Metro Board Chair Switches Gears, Says No Separate Trains for ‘Unite the Right' Demonstrators

A day after saying Metro was considering providing separate trains for opposing groups during the "Unite the Right" rally in D.C. on Aug. 12, the chairman of the transit agency's board now says there will not be any separation.

"Metro will not be having a separate train, or a separate car, or anything separate for anybody at this event that's gonna happen next Sunday," Evans told News4 on Saturday.

When asked if he regretted that a plan to consider separating protesters was under consideration in light of public backlash to the idea, Evans said, "it was never under consideration."

But on Friday, Evans told News4, "We'd like to keep the groups separate. We don't want incidents on Metro."

"Unite the Right" demonstrators plan to use Metro from the Vienna, Virginia, station to Foggy Bottom in D.C.

"Maybe put all of one group on a train or a certain car on a train," Evans said on Friday. "We're trying to see how can we keep the groups separate so we don't have any incidents but not put in place programs that could be problematic in the future."

Metro's largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, sources said a group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan would be provided with three private Metrorail cars.

Evans referenced the union's statement Saturday, saying, "I don't know where they got that information from. I have never been part of any discussion that considered having a separate car or a separate train for anybody at that event."

The union said in its statement that more than 80 percent of its membership is people of color.

"We draw the line at giving special accommodation to hate groups and hate speech, especially considering that the courts granted Metro the ability to deny ads on buses and trains that are 'issue-oriented,'" ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said. "We find it hypocritical for (Metro General Manager and CEO) Mr. (Paul) Wiedefeld to make these unprecedented special accommodations for a hate group."

The union is advising its members to do what they feel is best to stay safe Aug. 12.

On Friday, Metro would not confirm that separate trains are even being considered.

"As we do for all events of this nature, Metro is working collaboratively with law enforcement to ensure safe travel for our customers and employees," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said in a statement to News4. "Transit Police are engaged in ongoing discussions with MPD (the Metropolitan Police Department), the lead agency for the Aug 12. event, as well as Virginia State Police and others as to how to keep everyone safe on that day. While details of the plan are security sensitive at this stage, I can tell you that it has not been finalized."

Evans said Friday that D.C. police planned to provide an escort for the protesters from Foggy Bottom to the White House.

However, D.C. police said in a statement Saturday that there is no plan to provide a police escort.

"The Metropolitan Police Department does not act in the capacity of private security for any group. Our role is to facilitate a safe first amendment demonstration," the department said. "There is no plan to provide a police escort for the group. As Chief Newsham has mentioned previously, our goal is to maintain separation between the demonstrators and other groups."

The National Park Service gave initial approval for the application for an Aug. 12 "white civil rights" rally at Lafayette Square, near the White House.

Four counterdemonstration applications have been filed as well, according to the National Park Service, but no permits have been issued yet. 

Last August, hundreds of people traveled to Charlottesville to participate in the "Unite the Right" rally and protest the city's plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park named after the Confederate general. The list of scheduled speakers included several leading white nationalist figures, including Richard Spencer.

On the eve of the Aug. 12 rally, dozens of young white men wearing khakis and polo shirts marched through the University of Virginia's campus, carrying torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. The next day, hundreds of white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed in the streets before a car plowed into a crowd, killing 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.

James Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, is charged with murder in Heyer's killing under Virginia state law. He is charged separately in federal court with hate crimes.

A monthslong investigation of the rally violence, led by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy, found the chaos stemmed from a passive response by law enforcement officers and poor preparation and coordination between state and city police.

In July, rally organizer Jason Kessler reached a settlement agreement in a separate lawsuit over last summer's violence in Charlottesville. Kessler signed a consent decree in which he agreed to "actively discourage" coordinated, armed activity at any future rallies in the city. More than a dozen other defendants signed similar agreements.

Also last month, Kessler withdrew his request for a court order allowing him to stage an event in Charlottesville. 

Lisa Woolfork, a University of Virginia professor and Black Lives Matter Charlottesville organizer who attended the hearing, said she felt sure white supremacists would return to Charlottesville with or without a permit.

"What's more important is that we as a community come to resist," she said.

Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney said the department would prepare for an event and monitor social media. 

"We understand that the weekend and that day has national significance and even international significance, so we are going to be prepared for that weekend to come regardless," she said.

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