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Anti-Racist Protesters Far Outnumber White Supremacists at Washington Rally


White Supremacists, Counter-Protesters Rally Near White House
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D.C. rally

Anti-racist protesters far outnumbered the handful of white supremacists who rallied across from the White House Sunday while police kept both sides apart.

Police set up a wide no-man's land in Washington's Lafayette Square to prevent a repeat of last year's neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia which exploded into violence. A self-confessed Nazi is accused of running over and killing 32 year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer.

But most of the anger Sunday came in the form of profanity, chants, and signs aimed at the sparse group who showed up for what organizers called a "white civil rights rally."

Demonstrators against racism march along city streets as they mark the anniversary of last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018.
Demonstrators against racism march along city streets as they mark the anniversary of last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018.

Many of the white supremacists who turned out hid their faces behind flags and bandanas and refused to speak to reporters.

The organizer of Sunday's rally, Jason Kessler, said the white rights movement cannot be associated with "hate, violence, and oppression."

Unite the Right and Counter-protest Sitemap.
Unite the Right and Counter-protest Sitemap.

A few other speakers appeared, but almost no one heard them before rain and thunderstorms moved in and the tiny gathering broke up.

The counter-demonstrators said fascism must be challenged and that the United States is a nation for all people, not just a few.

President Donald Trump issued a plea for unity on Twitter Saturday, saying "We must come together as a nation, I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!"

Trump added that he has "fought" to improve the lives of minorities and vowed, "I will never stop fighting for ALL Americans!"

President Donald Trump greets members of Bikers for Trump and supporters, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
President Donald Trump greets members of Bikers for Trump and supporters, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.

The president's response to the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville is still being criticized, a year after he declared at an impromptu news conference that there were "very fine people" among the white supremacists.

Washington police were prepared. Mayor Muriel Bowser had signed an order to escalate emergency operations.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham answer questions from reporters about the city's preparations for the white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right," protests in Washington, August 9, 2018.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham answer questions from reporters about the city's preparations for the white nationalist-led rally marking the one-year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right," protests in Washington, August 9, 2018.

"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."

Washington police chief Peter Newsham said firearms will be prohibited at the rallies, even for gun owners with legal licenses.

Meanwhile, students and left-wing activists were in Charlottesville Saturday and Sunday to mark one year since the deadly violence. 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.."

Police in riot gear block demonstrators at the site where Heather Heyer was killed, on the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12, 2018.
Police in riot gear block demonstrators at the site where Heather Heyer was killed, on the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12, 2018.

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."

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and city officials in Charlottesville announced a state of emergency was in effect through Sunday in Charlottesville 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 were violent outbreaks.

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.

VOA Russian service contributed to this report.

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