White Supremacists, Counter-Protesters Ready Rally Near White House

White Supremacists, Counter-Protesters Ready Rally Near White House
Anti-racist protesters are outnumbering the handful of white supremacists who turned out for what they call a "white civil rights" rally across the street from the White House.

Police set up a wide no-man's land in Washington's Lafayette Square, to keep the two sides apart to prevent a repeat of last year's neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that exploded into violence. A young female counter-demonstrator was run over and killed in that protest by a car driven by a self-confessed Nazi.

Hundreds of counter-demonstrators waved various anti-racist signs Sunday while most of the white supremacists who turned out hid their faces with 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."

But 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!"

The president's response to the deadly 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 Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week she signed an order to escalate emergency operations in preparation for the this year's rally at Lafayette Square.

"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.

"Officers will be on high alert for anyone who will be carrying a firearm," he warned.

Hundreds of students and left-wing activists gathered 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. 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."

Virginia Governor 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.

VOA Russian service contributed to this report.