Just a small number of white supremacists and members of other far-right groups showed up at a park just north of the White House on Sunday afternoon to rally for "white civil rights" a year after deadly violence broke out following a rally involving neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members in Charlottesville, Va.
Unite the Right II, which was being billed as a "white civil rights rally," was scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. in Lafayette Square. But white nationalist Jason Kessler, the event's organizer, arrived about 3 p.m. with what were reported to be about two dozen allies, far fewer than the 400 Kessler expected to attend. Kessler and other attendees, far outnumbered by reporters covering the event, spoke and exited the park about 5:15 p.m.
Kessler was behind last year's rally in Charlottesville, which included neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan chanting "Jews will not replace us" while carrying tiki torches in front of a statue of Confederate war hero Robert E. Lee. Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and activist, was killed amid last year's violence. And Virginia state troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates lost their lives when their helicopter crashed as they were monitoring the rally.
Kessler's event was dwarfed by counter-protesters from at least 40 anti-racism groups, including the leftist anti-fascist group Antifa. Many white nationalists who supported and attended last year's violent rally, such as Mike "Enoch" Peinovich, a top neo-Nazi shock jock whose father is a retired University of Pennsylvania professor, have publicly distanced themselves from Kessler this time around.
Kessler and the attendees exited Lafayette Square around 5 p.m, about the time the event was scheduled to begin. Kessler told reporters that his rally was poorly attended by other white nationalists because of alt-right infighting and leaders within the movement telling followers not to travel to Washington to attend today's event.
Despite the anger and tense atmosphere, so far there's only been one arrest. According to Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessier, a man was arrested at the Vienna Metro Station around 2:30 p.m. after he allegedly spit on two Virginia state troopers.
It's unclear whether the man arrested was a counterprotester or a member of Kessler's group of white nationalists who took the Metro to Foggy Bottom before their rally at 5:30 p.m.
Antifa antiprotesters have arrived, and according to reporters on the ground, they far outnumber the small group of white nationalists that have shown up in Washington on Sunday afternoon. Members of Antifa, donning black shirts and bandannas covering their face, could be heard chanting, "Anytime, any place, punch a Nazi in the face."
A small group of "Unite the Right" attendees arrived in Washington around 3 p.m. led by Kessler, who organized today's rally. According to reporters, the group is much smaller than the 400 or so that were expected to promote "white rights" in a park near the White House.
"A band of racists outnumbered by the police officers who are there to protect their free speech rights," CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wrote on Twitter.
Hours before white nationalists were expected to begin their rally, hundreds of counterprotesters filled Lafayette Square and Freedom Plaza in Washington to offer their own message against racism and white supremacy.
"We represent the majority sentiment in this country," Brian Becker, the executive director of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, told the Washington Post. "Nazis and the KKK do not represent America."
Members of Antifa led a tense march from the University of Virginia campus through Charlottesville on Saturday night, shouting at police, "Last year they came with torches. This year they come with badges," and chanting "Why are you in riot gear? We don't see no riot here." NBC News correspondent Cal Perry and his camera crew were roughed up last night when protesters became very aggressive with members of the media.
"Charlottesville police deserve a lot of credit for keeping it under relative control," Perry wrote on Twitter early Sunday morning. He also shared more videos of the tense crowd of protesters, which drew widespread condemnation from members of the media.