Hundreds of white nationalists and opponents will stage dueling public protests in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, marking a year since similar demonstrations turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va.
White nationalists for months have been fighting amongst themselves over how to stage their Aug. 12 "Unite the Right 2" rally, even while a broad coalition of civil rights activists have coordinated expansive counterprotests.
The permit for the "white civil rights" rally estimates there will be up to 400 attendees, but experts warned The Hill this is likely overblown.
"[These neo-Nazi groups] are pretty famous for overestimating their turnout and backing down when it turns out that there’s a really massive response to what they’re doing," Mark Lance, a professor of justice and peace at Georgetown University, told The Hill. "So it would not surprise me if it was a very small turnout."
Though it is hard to gauge how many counterprotestors will show up, estimates range between several hundred and more than 1,000.
There are six separate counterprotests planned throughout the day on Sunday, but most people will likely converge at the early-evening "Unite the Right" rally in Lafayette Park, which is across the street from the White House.
The "Unite the Right 2" rally was organized by the same man as last year's event in Charlottesville, Jason Kessler. Kessler has said white nationalists this year hope to deal with the "civil rights violations" that they experienced in Virginia in 2017, apparently implying that counterprotesters did not allow protesters to express themselves.
Last year's protests ended when a car was driven into a crowd of counterprotestors, killing a woman named Heather Heyer. A a self-described neo-Nazi is charged in the death. A black man named DeAndre Harris was also brutally beaten by white supremacists in a parking garage.
"Those kind of iconic, terrifying, violent moments take on a historical significance," Lance said. The August weekend terror last summer provides the tense undercurrent to events taking place in D.C. on Sunday.
D.C. officials have stated multiple times that they are taking the issue of safety very seriously.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday activated the city's emergency operations center, which coordinates local, state and federal authorities working together throughout the weekend.
"We have people coming to our city for the sole purpose of spewing hate," Bowser said at a news conference on Thursday. "We denounce hate, we denounce anti-Semitism, and we denounce the rhetoric we expect to hear this Sunday."
The D.C. Chief of Police Peter Newsham at a press conference said law enforcement is focused on keeping the groups separate from each other in order to avoid the level of physical violence seen in Charlottesville last year.
Bowser and Newsham made it clear that guns are banned from the protests. The "Unite the Right" website also lists firearms, knives and "other weapons" among the items protesters should not bring.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, executive director of anti-racism organization One People's Project that has called on followers to respond to Sunday's rally, told The Hill that many counterprotesters are wary of the intense police presence. At a white nationalist rally in Portland, Ore., last week, police officers were accused of using more force against peaceful counterprotesters than the far-right militants.
"I was in Portland last weekend," Jenkins said. "I think people really didn't think of the strong-arm tactics that police have at rallies, especially when it's starting to look like the police don't have any just cause to engage the way they are acting."
"We're afraid they will do it again this time," Jenkins said.
Lance, who is an organizer for the Shut It Down DC, said most counterprotesters "do not see the state as our ally," but added that they will try to "work with police" and "maintain respectful engagement."
Shut It Down DC, a coalition of more than 20 leftist and social justice organizations, is one of the major groups organizing counterprotests and trainings throughout the weekend. The coalition has called for "mass mobilization" in D.C. from Aug. 10-12.
Anti-fascist protesters are also planning multiple actions across the city, but do not publicize protests before the fact.
White nationalists are planning to congregate at the Vienna Metro Station in Virginia about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. They will ride to Foggy Bottom Station together and march to Lafayette Park across from the White House. D.C. Metro dropped their plans to provide separate cars for the extremists, but Metro officials have said passengers should expect delays due to increased security.
But Lance said, due to the location change, the upcoming protests are occurring in an entirely different context than last year's "Unite the Right" rally.
"This is D.C.," Lance said. "This is one of the most diverse, most progressive cities in America and a city with a long, long history of organization and activism. We’ve got a lot more people to work with than were in Charlottesville."
"There’s a kind of ... foolish arrogance on the part of these people to come to this city, majority-black city, sanctuary city, city [where] I think 94 percent voted Democrat in last election," Lance continued. "Our city runs from liberal to radical. There’s no chance we’re going to put up with an invasion like what was seen in Charlottesville."
Lance said the police in D.C. are also better-equipped and better-trained to deal with contentious protests.
"Police in D.C. ... have virtually unlimited resources and deal with a protest every week," Lance said.
There is division among the factions "uniting" at the rally, as well. Many white supremacists and neo-Nazis believe last year's events were negative for their movement.
"There began a lot of in-fighting about whether it had been smart or not to do this kind of street action," Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center told The Hill. "And a lot of folks who were at Charlottesville ... have come to the position that it was a mistake, that it's better to have private meetings — that the fallout wasn't worth it, basically."
The counterprotests may be larger and better coordinated than the white supremacist rally.
Multiple counterprotesters told The Hill that they feel this year's events are accompanied by a greater sense of urgency around issues of racism and white supremacy, given the Trump administration's hard-line immigration policies and tendency to stoke the fires of cultural wars.
"The current government, in our view, is at least tacitly and in some cases supporting white supremacists," Lance said. "There’s much concern in the long run to change the direction the government is heading as we are to confront these guys who are marching in D.C."
Trump last year decried violence on "both sides" in Charlottesville, which to many drew a moral equivalence between the counterprotesters with the white supremacists who planned the rally.
The president changed his tone ahead of Sunday's rally, however, tweeting early Saturday that he condemns "all types of racism and acts of violence."
"The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!" he wrote.