White Nationalist Rally Dwarfed by Counterprotest in D.C.

White Nationalist Rally Dwarfed by Counterprotest in D.C.
A white nationalist holds his phone while marching to Lafayette Square during the "Unite the Right 2" rally in Washington on Aug. 12, 2018. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

WASHINGTON — Counterprotesters drowned out Unite the Right white nationalist rallygoers across from the White House today, followed by a later march of antifa through D.C. streets that resulted in the only police clashes of the day.

Under a heavy police presence including air support and officers in riot gear, Jason Kessler and about two dozen supporters arrived at the Vienna Metro station in Fairfax County, Va., where Kessler was told he couldn’t bring flagpoles on the Metro and unsuccessfully protested the rule. The group ended up having a designated train car take them to the Foggy Bottom metro at George Washington University in D.C., angering the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689; they had protested such a potential plan as asking too much of its members, but then Metro said it was off the table.

“Today, the public was lied to by WMATA General Manager Paul Weidefeld the same way he has been lying to this union for the last two years,” said union president Jackie Jeter. “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.”

Kessler and his group were greeted by protesters at the Foggy Bottom Metro, and as they marched up Pennsylvania Avenue. Several different protest groups, meanwhile, began with a rally at Freedom Plaza, on the other side of the White House from Kessler’s approaching group; their march to Lafayette Square was short, with about a thousand participants.

There was also a morning prayer service on the National Mall, United to Love, hosted by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, where Bishop LaTrelle Easterling said those who practice racism “betray God.”

Just outside of Lafayette Square, Black Lives Matter organizers declared that they were going to have a block party instead of confronting the white nationalists.

Though multiple groups received permits to protest in Lafayette Park, police maintained a wide buffer filled with cops on foot and horseback between the Unite the Right area — looking especially depleted as Kessler had told the National Park Service on his application that he needed a space for up to 400 people — and the counterprotest groups, who moved barriers at one point to enter a small fenced-off grassy area but were not removed by police.

Kessler told reporters that so few white nationalists showed up because of being “very scared” and fearing being “overly prosecuted” after last year’s protest in Charlottesville, Va., at which one counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed when a white nationalist plowed his car into a side street full of demonstrators.

Kessler also blamed infighting within his movement, including among neo-Nazis for lower turnout; some of today’s participants bore neo-Nazi tattoos. While Kessler said his wanted to speak with President Trump at the White House, Trump was at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club today.

After a shorter rally than expected, D.C. police moved along the front line of the counterprotesters telling them that Unite the Right was over. “They went back where they came from,” announced one officer.

The contingent of anarchist protesters at the main protest was small, about 15-20 holding banners and chanting “Jay-son” taunts at Kessler. As the Lafayette Park protest was ending and participants — getting drenched by rain — were dispersing, someone announced that other protesters who had not joined the main demonstration were a block away at 17th Street. Some walked toward 17th Street NW to join this group, which included a sizable contingent of antifa members.

This group proceeded on a lengthy march down streets that weren’t all blocked off by D.C. police, up to I Street, east past McPherson Square, and south on 13th Street. When they turned west on G Street, though, they confronted police who had been assembled here as part of the original protest road closures.

Police and antifa clashed on the street outside of the Church of the Epiphany, with one discharge of pepper spray on antifa and bicycle and motorcycle cops pushing back protesters. Clashes were brief and no businesses on the street were damaged as the antifa eventually dispersed; police did not report any arrests and none were witnessed.