Outrage as White Supremacist Organizer of Fatal Charlottesville Rally Plans DC Anniversary Event

In August of 2017, white supremacists gathered at a violent "Unite the Right" rally to protest Charlottesville, Virginia's plan to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Outrage as White Supremacist Organizer of Fatal Charlottesville Rally Plans DC Anniversary Event

"They're terrorists. And they should be run out of D.C.," responded one critic

News that white supremacists are planning a two-day "white civil rights rally" near the White House in August to mark the one-year anniversary of last year's deadly "Unite the Right" demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia has provoked widespread outrage and calls for counterprotests.

"I believe in free speech. But speech that advocates violence crosses the line," responded Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Citing a spokesman for the National Park Service, the Washington Postreported Wednesday that officials have approved white supremacist leader Jason Kessler's request to hold the Aug. 11-12 event but have not yet issued a permit.

Kessler helped organize the demonstrations in Charlottesville last year that began with Neo-Nazis storming the streets with torches on a Friday night, then quickly descended into violence during a Saturday rally that led the governor to call a state of emergency. One rally participant, James Alex Fields Jr., plowed his car into a crowd, killing anti-racist demonstrator Heather Heyer, and several white supremacists viciously beat a 20-year-old black man in a parking garage.

Approval for this year's D.C. rally comes after Charlottesville officials rejected Kessler's application to host an anniversary event in the city that scores of white supremacists terrorized nearly a year ago. Following that decision in December, Kessler filed a lawsuit claiming the city is infringing on his First Amendment rights. A court ruling is pending, but Kessler told the Post if he prevails, there will be rallies in both locations.

Last year's demonstrations dominated headlines for weeks, particularly after President Donald Trump repeatedly claimed "both sides"--meaning white supremacists and anti-racist counterprotesters--were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville. Critics quickly denounced the president's remarks as "nauseating," "racist," and "unconscionable."

Kessler told the Post he chose D.C. because he wants Trump and other elected officials to know about "the civil rights abuse by the Charlottesville government that led to the violence at last year's rally." He added that "white people are being denied the ability to organize in political organizations the way other groups do, free of harassment, to face the issues important to us."

Responding to Kessler's stated purpose for the new event--and his continuous refusals to accept any responsibility for the violence--The Root's Breanna Edwards wrote:

So it wasn't the fault of your group and your ideologies that a white man felt empowered to run his car through counterprotesters, killing Heyer? It wasn't the fault of your group that DeAndre Harris got brutally beaten by white supremacists while counterprotesting in Charlottesville? It wasn't the fault of your group that a white nationalist opened fire at the crowd during the rally?

That was all just peaceful activity on the part of your group, right?

"At any rate, there is no doubt that this rally will not go down without counterprotesters showing up again," Edwards concluded, "but let's hope it doesn't come to that, especially given Kessler's track record."

If the rally goes on as planned, opponents are already vowing to hold mass counterprotests.

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