary of the bloody violence that broke out during last year’s rally by white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. Photo by Sandra Sellars Richmond Free Press

WASHINGTON

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

A University of Virginia student expresses her disgust at State Police who blocked off part of the campus Saturday where white supremacists carrying torches attacked members and supporters of Black Lives Matter last August.

Richmond Free Press

A University of Virginia student expresses her disgust at State Police who blocked off part of the campus Saturday where white supremacists carrying torches attacked members and supporters of Black Lives Matter last August.

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 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. The man, James A. Fields Jr. of Ohio, was indicted in late June on federal hate crime charges. He was charged last year in a Charlottesville court with first degree murder in Ms. Heyer’s death. Dozens of other people were injured in the attack.

Flowers adorn the curbside memorial Saturday in Charlottesville’s downtown where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured on Aug. 12, 2017, by a white nationalist who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

Richmond Free Press

Flowers adorn the curbside memorial Saturday in Charlottesville’s downtown where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured on Aug. 12, 2017, by a white nationalist who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

“Unite the Right 2” organizers had been denied a permit to hold a rally in Charlottesville on the anniversary, but secured one for Washington. Organizers planned for up to 400 protesters.

At the head of the white nationalist group is University of Virginia graduate Jason Kessler, who helped organize last year’s event in Charlottesville. On Sunday, 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.

Dan Haught, a 54-year-old computer programmer from Washington, held a sign saying, “Back under your rocks you Nazi clowns.”

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

Police said at 6 p.m. Sunday that no arrests had been made in connection with the rally. 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 statues of Confederate generals from two public parks, convulsed the nation and sparked condemnation across the political spectrum. It also was one of the lowest moments of President Trump’s first year in office.

Following the deadly rally, President 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, President Trump condemned “all types of racism” in a Twitter post marking the anniversary.

Mr. 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.

He said 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,” Mr. Kessler told Reuters. “It was a precedent that had to be set. It was more important than anything.”

The counterprotest that 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.