Poor rally turnout for white supremacists facing hostility in Washington

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White supremacists march toward Lafayette Square for the "Unite the Right 2" rally in Washington, on Aug 12, 2018. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Counter-protesters shout slogans as police escort white nationalist on their way to Lafayette Park during the "Unite the Right 2" rally in Charlottesville, Washington, on Aug 12, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - A white supremacist rally in front of the White House late Sunday afternoon (Aug 12) saw a poor turnout of about 20 to 30 people, and they were vastly outnumbered by more than 2,000 counter-protesters who were in no mood to tolerate them.

The "Unite the Right 2" event was held to coincide with the anniversary of last year's racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The white supremacist group was escorted by police to and from Lafayette Park, with the counter-protesters held at bay by rings of security.

Still the group, and separately a couple wearing Trump shirts, were assailed by the counter-protesters, some of whom threw projectiles such as water bottles.

Police at one point used pepper spray to push back a section of the counter-protesters, and at another point used batons to disperse part of the crowd after one protester let off a firecracker or smoke bomb.

The counter-protesters came from a cross section of groups opposed to President Donald Trump - in particular his administration's hard line policy on immigration and his apparent equivocation over the white supremacists rally in Charlottesville a year ago when one woman died after a car was driven into a crowd by a neo-Nazi youth.

Supporters of Black Lives Matter, which campaigns against racism towards black people, took part in Sunday's protest.

Mr Chris Hall, 28, a real estate agent born and raised in Washington DC, told The Straits Times that Charlottesville and the year since has shown that "you can be openly racist without any consequences; you can... openly hate people. And that's wrong".

After hearing the white supremacists had left, protesters dispersed under a heavy thundershower, with anti-fascist militant groups marching through the rain, closing down a street for several blocks.

Police escort far-right demonstrators during a rally at Lafayette Park opposite the White House, on Aug 12, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Separately in Charlottesville, activists, University of Virginia students and residents marched to honour the victims of last year's clashes - 32-year-old Heather Heyer and two state troopers killed when their helicopter crashed in a riot-related operation.

Police arrested four people on Sunday including one who spit on a demonstrator's face.

On the eve of the rally, Mr Trump tweeted: "The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!"

But his critics felt his tweet again didn't go far enough to condemn racism, just like last year when he said there were "fine people on both sides" in Charlottesville.

Analysts say the turnout for the "Unite the Right 2" rally showed it has yet to find wider traction.

But the fact that the group known as the Alt-right - many of whom wore pro-Trump gear - gathered in front of the White House is seen a sign of its emboldenment.

Anti-fascists march toward Lafayette Square for the "Unite the Right 2" rally in Washington, on Aug 12, 2018. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Analysts say "white anxiety" drives white supremacists - itself a term many among them dispute, calling themselves "white nationalists" instead.

While white people are currently still a majority, the Census Bureau has predicted that by 2044, no single racial group in the United States will be a majority.

A poll released last month by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) showed that while 64 per cent of people surveyed thought demographic and cultural diversity would be positive for America, there were sharp divisions between Democrat and Republican supporters.

A majority of Democrats and Independents believed demographic changes would have a positive impact, but 50 per cent of Republicans believed the impact would be negative.

Mr Osiris Green, 28, a musician, told The Straits Times white supremacy should be stopped before it is too late.

"Back before World War II happened it was kind of similar, it was not taken seriously, and look what happened," he said.

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