A white supremacist rally in Washington, D.C. fell flat on Sunday, with only several dozen racists in attendance.
Intended to celebrate the first anniversary of last year’s violent march in Charlottesville, VA., far-right demonstrators found themselves far outnumbered by counter-protesters. Police formed a tight cordon around the smaller group, separating the two sides and preventing any kind of violent interaction.
The entire event, writes The Independent, took place within view of the White House.
Organized by Jason Kessler—the man responsible for last year’s “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville—Sunday’s gathering was posited as a “white civil rights” rally.
Kessler’s permit application outlined an expected attendance of 100 to 400. But Sunday showed a much lower turnout, with media estimates averaging about 20.
Counter-protesters told news networks they weren’t willing to let white nationalists walk through the nation’s capital unchallenged.
“We know from experience that ignoring white nationalism doesn’t work,” said Makia Green, head of Black Lives Matter in D.C.
While both sides jeered and insulted one another, police reported only a handful of arrests throughout the day. The tight wall of officers around the racists seemed to serve its intended purpose, preventing the alt-right from interacting with Antifa provocateurs and ordinary counter-protesters.
During last year’s “Unite the Right” rally, several incidences of violence were recorded. White nationalists allegedly beat students at the University of Virginia campus, with fights breaking out between neo-Nazis and demonstrators the following day.
One Midwestern man with alt-right ties drove a sports car into a congregation of counter-protesters, wounding 28 and killing one.
Fear of similar clashes and attacks hung over Washington on Sunday; spirits began to rise when the ragged band of racial supremacists left earlier than they’d originally planned.
“I have no problem with them and their protest,” counter-protester and BLM supporter Ianta Summers told the New York Times. “I have a problem with their ideals, and this just shows them, you can show up and speak, but you have to deal with the consequences.”
Nevertheless, the Times says what may appear a failed demonstration could be construed as a victory by the far-right.
“They are getting international coverage and profiles, and the bottom line is that exposure equals importance,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino.
Even though turnout to the white supremacist camp was low, Levin says “over-coverage” and “hype” built around the event served to heighten its profile.
“And at a time when the movement is in disarray and some of its members are getting knocked off social media, it can, nonetheless, get a message out across millions of eyeballs on television and in print,” Levin said.
Kessler blamed the event’s poor performance on apprehension, positing neo-Nazis and aspirant Klansmen as the real victims of “Unite the Right.”
“There were a lot of people who were at least year’s rally who are very scared this year,” Kessler said. “They felt like last year they came to express their point of view. They were attacked. And when they fought back, they were overly prosecuted.”
Other counter-protesters who spoke to media drew parallels between the apparent resurgence of white nationalism and the presidency of Donald Trump.
After last year’s violence in Charlottesville, the commander-in-chief initially refused to bucket the blame on racists, saying fault and ‘fine people’ could be found on ‘both sides.’
Graphic designer Jessica Balaschak, 43, arrived from New York with a sign recycled from an anti-Trump protest. It says ‘There aren’t ‘many sides,’’ a reference to the president’s unwillingness to condemn neo-Nazis.
“They’re so confident that the government supports their views that they’re marching around showing their faces in public,” she said. “This isn’t like arguing over the marginal tax rate. This is a very black-and-white situation.”