Approximately two dozen white nationalists rallied in the nation’s capital on Sunday, one year after clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one person dead and elevated racial tensions in America.
But they were vastly outnumbered by throngs of counterprotesters.
The showing from “Unite the Right 2” participants fell far short of the hundreds that organizer Jason Kessler was expecting, based on his event permit application.
Kessler, who organized last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, blamed the low turnout on logistical issues and confusion regarding the group’s transportation – a claim echoed by at least two men who spoke to reporters. “People are scared to come out after what happened last year,” one of the men added.
A small stage and speaker system was set up in the park, where attendees stood silently and listened to a slate of impromptu speakers.
They addressed the small group over the jeers of the anti-racist demonstrators, who chanted, “Nazis go home!” and “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
The white nationalists left the park not long after they arrived, prompted by the sound of thunder and rain, and were whisked away in white vans.
’We won’t tolerate bigotry’
Everywhere they went Sunday afternoon, “Unite the Right 2” rallygoers were confronted by counterprotesters, who had been gathering throughout the day as part of a series of demonstrations led by members of 40 anti-racism groups.
“Our message is to let everyone know we support each other,” said Maurice Cook, a co-organizer for the March for Racial Justice, which organized the “United Against Hate” counterprotest in DC’s Freedom Plaza.
Kaitlin Moore, 28, of Frederick, Maryland, told CNN she was participating in counterprotests in Lafayette Square to “show this is not okay.”
She said she felt it was important to show up after she saw what happened in Charlottesville last year.
“This is not normal,” Moore said. “We won’t tolerate bigotry and hate in the United States.”
Kessler and his group were met by counterprotesters the moment they exited the Foggy Bottom metro station with their police escort. They proceeded to Lafayette Square Park, where police kept the opposing sides separated.
By Sunday evening, authorities said that two arrests had been made in connection to Sunday’s protests, both on charges of simple assault.
In the past, similar far-right demonstrations have been dwarfed by counterprotests.
For example, at a separate Ku Klux Klan gathering in Charlottesville in July 2017, Klansmen were outnumbered 20 to 1, according to Charlottesville officials.
Sunday’s demonstrations and the opposing rallies took place against a backdrop of heightened racial tensions in the US.
Recent months have seen a series of high-profile incidents in which police were called on people of color for innocuous acts, like napping in a dormitory common room, having a barbecue and going to the pool.
This week, NFL players in the first preseason games resumed their protests over police brutality against blacks by raising their fists, kneeling or sitting out during the National Anthem.
The demonstrations also come at a time when the wounds from last year’s events in Charlottesville remain raw, particularly in regard to the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, who was killed when a suspected neo-Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd.
In an interview on Sunday, Kessler offered his condolences to Heyer’s mother and “those who were hurt,” but blamed last year’s violence on the police, who he said did not adequately protect the “Unite the Right” rally.
Charlottesville authorities came under harsh criticism for their delayed response to the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters. An independent review faulted police and said they failed to adequately prepare for the “Unite the Right” rally.
Kessler organized that event to oppose the renaming of two parks honoring Confederate generals. That drew white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Trump condemns ‘all types of racism’
President Trump – who has been accused of deepening the racial divide in America – condemned last year’s events in Charlottesville in a tweet Saturday morning, saying they “resulted in senseless death and division.”