Thousands of counter-protesters. Hundreds of reporters and police. Fifteen fascists.

After all that, the neo-Nazis got their safe space.

Jason Kessler, center, organizer of the Unite the Right protest, marches with a couple dozen white nationalists under police escort to their rally in Lafayette Square across from the White House on the anniversary of the Charlottesville protest on August 12, 2018. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Jason Kessler, center, organizer of the Unite the Right protest, marches with a couple dozen white nationalists under police escort to their rally in Lafayette Square across from the White House on the anniversary of the Charlottesville protest on August 12, 2018. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Police in Washington, D.C., succeeded Sunday in ensuring Jason Kessler and about 20 fellow white supremacists could arrive to, meet in, and depart quietly from the large park opposite the White House,  unmolested by thousands of anti-racism, anti-fascism, and anti-Trump counter-protesters.

Kessler had scheduled the rally for the one-year anniversary of a far larger, far bloodier cosplay meet-up for racism enthusiasts in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August. Police in D.C. invested huge resources in preventing a repeat of the chaos at the so-called Unite the Right rally last summer. More than 100 police on bicycles and motorcycles were waiting to receive Kessler’s ragtag band at the Foggy Bottom metro station and escort them along a one-mile walk to Lafayette square.

After gaining entry to the square, Kessler and his companions ran through a couple humdrum speeches in a brief meeting that made for stark contrast with the events it commemorated. No shields, no clubs, no tin-soldier play-acting.


The counterprotester crowd arranged in a separate, larger area on the north side of the square was so loud that reporters nearby were unable to make out most of what Kessler’s group of speakers had to say.

At Lafayette Park, counter-protesters continued to grow throughout the afternoon as the sweltering heat gave into pouring rain.

The only people who really had a view of the white nationalists, sort of, were photojournalists with telephoto camera lenses. At the barrier, one photographer looked through her camera and said, “There’s like maybe 10” that she could see.


So cosseted were the white nationalists that the heaving crowd was blindly shouting “Shame! Shame!” in their general direction.

Most counter protesters also had guides, who would communicate periodically with police vehicles that weaved through the crowd, clearing the way for law enforcement.

Meanwhile, at the west edge of the block that holds the White House, a group of roughly 100 antifascists dug in, anticipating Kessler’s band being led out the same way they’d come. An hour passed. Then a second. Then the rain set in.

Hearing dozens of police inside the west-side cordon of the area rev up their motorcycles, the group rushed to form a ten-deep human barricade. Some wheeled in shopping carts full of cardboard and trash, dousing it in clear liquid. Others let off small fireworks over the heads of the police, who continued to muster and shuffle but never left their line.

As a Secret Service officer used a loudspeaker to warn protesters to clear the sidewalk, tensions heightened — but again, nothing. Twenty minutes later, using the “human mic” technique to amplify the news, one masked marcher let the last air out of the group’s balloon.


“I have bad news!” he said, the crowd around him repeating louder. “Fifteen fascists left in a van!” The human mic around him deflated so quickly that the rest of his announcement was drowned out by an adjacent activist shouting down  racism and fascism through a megaphone.

U.S. Park Police, who have jurisdiction over the square itself, referred questions on Kessler’s entry and exit to the Metropolitan Police Department. “Details on his exit are not being provided,” a Metropolitan Police Department spokesman said Sunday evening, though he confirmed that Kessler’s group was no longer within D.C.’s borders within an hour after the antifascist crowd heard the bad news. Each agency confirmed they had made no arrests on the day.

As the rain started to fall more heavily, and protesters leaving the main counter-rally in Lafayette Square began to filter onto Seventeenth Street, the restless crowd of black-clad anarchist, anticapitalist, and antifascist protesters — the infamous “black bloc” — tried to decide what to do next. At one point, someone suggested marching to the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “I’m not great with maps all the time,” another black bloc protester countered, using the human mic technique. “But ICE looks really far. The Department of Justice is much closer. How do we feel about that?”

By day’s end, the protesters’ pent-up outrage at Kessler and his supporters — and at the police who, intentionally or not, seemed to protect them — was largely rained out.

Kessler’s quiet escape in a vehicle doubtless prevented clashes at the west edge of the park. It also underscored the faltering ground on which his movement finds itself. A year earlier, Virginia police showed far less va-va-voom in trying to keep order, and found themselves heavily outnumbered by neo-nazis and significantly outgunned by out-of-state militiamen. After finally dispersing groups of dueling toughs in the street next to the park, a madhouse scene continued to unfurl for hours.

The oxygen that police naivete gave that thousands-strong gang turned deadly. An Ohio man who’d heeded Kessler’s call for members of traditional white supremacist groups and participants in the so-called “alt right” online race-hate movement that sprung up in support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign rammed his car through a crowd of antiracism marchers hours after the melee had been broken up, killing one and injuring dozens more.

D.C. police see more protest activity in a month than most law enforcement agencies see in a decade. As tensions ratcheted up around the city in the weeks before Kessler’s “Unite the Right 2,” law enforcement officials expressed calm confidence that they would steer the city far wide of anything that might even slant-rhyme the Charlottesville catastrophe.

The hundreds and hundreds of officers that filled the downtown area Sunday certainly ensured that. But their biggest assist came, in a sense, from the nazis themselves. Kessler just couldn’t get people to show up this time. Partly because the more hardened corps of the race-hate movement no longer trust him, and openly urged their readers and members to stay away. Partly because Kessler’s fellow leaders of the Charlottesville show of force are mostly locked up or hiding out after a series of intervening humiliations ranging from successful antifascist resistance to simply bouncing a check.

As the thunder intensified and the rain began to pour, ponchoed antifa, Black Lives Matter and other counter-protesters searched their phones for signs that the white nationalists had left the park giving them somewhere to move to next. But by the time they scattered east and west on H Street, their foes were long gone, escorted by police into the night.