White nationalist rally sputters in sea of counterprotesters in Washington,DC

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Far-right groups stage a rally near the White House, one year after deadly violence at a similar protest in DCProtestors march against the far-right’s Unite the Right rally August 12, 2018 in Washington, DC on the one-year anniversary of deadly violence at a similar protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Last year’s protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one person dead and dozens injured, saw hundreds of neo-Nazi sympathizers, accompanied by rifle-carrying men, yelling white nationalist slogans and wielding flaming torches in scenes eerily reminiscent of racist rallies held in America’s South before the Civil Rights movement. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel SLIM

A white nationalist rally in the heart of Washington drew around 20 demonstrators and hundreds of chanting counterprotesters on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.

A large police presence kept the two sides separated in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House. After roughly two hours and a few speeches, the “Unite the Right 2” rally ended early when it began to rain and two police vans escorted 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 a local woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

“Unite the Right 2” had been denied a permit in Charlottesville this year, but did secure one for Washington. Organizers planned for up to 400 protesters.

At the head of the white nationalist group was Virginia activist Jason Kessler, who helped organize last year’s event in Charlottesville. 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 them and called them Nazis.

Dan Haught, a 54-year-old computer programmer from Washington, was attending his first protest at the White House holding a sign that said “Back under your rocks you Nazi clowns.”

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

The violence last year in Charlottesville convulsed the nation and sparked condemnation across the political spectrum. It also was one of the lowest moments of President Donald Trump’s first year in the presidency.

At the time, Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, spurring criticism from across the political divide that he was equating the counterprotesters with the rally attendees, who included neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

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

Kessler said the 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 thought Sunday’s rally went well in comparison.

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

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

Historian Kay Wright Lewis adds insight on the protests in DC

In Charlottesville Sunday, the mother of a woman killed when a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally last summer said there’s much healing to do a year after the violence.

Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, laid flowers at a makeshift memorial at the site of the attack in downtown Charlottesville. With a crowd gathered around her, she thanked them for coming to remember her daughter but also acknowledged the dozens of others injured and the two state troopers killed when a helicopter crashed that day.

“There’s so much healing to do,” Bro said. “We have a huge racial problem in our city and in our country. We have got to fix this or we’ll be right back here in no time.”

The city of Charlottesville said four people were arrested. Two arrests stemmed from a confrontation near a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee where a Spotsylvania, Virginia, man stopped to salute the statue and a Charlottesville woman confronted him and a physical altercation took place, officials said.

Earlier this month, Facebook stunned and angered counterprotest organizers when it disabled their Washington event’s page, saying it and others had been created by “bad actors” misusing the social media platform. The company said at the time that the page may be linked to an account created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency — a so-called troll farm that has sown discord in the U.S. — but counterprotesters said it was an authentic event they worked hard to organize.

Story by Reuters and The Associated Press with additional information from CGTN.