What to Know
- A rally aligned with the far-right movement will be held at Freedom Plaza
- A group associated with the anti-fascist movement has a permit to gather across the street in Pershing Park
Editor's Note: Go here for the latest news on Saturday's rally.
D.C. police are bracing for the possibility of a clash between opposing groups Saturday along Pennsylvania Avenue.
A rally aligned with the far-right movement will be held at Freedom Plaza, and a group associated with the anti-fascist movement has a permit to gather across the street in Pershing Park.
David Sumrall, one of the organizers of Saturday's #DemandFreeSpeech Freedom Rally, says they want a peaceful event to shed light on what they see as an attempt by social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook to sensor far-right commentators such as anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer.
He says it's not about hate.
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"We're just trying to raise awareness that big tech is censoring not only conservatives, but it's starting to go across both lines," Sumrall said. "So we're just trying to just raise awareness that this needs to stop now. It's a dangerous precedent, slippery slope ... It's called free speech."
"So the debate is between, is it private companies or public platforms or whatnot. That's where we need to sit down and talk together and figure this out," he said.
But Sumrall acknowledges that members of the far-right group called the Proud Boys — who have been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and connected to violent protests — will be at Saturday's rally.
"I know the Proud Boys. I'm friends with the Proud Boys," he said. "Those are good guys; they're here to protect us ... to help the police."
A similar rally in San Francisco in May drew less than 100 people and was peaceful. But last month in Portland, Oregon, violence broke out when the Proud Boys clashed with anti-fascist protesters.
Several groups are organizing counterprotests, raising the concern that violence could break out in D.C. just like it did in Portland last month, or even worse, Charlottesville in 2017, when a counterprotester was killed.
"We have every intention of keeping the groups separate give opportunity to say what they have to say, whatever that may be, but at the end, you gotta keep 'em separate so we have a safe event," Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said.
Among those planning to counterprotest is Gregory Joey Johnson, who was arrested Thursday for a permitted flag burning. He was permitted to burn the flag in Lafayette Square but stepped onto Pennsylvania Avenue to get an image of the flag burning with the White House in the background, the visual shock of which was his purpose.
“On a day in which Trump had arrogated to himself, the Fourth of July, for his political ambitions and his whole fascist agenda and this whole obscene display of American military might,” Johnson said.
Johnson, a communist and anti-fascist activist, spoke to News4 hours after his release from jail, the charges against him reduced to two misdemeanors.
An umbrella group called All Out DC also will be counterprotesting the rally.
“It’s to be against fascism, to be against racism, to be against bigotry, to be against hate,” counterprotester Jason Charter said.
Sumrall said it was hard to estimate how many people to expect.
"If we're lucky, we might get 500 or 1,000," he said.
The #DemandFreeSpeech website says Loomer, Roger Stone and Milo Yiannopoulos are among the confirmed speakers, but the scheduled 40 speakers will be split between the daytime rally and a night event, Sumrall said.
Sumrall said the rally at Freedom Plaza should run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
While there are no scheduled road closures associated with Saturday's protest, D.C. police say drivers should be prepared for random road closures around Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park along Pennsylvania Avenue.