Photo via Karla Ann Cote
On Sunday — the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of activist Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist — the openly racist organizations that made up 2017’s ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia attempted to recreate that event in Washington, D.C. Instead, they failed miserably, with only 30 or so participants in attendance, all of whom were quickly sent packing by the presence of thousands of counter-protestors.
Originally, Unite the Right 2 organizer Jason Kessler had planned to the event at the same park in Charlottesville where last year’s rally sparked violent confrontations that left Heyer dead. After that permit application was denied by Charlottesville officials, Kessler moved the demonstration to the nation’s capital.
But while last year’s events in Charlottesville are remembered by burning images of tiki torch-wielding racists, the beating of DeAndre Harris, the murder of Heather Heyer, and of course, President Trump’s subsequent comments equating the actions of “both sides” of the demonstrations, this weekend’s events were instead marked by hordes of protestors shouting down a tiny group of white supremacists, who both arrived and departed from the rally space in Washington, D.C. earlier than originally scheduled.
Protected by throngs of D.C. Metro police officers, Kessler and about two dozen followers took a local subway train from suburban Virginia into downtown Washington early Sunday afternoon, well before the rally’s planned start time at 5:30 pm. Immediately swarmed by sign-wielding protestors, media microphones, and an even larger police escort, the Unite the Right ralliers made their way to a protected section of Lafayette Park near the White House, where impromptu speeches were reportedly drowned out by anti-racist chants from waves of protestors.
In the year since Charlottesville, racial tension has remained at a boiling point across America, with President Trump continuing his divisive rhetoric about immigration, while repeated incidents of white people calling the police on black citizens doing innocuous activities like barbecuing and selling water bottles have gone viral. Just last week, Trump reignited his ongoing battle with NFL players protesting systemic racism, once again calling for the punishment of kneeling players, deliberately ignoring their real reasons for protest and the problems facing Americans of color.
Like last year’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, publicly-funded police officers offered institutional protection for the racist ralliers, lining up in riot gear to challenge anti-fascist protestors, instead of the fascists themselves. In Charlottesville, a city report after the 2017 Unite the Right march chided local police forces for being ill-prepared to deal with the violence brought on by Kessler and company.
Despite the presence of police security, a number of white nationalist leaders urged their followers to avoid Sunday’s rally, telling their bases that being recognized in the march could quickly lead to public shaming and a loss of employment, giving credence to anti-fascist arguments that direct action is the best way to disrupt racist organizations. Last year, those threats of retribution and doxxing apparently did not dissuade hundreds of white supremacists, but this weekend, the Nazis were frightened.
"People were rightly scared of coming out," Kessler told reporters on Sunday. "We had to prove the point we could do this rally and people would be safe."
If you ask us, the only thing Kessler and his clan proved this weekend is that, even if the police are willing to protect racists, the rest of us are not.