WASHINGTON, D.C.—The racists wanted a show of force, a two-hour rally, and the respect of the nation’s capital. They got none of it.
Instead, the two dozen or so white supremacists were outnumbered by more than 1,000 protesters. The group relied all day on a heavy police presence to escort their rally and then, before it was even scheduled to start, they fled in police vans.
Unite the Right II, meant to mark the one-year anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville hate rally, was a bust. Its organizer, Jason Kessler, had spent the previous year accumulating enemies, from white supremacists who attended his first rally to thousands of anti-fascists protesters who were ready to shut down his sequel on Sunday.
Kessler’s faction assembled in a Virginia subway station in the afternoon. Rather than face protesters at the subway station’s entrance, they lingered by a private bus until a swarm of police—more than one officer per white supremacist—rushed them into the station.
Police had previously suggested three private train cars for the white supremacists, in order to keep them separated from protesters. But the small group couldn’t fill a single train car, even with their police escort.
More police joined the escort in D.C., when the racists unloaded at a D.C. station and led a short march to Lafayette Square in front of the White House, escorted by police motorcycles and vans the whole way. Photojournalists who attempted to film the march saw a less friendly response: police shoved cameras and camera operators away as they walked backward recording the marchers’ faces.
The dozen white nationalists filtered into a heavily blockaded area in front of the White House, where Kessler delivered remarks, in part acknowledging the rally’s failure, and aired some old talking points in which he claimed to be a free speech activist and not a white nationalist. Behind him, a follower held up signs with racist slogans. A fellow marcher had a face tattoo that referenced the “14 Words,” a white supremacist mantra.
Kessler had tried to book former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and neo-Nazi Patrick Little as speakers, but they didn’t come.
Outside the barricades, protesters in black bloc attire and waving anti-racist posters waited to block their exit.
“I always felt like it was necessary to fight against racism, hatred, and violence,” Bonnie Brown, an activist, told The Daily Beast outside the park. “I’m worried for other people about it turning violent, but for me, I think it’s necessary to face that kind of hatred, to smash white supremacy... I’m not afraid to face violence when it comes to injustice.”
Protesters threw some items at police, including shooting off a firework over their heads. But the tension dissipated after it was revealed that Kessler and his allies had already left the area.
Unite the Right II was scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Lafayette Park. But after the racists’ hasty trip to the park and their meager speeches, they hitched a ride out of the rally in police vans before 5 p.m., more than half an hour before the event was supposed to begin.
Police escorted them to a subway station, where they helped them onto train cars a second time and shipped them off out of the city.