Washington was bracing for a white nationalist rally on Sunday organized to coincide with the anniversary of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The “Unite the Right 2” event was set to take place at 5:30 p.m. in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. Several demonstrations by counterprotesters, who were expected to outnumber the white nationalists, were to take place nearby.
Authorities have promised an enormous police presence to keep both sides apart and avoid the street brawls that broke out last year in downtown Charlottesville. A local woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when an Ohio man, James Fields, drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
At the time, President Donald Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, spurring criticism from across the political divide that he was equating the counterprotesters with the rally attendees, who included neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.
On Saturday, Trump condemned “all types of racism” in a Twitter post marking the anniversary.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, said on Sunday that the media was “just not covering” the president’s repeated denunciations of white nationalists.
“He’s calling for unity among all Americans and he denounced all forms of bigotry and acts of violence and racism,” Conway said to the ABC.
In Washington on Saturday evening, nearly two dozen police officers patrolled Lafayette Square, where members of the Washington chapter of Black Lives Matter were sprinkled through the park, seemingly standing on guard.
In picturesque college town of Charlottesville, hundreds of police officers maintained a security perimeter around the normally bustling downtown district throughout the day on Saturday. Vehicular traffic was barred from an area of more than 15 city blocks, while pedestrians were allowed access at two checkpoints where officers examined bags for weapons.
Hundreds of students and activists took to the streets on Saturday evening. Many of the protesters directed their anger at the heavy police presence, a year after police were harshly criticized for their failure to prevent the violence.
Several events were scheduled in the city including a gathering that will include veteran civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton and Susan Bro, the mother of the woman who was killed a year ago.