WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Unite the Right protesters began filtering into Lafayette Square in front of the White House Sunday afternoon, hundreds of counter-protesters attempted to confront the group, outnumbering the white nationalists by about 10 to 1.
The Washington Metropolitan Police had sought to prevent a group of antifascist protesters from leaving Farragut Square earlier in the afternoon, but did not interfere as they moved around the police line and marched several hundred feet down 17th Street NW to Lafayette Park across from the White House. There, they awaited the group of far-right protesters marching for “white civil rights.”
“White civil rights is not a thing!” several counter-protesters were heard shouting.
The protests punctuated a tense atmosphere, one year after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
One counter-protester, D.C. native Kymone Freeman, told ThinkProgress that police have a habit of protecting white supremacists, while few in power condemn attacks against Black Lives Matter protesters.
“I wanted to see the spectacle of the police protecting white supremacists,” Freeman said. “There’s a 2006 FBI report … The FBI admitted that law enforcement on all levels had been infiltrated by white supremacists.”
“We’ve seen a lot of questionable police behavior since that time,” Freeman added.
Antifascista block looking to lock down the block where Kessler is supposed to enter pic.twitter.com/afiOLIsnKo
— E. K. Hornbeck (@PykeA) August 12, 2018
— dparvaz🧿 (@dparvaz) August 12, 2018
Julius West, a D.C. high school teacher, told ThinkProgress he attended the counter-protest to “support my black brothers and sisters.”
“This is vital to me,” West said. “I’m here to support … Just trying to do what we need to do for everybody.”
Compared to the protest seen in Charlottesville last year, the white nationalists coming to D.C. are in sorry shape. The rally organizer, Jason Kessler, has been ostracized by most other far-right figureheads, who have actively encouraged others not to attend the D.C. rally. Kessler has also been struggling to raise funds to support his far-right “activism” and can now only accept cash and check donations.
Despite this, neither authorities nor counter-protesters took any chances at this year’s rally, which began at 4 pm Sunday.
At least five law-enforcement agencies — the Washington Metropolitan Police, U.S. Park Police, US Secret Service, Federal Protective Service and the U.S. Marshal Service — policed Sunday’s event.
Streets along the mile-long route to be taken by the marchers, as well as the area around the White House and the Foggy Bottom Metro Station, where Kessler and his group arrived, were closed off. Those protesting at the park witnessed a heavy police presence.
Hundreds of counter-protesters descended on Lafayette Square to drown out Kessler. There were also half-a-dozen events occurring throughout D.C. on Sunday, including two rallies at Freedom Plaza at midday.
Counter-protesters chanted, marched, and even participated in dance breaks in order to drown out the messages of hate coming from the Unite the Right protesters.
— dparvaz🧿 (@dparvaz) August 12, 2018
Many local businesses have also decided to shut out any white nationalists who might try to visit their establishments. As the Washingtonian reported, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington sent out a toolkit in advance containing legal information about business owners’ rights to refuse service to White Nationalists.
“This is our city. Our house. Our people,” Dan Simons, who owns Founding Farmers restaurant near Lafayette Square, told the Washingtonian. “We’ve told our team: this isn’t what that is. You don’t have to be in a room with someone who’s advocating for your death and enslavement.”
Meanwhile Uber and Lyft drivers are debating whether or not they want to work in areas where white nationalists may be active on Sunday. According to the Washington Post, Uber message boards have been warning drivers to stay away from Foggy Bottom. Uber also reportedly sent a reminder of community guidelines to drivers in the Washington region, reminding them it’s their right to kick passengers out if they are harassed or threatened.
A Lyft spokeswoman said the company had sent out a similar reminder. “[Driver’s] safety comes first,” Darcy Yee said. “If they ever feel uncomfortable or disrespected by a passenger, they can cancel that ride.”
This post has been updated with developments on the ground.