By Caroline Simon
August 1st, 2018
When white nationalist groups clashed with left-wing counterprotesters last August in Charlottesville, Virginia, one woman died and several more people were injured.
This August, similarly opposed groups will converge on Washington, D.C.
Far-left activists, including anarchists, anti-fascists (known commonly as antifa) and Black Lives Matter groups are planning a major counterdemonstration on Aug. 12 that will coincide with “Unite the Right 2,” a “white civil rights” rally in Lafayette Square marking one year since the events in Charlottesville.
“All of their rallies are resistance to our progress. They are not simply debates,” said Makia Green, an organizer with Black Lives Matter D.C., who criticized the notion that white nationalists simply want to demonstrate their First Amendment rights. “White supremacist rallies have left a trail of blood in D.C.”
Many of the activists believe extreme action is necessary to confront the white nationalist movement. Some anti-fascists, in particular, are willing to engage physically with white nationalists.
“The rise of white nationalism and racism has reared its ugly head in ways i haven’t seen in 30 years,” said Scott Crow, an author, spokesman for Agency, an anarchist media collective, and former anti-fascist organizer. “Anarchists are willing to take steps that other people aren’t.”
The counterprotest brings together a variety of groups and people who deeply oppose the ideals espoused last year in Charlottesville. Jen Deerinwater, who plans to protest on Aug. 12, is the executive director and founder of Crushing Colonialism, an indigenous media organization, and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
“Indigenous people have been suffering the longest,” she said. “We are never going to eradicate white supremacy if we don’t eradicate colonialism.”
The counterprotest will center on a rally in Freedom Plaza, blocks away from the white nationalist rally in Lafayette Square. But it’s only one part of a weekend of events dubbed Shut it Down D.C.
The weekend begins with an event Aug. 10, two days before the rally, to prepare activists for confrontations with white nationalists and any possible violence. Counterprotesters say they aren’t planning to work with police.
“Police are here to protect white supremacists, to protect the murderers, to protect the fascists,” Green said, adding that the Aug. 10 training session will teach marshaling and de-escalation tactics so the groups can protect themselves.
The groups’ refusal to work with police, in some cases, stems from a broader disapproval of government.
“The purpose is, of course, to stop the far right, but it’s also to promote a kind of radical politics of the left, of direct action,” said Mark Bray, a historian who has written a book about anti-fascist movements. “Part of the idea is that the police are often sympathetic to the far right or disinterested in protecting people from the far right.”
Such rallies present a challenge to police because they must balance security needs with respect for people’s individual rights, said Tod Burke, a retired criminal justice professor and former Maryland police officer.
“That’s going to be the fine line that law enforcement is going to face,” Burke said, noting that he expects police to protect counterprotesters even if they plan to not cooperate with law enforcement. “Do you go out there with the military image and put up a front right from the start, or do you try to de-escalate?”
Green said she expects 500 to 600 people at the Aug. 12 counterdemonstration, which is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m in Freedom Plaza, blocks away from Lafayette Square. They’ll also be at the white nationalists’ rally itself, which is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m after a parade to the White House at 5 p.m.
“Our goals are to defend D.C.,” she said. “D.C. is not just the alt-right’s political playground.”