Counterprotesters expected to dwarf white supremacists in DC

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A day after tensions between police and community activists nearly boiled over on the University of Virginia’s campus, the city of Charlottesville is marking Sunday’s anniversary of a deadly gathering of white supremacists with a rally against racial hatred.

But some 115 miles (185 kilometres) away in Washington, the principal organizer of last year’s “Unite the Right” event will hold a so-called white civil rights rally, and police are preparing for crowds of counterprotesters.

Jason Kessler, who abandoned his bid to stage a similar anniversary event in Charlottesville, said in his permit application that he expects 100 to 400 people to participate in his event Sunday afternoon in Lafayette Park, in front of the White House.

But that could be lower and likely will be dwarfed by counterprotests. Some leading figures in the U.S. white nationalist movement have said they won’t attend or have encouraged supporters to stay away.

The National Park Service also issued permits for events organized by DC United Against Hate, New York Black Lives Matter, and other groups. Government and police officials in Washington have expressed confidence the city can manage the events without violence; the mayor and police chief have promised a massive security mobilization to keep protesters and counter-protesters apart.

On Saturday evening on UVA’s campus, police had a brief, tense confrontation with students and other activists angry over a heavy security presence. They unfurled a banner reading “Last year they came w/ torches. This year they come w/ badge” and chanted “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here.” More than 200 marched to another part of campus, where many shouted at a line of officers.

Last year, 22-year-old Clara Carlson faced down the group of white supremacists who marched through campus, surrounding her and a group of friends. On Saturday night, she was angry at the police response to the student rally.

“The university administration just let white supremacists roll through grounds with their torches, and for us, they’re afraid of us. They are afraid of us because we are demanding change from the university,” Carlson said.

The rest of the day had been much quieter, with some residents and businesses expressing that they felt calmer with the police presence in town.

Last year, on Aug. 12, hundreds of white nationalists — including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members — descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the city’s decision decided to remove a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park.

Violent fighting broke out between attendees and counterprotesters that day. Authorities eventually forced the crowd to disperse, but a car later barrelled into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. A state police helicopter later crashed, killing two troopers.

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, told The Associated Press that she has been dreading the anniversary of her daughter’s death for months. On Sunday morning, she plans to bring flowers to the spot where her daughter was killed.

Bro likened losing a child to standing in shallow water as waves roll continually in: “You let the wave wash over, and you don’t chase it. You let it go and you’re OK until the next one comes. But today, I feel like high tide is in.”

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