The U.S. capital of Washington and the neighboring state of Virginia are bracing Sunday for demonstrations marking the first anniversary of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that exploded in deadly violence.
White nationalists and counter-demonstrators are set to rally in a park across the street from the White House amid massive security precautions to prevent violence. Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year's rally in Charlottesville had vowed to hold Sunday's "white civil rights" rally after Charlottesville denied him a permit.
Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, 160 kilometers to the southwest of Washington, several thousand people are expected to gather to observe what happened last year and promote racial healing.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday issued a plea for unity.
“We must come together as a nation,” Trump wrote on Twitter from his golf club in New Jersey. “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
Trump added he has “fought” to improve the lives of minorities and vowed “I will never stop fighting for ALL Americans!”
A year ago, the president's response to the rally in Charlottesville, where one woman was killed when she was run over by a car driven by a white nationalist, drew intense criticism when he declared at a news conference that there were "very fine people on both sides."
Later Saturday, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, did what her father did not do. She outright denounced white supremacists and neo-Nazis in a post on Twitter.
“While Americans are blessed to live in a nation that protects liberty, freedom of speech and diversity of opinion, there is no place for white supremacy, racism, and neo-nazism in our great country.”
Charlottesville resident Michael Lamb told VOA that last year "the police were not able to or made a decision not to enforce law. This year is very, very different. The state police of Virginia are here in mass force and they do control the situation."
A University of Virginia student, Shefali Hedge, said, "I have lived in Charlottesville for 10 years. I am a med student now. I have always been very frustrated by how little the administration did after last year. I kind of want to represent the school and my classmates and standing up against white supremacy, against what happened here last year."
DC mayor pledges 'every resource'
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week she signed an order to escalate emergency operations in preparation of the rally that is scheduled to take place Sunday at Lafayette Square, a park across the street from the White House. Counter-demonstrators also have permits to assemble at the park, as well as at nearby locations.
“It means that I’m making available every resource ... to ensure that we have safe events,” she said at a news conference at a Washington synagogue.
“We have people coming to our city for the sole purpose of spewing hate,” Bowser added. “We denounce hate. We denounce anti-Semitism, and we denounce the rhetoric we expect to hear this Sunday.”
Washington police chief Peter Newsham said firearms will be prohibited at the rallies, even for gun owners with legal licenses.
“Officers will be on high alert for anyone who will be carrying a firearm,” he warned.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and city officials in Charlottesville announced a state of emergency would be in effect Friday through Sunday in that city and parts of Northern Virginia, outside Washington.
Northam described the state of emergency as an “administrative tool” to quickly mobilize resources, including the Virginia National Guard, if there are violent outbreaks.
Virginia State Police Superintendent Gary Settle said more than 700 troopers will be on duty over the weekend and will be “fully prepared to act” to prevent violence.
The “Unite the Right” rally in a Charlottesville park was organized in 2017 by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups to protest plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States Army during the U.S. Civil War in the 19th century.
The rally attracted counterprotesters, and clashes quickly broke out between the two groups. Thirty-two-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer died after she was run down by a car. The driver, a self-described neo-Nazi supporter, has been charged with murder and other counts. His trial is scheduled for November.
Two Virginia state troopers who were monitoring the rally were later killed in the line of duty when their helicopter crashed.
Ken Bredemeier, Fern Robinson, Wayne Lee contributed to this report.