In 2017, an assortment of alt-right and far-right affiliated groups gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of Confederate monuments and names from a city square. It ended in the death of a Charlottesville woman.
The mayor and police chief of Washington, D.C., on Thursday promised tight security for Sunday’s “Unite the Right” rally and counterprotests marking the first anniversary of a white nationalist rally that erupted in deadly violence a year ago.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city was activating its emergency operations center and would be on high alert for violence.
“We have people coming to our city for the sole purpose of spewing hate,” Bowser said. “We denounce hate, we denounce anti-Semitism, and we denounce the rhetoric we expect to hear this Sunday.”
Bowser, Chief Peter Newsham and other officials spoke at a news conference held at a synagogue in the city of 700,000 people, about half of whom are black.
Newsham said guns will be banned from the rallies, even for gun owners with legal permits. He said the white nationalists and the counterprotesters would be separated, even though both have permits to use a park near the White House.
Newsham was reticent to provide security details, saying he didn’t want anyone with malicious intent to be able to “plan ahead.”
“The rules are pretty simple,” Newsham said. “Don’t hurt anyone and don’t break anything.
A year ago and 120 miles southwest of Washington, a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly. Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant, was struck and killed when a white supremacist slammed his car into a counterprotest. And two Virginia state troopers died when their surveillance helicopter crashed near the protests.
James Alex Fields Jr., was indicted on one federal count of a hate crime resulting in Heyer’s death, 28 counts of hate crimes for causing bodily injury and involving an attempt to kill and one count of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity. Jason Kessler, who organized last year’s event, was denied a permit to gather in Charlottesville this year.
Instead, hundreds of far-right supporters will gather at Lafayette Park to press their demand for “white civil rights.”
Rally organizers have said they plan to take the city’s light-rail system from suburban Virginia to a stop near the rally site. Newsham and other law enforcement officials said those plans could change, but that police would be stationed at both ends of the train line as well as along the walking route from the train to Lafayette Park.
One security measure that won’t be established is a special light-rail train for the white nationalists. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said it was preparing security options that place the “highest priority” on protecting passengers and Metro workers.
“To be absolutely clear, Metro is not preparing a “special train” for the private use of any group,” the transit agency said in a statement.
Hundreds of counterprotesters, banding together as Shut it Down D.C., are planning a “Still Here, Still Strong” rally at Freedom Plaza, a few blocks from Lafayette Park. Organizers are calling on all “anti-fascists and people of good conscience” to take the streets in solidarity on Sunday.
“It’s important that we feature speakers from the most marginalized identities to celebrate our existence,” said Constance Y, a leader of Shut it Down DC.
The group plans to march to Lexington Park shortly before the far-right rally.
“It’s a sad indictment of this country that we are even having to deal with organized white supremacists,” said Mike Stark, an organizer of the march. “On Aug. 12, thousands of people of conscience will be standing up. We hope millions who feel as they do will soon follow their example.”
Although the far-right won’t have a formal event in Charlottesville, several memorial events to mark the anniversary are planned. And Charlottesville is ramping up security. Effective Friday evening the city will establish a defined security area within downtown, with police allowing pedestrians to enter only through two portals.
Dozens of items are banned, from glass bottles and skateboards to knives and air rifles.
“We have learned many lessons from the tragic events of Aug. 12, 2017,” interim City Manager Mike Murphy said.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a state of emergency for Charlottesville and parts of Northern Virginia, describing the order as an “administrative tool” to mobilize Virginia National Guard or other security assets in case clashes erupt.
“Virginia continues to mourn the three Virginians who lost their lives in the course of the demonstrations a year ago,” Northam said. “We hope the anniversary of those events passes peacefully.”
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