Unionized Metro workers continue to call for accountability after the transit agency appeared to provide special accommodations for white supremacists attending the Unite The Right 2 rally in Washington, D.C. last weekend. Workers gathered at a rally in D.C. on Thursday and called for Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld to be fired.
When Jason Kessler, the white supremacist who organized the rally, arrived at the Vienna, Virginia stop, police officers swarmed the station. They provided protection for Kessler and the few white supremacists who accompanied him and they boarded a car marked “Special.”
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689, the largest Metro Union, is not pleased. Before the rally on Sunday, Metro officials said they wouldn’t provide special treatment for the white supremacists. Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, who is a city council member, told WAMU that the Metro “…never considered providing private trains and will not be doing so.”
There were 30 to 40 Metro workers and members of the community at the rally on Thursday. One rally-goer, Everett, told ThinkProgress he attended the rally because he said he once lived in Arkansas, which has a history of what are known as “sundown towns” that excluded Black people.
“I lived in Arkansas where they used to have signs that said don’t be around here after dark,” he said. “So I’ve seen that. I’ve seen people like that walking around on the streets like I saw in Arkansas. I said ‘Hold it. these are the same guys who were beating people up and now they’re giving them special treatment.’ That makes no sense, so of course I have a problem.”
When asked by a reporter whether it was necessary to have them in a separate train car, ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said, “That’s why you have transit police officers” and added, “We have rallies all the time, whether it’s extra service provided for a softball game or extra service that is provided for the Women’s March. There is never ever special trains given to any group and it should not have been given to this one.”
ATU Local 689 Second Vice President Raymond Jackson said that as someone who was born in D.C., “What I’ve seen last Sunday hurt me to my heart.” Jackson told the crowd, “I saw us give up everything we owned all our lives. It was given away.”
Jackson added, “Don’t call them white nationalists. Call them what they are. They are terrorists.”
A week before the rally, Evans said private transportation would be a preventive measure against violence between counter-protesters and white supremacists. The union sent out a statement that week, which read, “More than 80% of Local 689’s membership is people of color, the very people that the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups have killed, harassed and violated. The union has declared that it will not play a role in their special accommodation.”
The Metro told HuffPost that the private cars were marked Special because they terminated at Foggy Bottom and said, “They were escorted by police onto the rear of the train and police rode in that rail car and others to protect the safety of everyone on board the train. Vienna station remained open to the public at all times.”
According to WAMU, Sherri Ly, Metro spokesperson, said that officers “may have advised customers of other available cars to board.” The train reportedly stopped at other stations and did not stop people from boarding certain cars. But the entrance to the north gate of the Vienna station was closed to the public, police told a WUSA9 reporter, and only Unite the Right protesters were allowed through. Although the Metro reportedly uses gap trains during special events, some experts on rail safety asked why the Metro would use gap trains in this situation, when there wasn’t heavy crowding.
Ahead of the rally on Thursday, ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said the train operators for the rides to and back from the rally were Black men, were not informed they would be transporting the white supremacists, and were “devastated and distraught” to discover that they had.
On the day of the rally, the union tweeted at the WMATA, “You lied” and added later in subsequent tweets, “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.”
In total, the rally cost the District of Columbia $2.6 million, which was spent on policing and other expenses, the Washington Post reported. According to the Post, Kessler “praised raised the level of police protection his group received and has suggested he’d like to stage additional events in the Washington area. ” There were hundreds of officers at the rally. During the rally, a counter-protester holding a Black Lives Matter flag yelled at the officers, asking them where they were when little girls were getting killed in predominantly Black neighborhoods.
One veteran Ferguson protester, Justin, said to a journalist of the police presence, “I want to start out by holding the mayor of Washington, D.C. and the D.C. authorities accountable for their protection of these Nazis. Nobody came out to protect me [in Ferguson].”