WASHINGTON — Only a fraction of the 20 to 400 pro-“white civil rights” demonstrators that were expected to join Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler at Lafayette Square on Capitol Hill actually showed up for the event on Sunday.
The rally marking the one year anniversary of the deadly original Unite the Right gathering of Neo-Nazis and Klansmen in Charlottesville, Virginia, was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m., but it actually started around 3 p.m.
Kessler told reporters some of his supporters weren’t permitted to join him on the grassy green space directly across the street from the White House because they didn’t make it in time for D.C. police to escort them there.
The estimated 10-12 Unite the Right advocates who arrived at the protest were dwarfed by a multitude of what appeared to be thousands of anti-racist counter-protesters. The latter group was cordoned off from Kessler and company by a wall of National Park police and other law enforcement officers standing behind metal barricades.
“There were a lot of people whose civil rights were abused last year because of the Charlottesville government,” Kessler told reporters on Sunday. “I firmly believe that Heather Heyer would still be alive today if the Charlottesville government had protected that event like they promised to do, like D.C. police protected this event.”
The change in schedule for Kessler’s rally initially caught counter-protesters off guard.
Most of them were gathered in nearby Freedom Plaza for the “Hate Not Welcome” protest organized by Shut it Down D.C., a coalition of activist organizations including the D.C. Antifascist Collective, Occupy Wall Street and Charlottesville and D.C. chapters of Black Lives Matter. The anti-racist gathering featured a series of speakers who denounced the anti-Semitism and white supremacist views espoused at the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville last year.
One of the counter-protesters was Constance Young, a D.C. resident who traveled to Charlottesville a year ago and was among the protesters that James Alex Fields Jr. mowed down with his Dodge Charger.
Young’s knee was injured during the attack, which killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
“I consider myself fortunate,” Young told Mic. “I’m up and walking and I’m OK. I don’t have any remaining physical scars or trauma, but there’s a lot of people that do.”
Protester Sonya Evans quoted Malcolm X to explain Sunday’s counter protest.
“If we don’t stand up for something, we’ll fall for anything,” she said on her reasons for attending the event. “We’re going backwards in this country. We should not have to be protesting against Nazis in 2018.”
The counter-protesters eventually made their way over to Lafayette Square where they were ushered into a grassy area along H St. NW, a few hundred yards away from Kessler’s group, where there was debate over what the rally was actually about.
Kessler argued the rally was not a gathering of white nationalists and that he refused to let white nationalists like Andrew Anglin and Richard Spencer attend this year’s Unite the Right rally.
“They’re definitely more extreme than me,” Kessler said of Anglin and Spencer. “I’m not a white nationalist. I’m a civil rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic… I’ve condemned Neo-Nazis in the lead up to this rally. Those people were in the minority [in Charlottesville], but because what they said was so offensive and so frightening to a lot of people, it became a focal point for a lot of people.”
Kessler also told reporters he himself is not a white supremacist even though he ranked the IQs of different races during an interview with NPR on Friday.
“It’s not about the differences between us,” Kessler said. “All people have human worth and dignity… I’m not interested in the things that divide us.”
Some of his fellow rally-goers shared Kessler’s view that white Americans are being marginalized in “their own” country, citing controversial comments made by New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong and the alleged social media censorship of far right alternative news personalities like Alex Jones.
“I believe the European American way is under attack,” said one anonymous white rally goer who wore a helmet, sunglasses, and hid the rest of his face with an American flag bandanna. “People like myself and other white Americans are being ostracized and polarized because of the actions of [a] few individuals. As a collective we believe our rights are being violated.”
Kessler said the event was “diverse,” but it appeared to include only one non-white speaker, Jovanni “Jovi Val,” Valle, a pro-Trump Latino who told Mic some of his fellow “conservatives” have told him his race makes him intellectually inferior.
“Somebody told me being Latino, you have a lower IQ,” Valle said during an interview with Mic. “I don’t believe in that. … I prefer not to be a statistic. I don’t care what they say.”