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Unite the Right Rally Ends Before It Was Set to Begin; Small Group Outnumbered by Huge Crowds of Counterprotesters

White supremacist rally sparsely attended Sunday afternoon in Lafayette Square outside White House

White nationalists who came to Washington, D.C. for Sunday's Unite the Right 2 rally outside the White House left the District well ahead of schedule after a brief event, vastly outnumbered by hundreds of counterprotesters.

The small group of fewer than 30 Unite the Right 2 demonstrators held a short rally at Lafayette Square.

In contrast, by midafternoon, more than 1,000 counterprotesters had already gathered in Freedom Plaza, also near the White House, to oppose organizer Jason Kessler's demonstration and to march to Lafayette Square.

While tension brewed at times, the events were mostly peaceful and D.C. police said there were no violent confrontations.

Police arrested one protester, 44-year-old John Mulligan of Pennsylvania, after he pepper sprayed someone in the face about 5 p.m., Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham said at a news conference Sunday night. Mulligan had a slingshot, large shards of glass, metal bolts and stones, Newsham said. 

[NATL-DC] Unite the Right Rally, Counterprotesters Descend on DC

Newsham commended his department's work to keep the peace.

"One thing folks sometimes forget is that police officers are human too. We asked our officers to put aside their own personal feelings today to handle this event. Not only did they do it, but they did it with professionalism and class," he said.

Makia Green, who represents the Washington branch of Black Lives Matter, told Sunday's crowd, "We know from experience that ignoring white nationalism doesn't work."

By about 5 p.m., those in Kessler's group packed into white vans and left, escorted by police.

About an hour later, crowds of counterprotesters largely had dispersed from the area, although an Antifa group had a skirmish with police as the group marched through downtown.

As a large group of counterprotesters mostly dressed in black approached officers, police apparently deployed some kind of chemical spray, NBC Washington's Mark Segraves reported. It happened on G Street NW in the Metro Center area, several blocks from Lafayette Square. Medics treated some of them in an alley after the incident.

White nationalists arriving at the Foggy Bottom Metro Station in D.C. were met with crowds of counterprotesters who heckled, booed and jeered them. News4' Derrick Ward reports.

Unite the Right Attendees Vastly Outnumbered

Although 100 to 400 people had been expected to attend Unite the Right, according to the permit application, fewer than 30 attended, MSNBC's Garrett Haake reported. The group was largely leaderless, he said.

According to the application, expected speakers had included David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke did not appear — nor did several other planned speakers.

Kessler said earlier in the day that he saw his rally as one about protecting the First Amendment, although some other attendees said they saw white people as the founding culture of the United States and said that anyone who was not a white American was somehow less American, Haake reported.

Unite the Right 2 was held on the first anniversary of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent and led to the death of a counterprotester. 

Kessler later spoke on stage to a small crowd of white nationalists about the previous year's violence in Charlottesville, when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring others.

"It ended up becoming a more extreme event than I intended. Nevertheless, even if some people had ideas that were offensive at that rally, the vast, vast majority of people on my side were non-violent," he said.

Kessler said that the "other side" came prepared to use violence to shut down their rally in 2017, but that "they would have been non-violent too if law enforcement had done what it was supposed to do."

"We had to prove that we could do a peaceful rally, and that we could speak and we did that," Kessler said after the event.

Unite the Right 2 Demonstrators Travel With Police Escort

Escorted by police, the Unite the Right 2 attendees traveled to and from D.C. via the Vienna Metro station in Northern Virginia. They rode the Metro into the District but left the rally in vans. They were driven to the Rosslyn station, the first station in Virginia, and then took the Metro to Vienna. It was not immediately clear who supplied the vans.

Signs saying "Hate has no home here" in six languages lined the roads to the Vienna station Sunday.

There was a heavy police presence there that included officers in riot gear. Vienna's north entrance and parking garage were closed, and officers used their bikes to create a corridor for the demonstrators at the beginning of the day.

Officers led Kessler and his group into a Metro car and some members of the media were allowed into the car. WTOP's Max Smith reported that police didn't allow other passengers to board that car as the train stopped at other stations on the way to Foggy Bottom.

Metro's largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, blasted Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld on Twitter Sunday, saying he allowed "racist marchers" to receive "special accommodation for a hate rally."

Metro received major backlash earlier in the month after Metro board chair Jack Evans told News4 the transit system was considering having separate trains for Unite the Right demonstrators to keep them separate from other protesters. Evans then said there would be no separate trains.

