WASHINGTON – Sunday’s “Unite the Right 2” rally attracted hundreds of anti-racist counterprotesters, and nearly interrupted service on the capital’s Metro, but in the end only a few dozen neo-Nazis showed up for the white supremacist gathering here, marking one year since the violent racist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After less than an hour, a rainstorm scattered the two dozen or so white nationalists who had gathered in Lafayette Square facing the White House.
Their rally was intended to be a sequel to last summer’s melee that resulted in the murder of a counterprotester, nine wounded, weeks of international media focus on race in America, and a crucible moment in Donald Trump’s presidency.
The legacy of last year’s Charlottesville riot had Washington braced for a new round of racist violence.
But Sunday’s tiny turnout attested to the recent splintering of America’s white nationalist movement, still suffering from serious blows as journalists and law enforcement sift through footage of the Charlottesville rally to learn the identities of its underground leaders.
There is momentum within this community, but also strategic indecision amongst its leaders on their best path forward to capitalize on an environment they consider conducive to growth – and on a presidency they view as friendly to their cause. Racist protests known as “flash demos” held during the last year which were better attended than Sunday’s were organized on the dark web, thus avoiding counter-protesters and police restrictions.
Charlottesville, still reeling from last year’s events, refused Unite the Right a demonstration permit. Security in Washington was tight, with guns forbidden. Police kept the neo-Nazis and counter-protesters apart.
But logistical obstacles should not obscure the strength of the racist movement, warn civil rights advocates.
“Sadly, these hateful, antisemitic, racist and violent messages do have traction in this country,” said Aaron Alexander, rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington who addressed the “United to Love” counterprotest on the National Mall. “The fact that only a few dozen neo-Nazis came to the Nation’s capital, in the end, should not distract us from the growing number of open antisemites and racists appearing on ballots across the country.
“Small numbers yesterday ought not distract us from the systemic injustices perpetrated against people of color on a daily basis in this country,” he continued. “Only a dozen or so Nazis in DC can’t distract us from the fact that too many of our leaders can’t seem to find the courage or moral clarity to unequivocally condemn and divest from openly hostile hate groups.”
Trump, who last year faced universal criticism for stating there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville rally, tweeted an equivocating message in anticipation of the rally.
“The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation,” he wrote on Twitter. “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
White nationalist leaders say that Caucasians are at risk of losing their historic majority in the United States due to an increase in both legal and illegal immigration.