D.C. Prepares For White Supremacist Rally And Counterprotests

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Washington, D.C., is preparing for a white supremacist rally next to the White House on Sunday, one year after the "Unite The Right" demonstration by the same organizer turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va.

In the hours before the event and planned counter-protests nearby, police are blocking traffic and installing black metal fencing in Lafayette Square in order to keep the groups separate, NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

The white supremacist demonstrators plan to march to the square from a nearby metro station, Brady notes, and the event is scheduled to wrap up by about 7:30 p.m. ET. However, he adds: "I think we have to be prepared for really just about anything."

In an interview that contained multiple racist claims, Jason Kessler, the event's organizer, told NPR that his top goal is to make sure the event is peaceful, and characterized it as defending the First Amendment.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference Thursday that the city is prepared to secure the white supremacist event.

At the same time, she said: "We, the people of Washington, D.C., say unequivocally that we denounce hate, we denounce anti-semitism, and we denounce the rhetoric that we expect to hear this Sunday. ... Let us be in one voice and tell them that they are wrong. The only right message, and the message I hope we will carry jointly as Washingtonians, is love, inclusion and diversity."

D.C. police insist they are prepared to keep everyone safe. "There is no city better equipped to handle large-scale events, including First Amendment events, than Washington D.C.," Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters.

Newsham stressed the events will have tight restrictions on firearms, with no guns allowed on Sunday in and around the demonstrations.

He said authorities have been planning for the event for months, and during that time have closely studied how law enforcement handled last year's rally in Charlottesville. There, a woman named Heather Heyer was killed when a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators. Dozens of others were injured during the event.

Charlottesville police, he said, were criticized for "failing to keep the two groups separate." Newsham added that today, "law enforcement's goal during the entire operational period is to keep the two groups separated," in order to avoid violent confrontations.

Groups that are planning counter-demonstrations include Shut It Down D.C. and Black Lives Matter of Greater New York.

Hawk Newsome, the president of that Black Lives Matter chapter, told NPR last week that if people are "tired of the racism in America, if they're tired of these groups who have killed people for hundreds of years, then they should show up and stand with us in this safe space on Sunday."

Last night, crowds of students and their supporters rallied in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia to mark the anniversary and stand against white supremacy.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reported, they are reclaiming that space because last year white supremacists "came with their torches and took over that part of campus."

The protesters' attention turned to the heavy police presence around the event, including unfurling a banner that said, "Last year they came w/torches, this year they come w/badges."

"They are here to control us!" protesters chanted, as Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF reported. "Security fences at the site and the large number of police on hand made organizers uneasy, and they quickly changed plans." The demonstrators started moving, marching for some two hours in the area.

The city's residents are also marking the anniversary this weekend with memorial events and a non-violence workshop.

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