On the anniversary of a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., “Unite the Right 2” rally participants were vastly outnumbered by counterprotesters in the District Sunday.
Approximately 25 supporters exited the Foggy Bottom Metro Station at about 3 p.m. to march toward Lafayette Square, but they were immediately engulfed by hundreds of counterprotesters. The group marched up 23rd Street before turning onto F Street and walking through the Foggy Bottom Campus, passing main campus buildings like Thurston Hall and the Smith Center.
Jason Kessler, the lead organizer of the demonstration, said several members of the group were “left behind” at the Metro station in Vienna, Va. because the train set to carry the demonstrators left 45 minutes early. Metro officials said last week they wouldn’t provide separate trains for any of the groups attending the rally.
“But besides that, people are scared,” Kessler said.
The demonstration was set to begin at 5 p.m. with speakers including former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke – who didn’t end up attending the rally – in attendance, but the group arrived at the venue at about 4 p.m.
Kessler addressed the audience from a small stage as he recorded a growing mass of counterprotesters from his phone. A group opposing the demonstration occupied the north section of the park and were separated from the “Unite the Right” group by metal gates and a line of Metropolitan Police Department officers.
“Who is the intolerant one?” Kessler said. “Is it us, who are here expressing our First Amendment rights? Or these folks who showed up by the thousands to stop us from being able to speak?”
An hour later, two white vans picked up the remaining participants from Lafayette Square as rain began to fall.
Campus groups also condemned the event prior to Sunday’s demonstration. Eleven student organizations posted a statement on Facebook Saturday calling on University officials to keep the campus free of white nationalists, and both College Republicans and College Democrats released statements in opposition to the demonstration earlier this week. University President Thomas LeBlanc issued a statement urging students to condemn the event Friday.
Rich, a protester who traveled to the District from Long Island, N.Y., said he decided to attend the rally to speak up for “white rights.” Rich declined to provide his last name for fear of retribution.
“White people are getting pushed to the side,” he said. “We do matter. We’re trying to do this in a civil matter – we are nonviolent.”
Rich was accompanied by his fiancee, Leanne – the only woman in the crowd.
Many of the demonstrators used bandanas or scarves to cover their faces, while others wore helmets.
Carl, who declined to give his last name for fear of retribution, was one of the few demonstrators who did not attempt to hide his face. He called the rally “a success” and said the group was able to advocate for the rights of white people without violence.
“I came here prepared to die because of the terrorism that we’re exposed to on a daily basis, both in real life and online,” he said. “We came here today, no one got hurt, no one got injured – it was a successful rally.”
Cayla Harris and Leah Potter contributed reporting.