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Thousands of counterprotesters vastly outnumber white supremacists at D.C. anniversary rally

References to Charlottesville rally visible throughout the afternoon

<p>Several signs held by counterprotestors referenced last year's events in Charlottesville.</p>

Several signs held by counterprotestors referenced last year's events in Charlottesville.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Approximately two dozen individuals gathered in Lafayette Square across from the White House Sunday afternoon to commemorate the deadly Unite the Right rally last August in Charlottesville. Although a much larger demonstration was expected — the rally’s permit estimated between 100 and 400 protesters — the white supremacist demonstrators were greatly outnumbered by thousands of counterprotesters, who assembled in the opposite side of the park, separated by police and barricades.

Counterprotesters held signs referencing last year’s events on Aug. 11 and 12 with images of broken tiki torches and statements in memory of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was killed in last year’s car attack. Numerous counterprotesters held signs reading, “From Charlottesville to the White House: Shut down white supremacy!”

Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler was granted a permit to rally in Lafayette Square by the National Park Service. Kessler had previously applied for a permit to host an anniversary rally in Charlottesville and sued the City when the permit was denied. Late last month, he withdrew his motion to force the City to give him a permit, just before a judge was set to rule on it.

Hundreds of Metropolitan Police Department officers assembled in the Square and the surrounding areas. Officers, some mounted on horseback, lined the fences separating the large crowd of counterprotesters from the cluster of white supremacists. 

The police presence extended beyond the park and into the nearby streets, with police cars and vans barricading many entrances. Police cyclists lined the streets outside Lafayette Square and down Pennsylvania Avenue near the Foggy Bottom Metro station, where the rally participants arrived in D.C. 

According to CNN, the white supremacists — including organizer Kessler — arrived at Foggy Bottom Metro station at 3 p.m., two hours earlier than scheduled. A police escort surrounded the rally participants as they walked from the Metro station to Lafayette Square, keeping them separated from the counterprotesters that lined the sidewalks. 

With little direct interaction between the white supremacists and the counterprotesters, the rallies did not escalate to the violence that marked the original Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. At that event, in addition to the car attack resulting in the death of Heyer, several dozen protesters were injured in violent clashes between the opposing groups.

Thousands of counterprotesters assembled in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. opposition to "Unite the Right 2."

MPD limited media access to the white supremacists’ section of Lafayette Square, saying  approximately a dozen journalists had been allowed into a small press area near rally. Officials said the U.S. Park Police had then issued orders to cut off press access. 

Four different speakers, including Kessler, addressed the Unite the Right participants. During his speech, Kessler said the smaller crowd was due to protesters from last year being scared to return and express their views.

“They felt like last year, they came to express their point of view,” Kessler said. “They were attacked, and when they fought back, they were overly prosecuted.”

Throughout the 40-minute rally, counterprotesters indicated they did not welcome the white supremacists’ presence, shouting, “shame,” and telling protesters to “go home.” As a few participants were exiting Lafayette Park without a police escort, they were surrounded by counterprotesters who yelled, “f—k you, Nazis!”

Shortly after 5 p.m., as the white supremacists were escorted out of the park and a thunderstorm intensified, the larger crowds of counterprotesters began to slowly disperse. Some continued to march through the surrounding streets, chanting and waving banners — these included antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters who remained nearby protesting the police presence. 

By 6 p.m., the crowds had dispersed and streets that had been closed for the rally had reopened.