A small group of white nationalists and many more anti-racism protesters staged dueling rallies Sunday across from the White House, as a phalanx of police officers kept the two camps separated to prevent a repeat of the deadly violence that erupted last year at a white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia.
D.C.-area police officers surrounded the 30 or so attendees of Sunday’s “Unite the Right 2” rally and escorted them at Metro stations, along Pennsylvania Avenue, and to and from Lafayette Square across from the White House. The white nationalists were vastly outnumbered by thousands of counterprotesters who filled the park.
“Show us your faces,” the counterprotesters chanted at the rally-goers, many of whom had concealed their faces behind bandannas or the American flag. “Go home!”
But the “Unite the Right 2” rally fizzled out as darkening clouds threatened rain. Scheduled to last until 7 p.m. Sunday, the white supremacist gathering broke up at about 5:15 p.m., and a cordon of police escorted the attendees from the square.
Amid the significant police presence, one counterprotester was arrested on charges of assaulting someone wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, a police spokeswoman said.
However, someone, presumably police, released pepper spray among counterprotesters at 14th and G streets Northwest, a witness and two photojournalists told The Washington Times. A police spokeswoman said she did not have anything to report on the incident.
The “Unite the Right 2” rally marked the first anniversary of the Charlottesville event, which descended into brawls between white supremacists and anti-racism demonstrators and ended with the death of Heather Heyer, 32, who was hit by a car that plowed into a group of counterprotesters. James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, an admirer of Adolf Hitler, awaits trial on murder charges.
Rally organizer Jason Kessler sought to hold the first anniversary event in Charlottesville, but he withdrew his request for a permit after city officials opposed it. Instead, he redirected his rally to Washington across from the White House. President Trump was not there. He was conducting a working weekend at one of his golf clubs in New Jersey.
“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!” the president tweeted Saturday.
Mr. Kessler’s permit request to the National Park Service said as many as 400 would attend, but only a couple of dozen showed up. The Hill newspaper captured his comments in a video at the rally.
“I wanted to stand up for free speech and public safety on the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville,” said Mr. Kessler, holding an American flag in front of him. “I’m not here to celebrate the tragedies that happened last year. What I am here to do is to tell the truth about what happened in Charlottesville, which has been kept from the public that the Charlottesville government sabotaged that event, that they violated the civil rights of everybody who came there, from my side, from the other side.”
Mr. Kessler, who stood out in his suit and tie, cited a post-rally report that said police allowed the two sides to clash “to make it easier to declare unlawful assembly.”
Charlottesville police and Virginia State Police received widespread criticism over their handling of last year’s event, and a review by a former U.S. attorney said the police forces had not coordinated their efforts or even developed an operational plan.
D.C. Metropolitan Police and officials were determined not to see a repeat of Charlottesville violence. Mayor Muriel Bowser activated the city’s emergency operations team Thursday in preparation for the rally, and Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said officers would be on high alert. Miss Bowser returned early from her vacation because of the rally and held a news conference with Chief Newsham on Sunday night.
The white nationalists boarded a subway train in Vienna, Virginia, to ride to the Foggy Bottom Metro Station in the District of Columbia. A mixture of Metropolitan Police and Metro Transit Police officers separated the rally-goers onto two subway cars, then surrounded the white supremacists and allowed only a few reporters to share the ride with them.
At each Metro stop, the officers stood at the open doors to prevent some non-rally attendees from boarding. At Foggy Bottom, a law enforcer gave the rally-goers instructions on how to leave the train and go up the escalator.
The actions contradicted an earlier Metro statement: that the white supremacists would not be provided “special” cars to get to the rally.
“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,” Metro spokeswoman Sherry Li told The Times. “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 to the rear of the train, and police rode in that rail car and others to protect the safety of everyone on board. The train stopped at every station to allow any riders to enter and exit.”
David Stephens, an official with Metro’s largest labor union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, accused Metro officials of lying about the rally preparations.
Thousands of people took part in anti-racism gatherings Sunday at Lafayette Square and at Freedom Plaza before the white nationalist rally got under way.
“The message of hate I disagree with and think it’s wrong,” said Natan Thake, 19, of Arlington, Virginia.
One group of about 50 people formed a peaceful meditation circle. Anther group consisting of some clergy and other anti-racism demonstrators chanted, “You don’t want no problem, no problem with me.”
Sharif Sahfi, 57, of College Park, hung a muddy American flag in a tree from a noose to draw attention to “400 to 500 years of lynching in this country.”
He expressed anger at the white supremacists and their claims of having their civil rights infringed, saying it sounded like “the same old tune.”
A third group of anti-fascism, or antifa, demonstrators shoved some media aside as they approached the square, chanting, “We remember Charlottesville.” Antifa activists have been known to engage in violent confrontations with those they oppose.
As they made their way along Pennsylvania Avenue to Lafayette Square, some yelled “make way” at other pedestrians. A small group of antifa protesters in red stood in front of a police barricade, chanting “Cops and Klan go hand in hand” and “Anytime anyplace punch a Nazi in the face.”
Laura Kelly contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.