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On the eve of Unite the Right 2, counter-protestors in D.C. mobilize

It’s been one year since a parade of tiki torch-wielding, polo-shirted Brock Turner look-alikes weaseled through the University of Virginia’s campus chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” A year since James Fields, Jr. rammed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd and murdered Heather Heyer. Unlike the actual genocide for which their swastikas stand, the anniversary of the Unite the Right rally is something these neo-Nazis will never forget, and so, like a field trip from a middle school in hell, they are piling into Washington, D.C., for “Unite the Right 2.”

But, to borrow a term of art from the president, there are “very fine people” on the other side of this Make America Germany In 1940 brigade, preparing for the arrival of however many white supremacists show up. The Unite the Right organizers are surely hoping for another Charlottesville. They could wind up with another Boston, which saw thousands of counter-protestors outnumber the smattering of white supremacists (ahem, “free speech” enthusiasts) to such a humiliating degree that they slunk away from Boston Common before attendees gave any of their planned speeches.

“If something happens to the Nazis, it’ll be purely the result of their own aggression.”

If that’s how this weekend goes — if it becomes another entry in D.C.’s fine tradition of humiliating white supremacists — it will be due in part to the efforts of counter-protestors in Washington. Efforts have likely ramped up in the month since Charlottesville officially denied Unite the Right 2 organizer Jason Kessler’s a permit to return to their city, forcing him to focus all his attention on D.C.

Thursday night, about a dozen activists from ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), met at a home in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood to make signs and prepare for protests this weekend.

Walter Smolarek, 25, an organizer with the Answer Coalition, was in Philadelphia during last year’s march in Charlottesville. In the kitchen, as some activists carefully removed Palestine-related signs from sticks (“unfortunately, we’ll be needing those again,” he said) and stapled on freshly-painted anti-racist ones, Smolarek said his group had “secured a permit for Lafayatte Park,” where Unite the Right 2 is slated to assemble. “We’re going to be exercising our free speech rights.”

When asked what he and his group think of police efforts to manage Sunday’s march, Smolarek said, “I can’t say that we have any type of respect for any type of police department.”

“I think it’s truly outrageous that whenever there’s a gathering of white supremacists, of neo-Nazis, the police effectively function as the private security of these organizations,” Smolarek said. “And so we think that not a cent of taxpayer money should be spent giving special accommodations or protections to such fascists. We’re not saying that they should prevent them from gathering. We’re saying that they should face the consequences of their actions, they should face the response of the people. We don’t think that the government needs to ban them — we think that people are perfectly capable of banning them themselves.”

Noting that Washington, D.C. is a “progressive city” — he said the expectation is that people — progressives, including the African Americans and Latino populations targeted by white nationalists — would fill Lafayette Park “to crowd out the Nazis.”

Smolarek said he didn’t expect any violence,  but “if something happens to the Nazis, it’ll be purely the result of their own aggression.”

Signs in progress at the ANSWER Coalition event on August 9, 2018, to prepare for protesting Unite the Right 2. CREDIT: Dorothy Parvaz

On Friday afternoon, Black Lives Matter D.C. and a coalition of Washington-area activist organizations held a six-hour workshop to prepare for Sunday’s protests. The “action camp [focused] on teaching people their rights when demonstrating, as well as self-defense,” as DCist reported.

A number of religious groups are holding events as well. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) led a “regional teach-in on the effects of extremist groups in American communities and effective ways to push back against the spread of hate” at Washington Hebrew Congregation Friday night, which was followed by a free Shabbat service.

And Saturday night, the Western Presbyterian Church, along with National Capital Presbytery and Friends, is hosting a service at the Western Presbyterian Church followed by a walk to the nearby Foggy Bottom Metro station, which is where Unite the Right’s march begins Sunday. The group will “offer prayer aloud and in chalk on the ground where marchers will take their first steps the next day.”

As for Sunday, the day of the rally itself, at least ten different anti-hate groups have planned formal counter-protests. (DCist has the full list here.) The largest among them, “Hate Not Welcome: No Unite the Right 2,” is being organized by Shut it Down D.C., a coalition that includes Black Lives Matter D.C., Hoods4Justice, and the D.C. Antifascist Collective.

At press time, 1,500 people have RSVP’ed to the Hate Not Welcome event on Facebook, which be will begin with a three-hour “Still Here, Still Strong” rally at Freedom Plaza at noon, followed by a march to Lafayette Square. Shut it Down D.C. is also holding a battery of trainings and events in the lead-up to Sunday, including sessions on protest health, deescalation, and “understanding law enforcement tactics, equipment, and psychology.” The open letter on their event page reads, in part:

“Our lives were forever changed on August 12, 2017, when neo-Nazis, KKK and militia members, and Alt-Right trolls from across the US and North America converged on the town of Charlottesville, Virginia.

White supremacists lit torches and attacked students as young as 17 last year while the police looked on and did nothing. The next day, people bravely confronted hundreds of armed racists. In the ensuing confrontation, one person gave her life, and many more were scarred forever. Tens of thousands immediately took to the streets. Suddenly the world would never be the same.”

“We will be in the streets on August 10-12,” they write. “And we intend to win.”

With reporting by Dorothy Parvaz.


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