This weekend marks one year since the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which left one person, Heather Heyer, dead, and dozens injured. Scenes of white supremacists brazenly marching through the small Virginia college town shocked the world, and forced Americans to reckon with the persistence of organized hate in their country.
Jason Kessler, one of the lead organizers behind last year’s event, will hold an anniversary rally on Sunday in Washington DC., right across the street from the White House. While it’s not clear how many people plan to attend his event, given the infighting that’s pervaded the alt-right in the year since Charlottesville, cops and counter-protesters aren’t taking any chances.
In addition to Kessler’s event, there are two counter-demonstrations planned for Sunday, one organized by a coalition of anti-fascist or “antifa” groups, who are traveling from all over the country to attend, and another by a coalition of groups that includes Black Lives Matter.
Meanwhile, fearing a repeat of last year’s events, the city of Charlottesville, which expects to welcome some out-of-town protesters, is banning weapons and masks from its downtown area, effective Friday evening.
Residents and students in Charlottesville are organizing events on Saturday, marking the one year anniversary of the surprise torch-lit march, which saw preppy white supremacists holding tiki torches and chanting neo-Nazi slogans like “Jews will not replace us” as they paraded across the University of Virginia’s campus.
On Saturday afternoon, women of color are leading a “service for repair” at a Presbyterian church. ‘We can do better, be better, if we remember, and work together, to take off our masks, in beautiful, ugly Charlottesville, Virginia,” Pastor Brenda Brown-Grooms wrote in a statement.
UVA students and activists have organized a rally for justice at the campus Rotunda, where last year’s torchlit march convened. Antifascist or “antifa” groups are likely to attend.
Ahead of the coming weekend. Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency, and deployed hundreds of officers Virginia State Police, Virginia’s National Guard, and Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management, to the city. A ban on weapons and access restrictions in downtown Charlottesville go into effect on Friday evening.
According to the permit issued late Thursday morning by the National Park Service, Kessler has reserved a space in Lafayette Park to accommodate 100 to 400 people, from 2.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. on Sunday.
Kessler and Samaria Ruiz, a vocal anti-semite and Holocaust denier, are listed as “persons in charge” on the permit. Ruiz most recently was working as campaign manager to Patrick Little, the neo-Nazi who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in California. Al Stankard, a self-described “bleeding heart r*cist,” is listed as an onsite coordinator.
The purpose of the rally is protesting “civil rights abuse in Charlottesville” and a “white civil rights rally.” According to the permit, speakers include Little, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, among others. (Little, however, in a war-of-words exchanged with Kessler on Gab, said he wasn’t attending).
Kessler, a resident of Charlottesville, has tried to shake off all responsibility for last year’s violence and has sought to distance himself from the hardcore neo-Nazis who showed up (despite the fact he marched and fought alongside them). This year, he’s all about optics.
In a video posted to YouTube on July 10, Kessler laid out his vision for a more mature sequel to Unite the Right.
“It wasn’t my choice for it to be that way,” Kessler said, ruminating on the errors of last year. “We have a very different plan and agenda this year. And that is not to associate ourselves with extremist elements.”
On the website for the event, Kessler urges attendees to bring water, body cameras, and an American or Confederate flag. He says people shouldn’t bring guns, “non-approved flags” (read: Swastikas), shields, pepper spray, knives, or other weapons.
“Do not engage in any fighting,” Kessler states on his website. “ALWAYS be a good representative for our cause.”
WHO ELSE WILL BE THERE?
It’s not clear who is going to show up, as Kessler has burned bridges with many of his ideological cohorts from last year. “Unite the Right” may have been his brainchild, but he’s not hesitated to throw other organizers under the bus. A lot of the main figures present in Charlottesville last year suffered serious consequences for their actions: some were arrested and are now facing jail time; many are battling expensive lawsuits, and others lost their jobs when their employers saw photos of them marching alongside white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The American Guard, a hardcore white nationalist group from Indiana, were rumored to attend this year. But the group’s leader, Brien James, told VICE News that they want nothing to do with Kessler’s event. ‘We are not supporting it in any way,” James said. “We have encouraged all friends, allies, and civic nationalists not to attend. I believe the turnout will be very low.”
Conspiracy theories about Kessler, given that he was a Democrat who previously supported President Obama, have abounded in the year since Charlottesville, with skeptics even suggesting he’s a liberal spy working to tear the far right apart.
Identity Evropa, the preppy khaki-clad white nationalists who were seen marching across University of Virginia’s campus on the eve of Unite the Right won’t be attending either. Patrick Casey, who took over as the group’s leader last November, told VICE News that they’re distancing themselves from the rest of the far-right. “Simply put, we’re doing our own thing,” Casey said.
Alt-right thought-leader Richard Spencer is also actively discouraging others from attending. “I will not be attending the #UniteTheRight this weekend. And I recommend that others do not as well,” Spencer wrote on Twitter. “I know that many have good intentions in going, but a rally like this does not make sense at this time. I don’t know exactly what will happen, but it probably will not be good.”
Kessler’s efforts to disavow neo-Nazis and racists in the last year has also alienated many of his ideological allies.
Chris Cantwell, who was featured in a VICE News documentary last year, has also actively urged people not to attend Kessler’s event.
Michael Hill who heads neo-Confederate League of the South also told VICE News they were skipping the event, as did Jeff Schoep of the hardcore neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement.
Hate Not Welcome: No Unite the Right 2
This is the main counter-demonstration, organized in response to Kessler’s event by a coalition of anti-fascist groups under the banner of A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition.
The permit has been issued to accommodate 1,500 people in a portion of the northern part of Lafayette Park (where Kessler’s event will also be), 500 people in McPherson park and another 500 in Farragut Square. All three spaces are reserved from 8.00 a.m. until 11.59 p.m.
Anti-fascist, or “Antifa,” crews are traveling from across the country – Florida, Ohio, Tennessee – to protest on Sunday.
The last time that antifascists descended en masse to Washington D.C. was on President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Anti-fascists and anarchists played cat and mouse with D.C Metropolitan police throughout the day, smashed windows, hurled firecrackers, and set a limo on fire. Police arrested 230 people, and moved forwards with felony rioting charges against 188 defendants.
The group became known as the #j20 defendants, and if convicted on all charges, were looking at up to 50 years in prison.
Ultimately, after a year of uncertainty and criticism from civil liberties groups, the charges against all defendants were dropped.
DC United Against Hate
This event will be held at Freedom Plaza, a ten minute walk from Lafayette Park, and was organized by a coalition of groups including Black Lives Matter.
The permit reserves the space from 9.00 a.m. to 8 p.m., and will accommodate around 1,000 people. Attendees plan to gather for a rally, featuring speeches by “various religious leaders and music” before marching to Lafayette Park to join the A.N.S.W.E.R rally.
Cover image: ANTIFA and protestors arrive to protest white nationalists at the Unite the Right Rally on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Jason Andrew/Getty Images)