WASHINGTON — Both Charlottesville, Va., and D.C. are bracing for potential violence in the vein of last August’s “Unite the Right” rally, at which one person was killed and 19 were injured after a white nationalist plowed his car into counterprotesters assembled after their Charlottesville rally.
The organizer of “Unite the Right 2,” Jason Kessler, was denied a permit earlier this year to hold an anniversary rally in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park. “The proposed demonstration or special event will present a danger to public safety, and cannot be accommodated within the area applied for, or within a reasonable allocation of City funds and/or police resources,” City Manager Maurice Jones wrote in the denial.
Charlottesville also denied permits for four related planned events near the park on Aug. 12. Kessler filed a lawsuit over the denials but dropped the court challenge in late July, saying he wanted to focus on a rally outside of the White House approved by the National Park Service. The NPS said today that it approved Kessler’s final permit this morning along with permits for at least two counterprotest coalitions who likewise applied to use Lafayette Square.
Washington officials say they have a “robust security plan” to keep the D.C. rally and counterprotests from devolving into violence. “We have people coming to our city for the sole purpose of spewing hate,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a briefing today.
Officials, who are expecting “anywhere from one to 400” participants in “Unite the Right,” admitted that the white supremacists could spontaneously change their march route from the Foggy Bottom Metro station — at George Washington University, which is locking down its campus that day — to the White House. A network of street closures are planned in D.C. in anticipation of the white nationalists marching down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Some of the widely varied counterprotest groups are launching their efforts with interfaith events and speakers at Freedom Plaza, which is along Pennsylvania Avenue on the other side of the White House from the white nationalists’ planned march route. The Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church will also hold a worship service followed by a rally on the National Mall on Sunday.
D.C. police are also expecting a potential sequel to last year’s spontaneous tiki-torch march on the University of Virginia campus, where neo-Nazis marched chanting slogans such as “Jews will not replace us.” Officers will be watching for any pop-up demonstrations on Saturday evening.
“Unite the Right” organizers have been telling their side to meet at the Vienna Metro station Sunday afternoon to ride into D.C. The Metro system considered using dedicated train cars to shuttle the white supremacists to the Foggy Bottom station, a plan shelved after protest from the Amalgamated Transit Union. Union president Jackie Jetere said in a statement that while the transit workers are “proud to provide transit to everyone for the many events we have in D.C.,” citing the March for Life and the Women’s March, “we draw the line at giving special accommodation to hate groups and hate speech.”
“Especially considering that the courts granted Metro the ability to deny ads on buses and trains that are ‘issue-oriented,’ we find it hypocritical for [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s CEO] Paul Wiedefeld to make these unprecedented special accommodations for a hate group,” Jetere said. The union noted to Fortune that 80 percent of their members are people of color, “the very people that the Ku Klux Klan and other white-nationalist groups have killed, harassed and violated.”
Airbnb indicated that it will remove users known to have posted listings to house “Unite the Right” participants.
“We seek to take appropriate action, which may include removing them from the platform,” says Airbnb spokesperson Nick Papas told Washingtonian. “We acted in advance of last year’s horrific event in Charlottesville and if we become aware of similar information we won’t hesitate to do so again.”
While some on the “Unite the Right” side openly carried firearms during the Charlottesville protest, guns will not be allowed in D.C. Even gun permit holders will not be able to carry firearms in any of the designated protest areas.
Fearful of a non-permit protest popping up, Charlottesville is preparing by declaring a state of emergency, establishing checkpoints around downtown, banning a wide array of items ranging from bricks to drones, and utilizing more than 1,000 law enforcement officers including about 700 members of the Virginia State Police.
“We are treating this as a statewide event,” Jeffrey Stern, coordinator of emergency management for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said Wednesday. “We will be in support both of the city and [Albemarle] County here, as well as Fairfax County and other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and our partners across the Potomac in Washington, D.C., for the events on Saturday and Sunday.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said declaring a state of emergency “in advance of the anniversary and the related planned events will help us ensure that the state and the city have all available resources to support emergency responders in case they’re needed.”