A spokesperson for Metro responded to the union's criticism in a statement to News4 on Sunday night, saying:

"All Orange Line trains were marked 'special' as a destination today because they terminate at Foggy Bottom, which is not a normal terminus, because of major track work. The Kessler group traveled from Vienna to Foggy Bottom on a regularly scheduled train, together with other passengers, media and law enforcement. 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 onboard the train. The train stopped at every station to allow any customers to enter and exit. Vienna Station remained open to the public at all times. Any changes to traffic patterns were directed by police for crowd management."

There was one arrest at the Vienna Metro, News4's Julie Carey reported. Police say a 30-year-old D.C. man, Donald Franklin Georgette, spat on two Virginia state troopers at about 2:30 p.m. He was charged with simple assault, Virginia State Police said. It's unclear which group he was with, Carey reported.

Police on the Vienna platform told the demonstrators holding flagpoles that the poles were forbidden because they could be used as weapons. The demonstrators removed the flags from the poles.

Kessler said he asked officials about the poles and was told they were OK to bring.

"I think they're changing the rules on us, but that's fine," he told the demonstrators.

Demonstrators arrived at the Foggy Bottom Metro station in the District shortly before 3 p.m. and were met with a chorus of taunts and boos. Haake reported the group of Unite the Right participants there was very small, about two dozen people, compared to the commotion, which included a police escort with wailing sirens.

Unite the Right 2 demonstrators returned to Vienna shortly before 6 p.m. and headed out of the area, reported Carey. A long line of officers stood along the path as they left the station.

Large Groups of Counterprotesters Demonstrated

Counterprotesters marched with signs bearing messages such as "No Nazis, no KKK, no Fascist USA" and "Uproot white supremacy."

Anti-Fascist protesters gathered on 17th Street NW across from Lafayette Square, many wearing riot gear and gas masks. A Black Lives Matter group also arrived in the area.

Numerous streets were blocked off, with snowplows being used to block traffic. D.C. Police said about 8:30 p.m. Sunday that all road closures had been lifted.

Shortly after the end of the rally, some counterprotesters could be seen throwing items, and a confrontation was reported between counterprotesters and police at 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in front of the Renwick Gallery. Counterprotesters were seen lighting fireworks and firing them into the air.

Government and police officials in D.C. said in advance of the events that they were confident the District can manage the Unite the Right 2 rally and counterprotests without violence.

Police had a heavy presence at Lafayette Square starting Sunday morning.

One Year Ago: Violent Clashes at White Nationalist Rally in Virginia

The rally was held on the anniversary of the first Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Virginia, which devolved into chaos and violence resulting in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer. Heyer was killed and others were injured when a driver rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters at the rally. A state police helicopter later crashed, killing Lt. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates. 

The Unite the Right 2 group's permit application, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said the demonstration would take place from about 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Kessler, who also organized the Charlottesville rally, told Haake at the Vienna Metro station that Duke would not be attending Unite the Right 2.

"We have a multiethnic group of people who are here to stand up not only for the civil rights of all people including white people, but to stand up for free speech," Kessler said, "which really has been in danger over the last year since Charlottesville."

The white nationalist movement has partially splintered in the past year, with some blaming Kessler for the bad press generated by Charlottesville. Several white nationalist leaders disavowed Sunday's rally and asked their followers not to attend.

Kessler said Sunday his supporters have been attacked.

"People are attacking my supporters, they have their cars vandalized, they’re threatened. Social media is kicking off people for 'hate speech',” he said, using air quotes in reference to the last two words.

Counterprotesters also organized an event to try to fill the nearly 5,500 parking spaces at the Vienna Metro station, where Unite the Right 2 participants were expected to park before heading to the rally.

Officials and authorities from around the region are preparing for Sunday's demonstrations. News4's Mark Segraves reports D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will not be in town during the rally.

Bowser Returned to DC, Trump Out of Town

Bowser interrupted her long-planned trade mission to El Salvador to be in the District for the rally, Telemundo 44's Alberto Pimienta reported.

The mayor arrived at Dulles International Airport and monitored the situation at the Joint Operations Command Center, reported NBC Washington's Mark Segraves.

"We maintained peace and order in our city," Bowser said at a news conference Sunday night.

Bowser planned to return to El Salvador Monday.

The mayor's staff said there was no indication of an increased threat, but she returned out of an abundance of caution.

While the White House was the backdrop of the rallies, President Donald Trump was not in town. He's staying at the Trump National Golf Course in New Jersey during renovations at the White House.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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