The Unite the Right anniversary rally will take place at 4:30pm on Sunday, August 12 in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. Organizer Jason Kessler is promoting the event as a way to protest the “human rights abuses” he claims took place at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Despite his assurances that no “extreme elements” will be involved in the 2018 rally, Kessler has invited leaders from the alt right, as well as other white supremacists, many of whom have said they won’t attend. While the event will almost certainly be smaller than last year’s rally, it will likely attract a significant contingent of counter-protesters, including some antifa – and their interactions with rally attendees could result in violence.
What to expect
This weekend marks the first anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which showed Americans a white supremacist movement that was emboldened and ready to take its hatred and violence to the streets.
The largest public gathering of white supremacists in at least a decade, the event showcased remarkable cohesion among a broad cross-section of the white supremacist movement.
But a lot has changed in the year since Unite the Right, which drew white supremacists from at least 35 states. As we approach the anniversary rally in Washington, D.C., many people are wondering: will we see the same number of people or the displays of hatred violence that stunned the country last year?
The short answer is probably not.
Over the past year, the alt-right has experienced significant turmoil amidst the backlash that followed “Unite the Right,” including infighting among leaders and factions, evictions from internet platforms and various arrests and lawsuits. These responses seem to be impacting the willingness of some white supremacists to participate in the anniversary rally.
The movement-wide organizing and promotional efforts that marked the August 2017 event are nowhere to be seen this time around. Rather, the attempts to organize “Unite the Right 2” starkly illustrate the extent of the divisions within the white supremacist movement.
White supremacists of all stripes have questioned the motives for and effectiveness of holding an anniversary event this year. Many who promoted and helped organize last year’s events in Charlottesville have publicly distanced themselves from this year’s event, and its main organizer, Jason Kessler.
Divisions and disagreements
Indeed, Kessler’s reputation has suffered significantly over the past year, thanks largely to his own actions, including rants against his would-be allies. He referred to Richard Spencer as a “sociopathic narcissist,” suggesting that members of the alt-right don’t know how to behave properly, equating the alt right with neo-Nazis and then denouncing neo-Nazis.
He also called a June 30th flash demonstration by the Alabama-based white supremacist group the League of the South a “nothing-burger” and castigated militia groups who apologized to Black Lives Matter activists for what happened at the 2017 Unite the Right event. During his efforts to get a permit for an anniversary rally in Charlottesville, Kessler also apparently revealed personal information about people he had communicated with on social media and the encrypted messaging services Signal and Telegram.
As a result of Kessler’s missteps and increased public scrutiny, more white supremacists than not appear to be steering clear of the rally. Richard Spencer, the alt right leader who helped promote last year’s rally, told the Los Angeles Times: “I have nothing to do with it, and I have nothing to do with Jason Kessler.”
Other white supremacist groups and individuals have also announced they would not be attending Kessler’s planned anniversary event. The League of the South, which advocates for southern secession, criticized Kessler; its leader, Michael Hill, reportedly said on a podcast that, “We don’t have anything to gain by going back.”
Since taking over the leadership of Identity Evropa late last year, Patrick Casey has indicated that the group will no longer attend large, pre-announced events. Matthew Heimbach, former leader of the now defunct Traditionalist Worker Party, stated he will not be participating. California white supremacist and erstwhile political candidate, Patrick Little, told Kessler that he would not come to the event and demanded that Kessler “stop punching right,” i.e., stop criticizing other white supremacists.
Over the weekend of August 5, Andrew Anglin announced on his Daily Stormer website, “I fully denounce this upcoming march in Washington, and encourage all of my readers to stay all the way away from it.”
“Optics” are perhaps the most significant challenge to white supremacist unity. A heated internal debate rages over the public messaging and appearance of white supremacist groups, and the best way to recruit new members. Should they avoid blatant white supremacist imagery and stress American patriotism, or is it more effective to march in military-style uniforms, yelling “white power” and waving swastika flags? This argument has pushed segments of the white supremacist movement farther apart, fueling their unwillingness to work together.
The alt right isn’t going anywhere
This general infighting among elements of the white supremacist movement has led some observers to assume the alt right’s demise is imminent. But that’s hardly the case. The alt right still plays a significant role in promoting and amplifying anti-Semitism and hate – nationally and internationally, and their recruitment efforts, including unprecedented white supremacist propaganda campaigns continue to roil campuses and cities across the country.
A number of recently formed alt-right groups continue to be active, including Identity Evropa and Patriot Front, which have engaged in unannounced “flash” demonstrations, allowing them to avoid counter-protesters, as well as the Daily Stormer Book Clubs, localized crews of young white supremacists who support neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin.
However many people the event attracts, it seems clear that there will be significantly fewer white supremacists in D.C. than were on the ground in August 2017. But those who oppose the white supremacists are likely to show up, and those ranks will include antifa, who are committed to confronting far-right groups across the country, in stand-offs that sometimes lead to violent confrontations. A June skirmish in Portland, Oregon, between antifa and Patriot Prayer members sent five people to the hospital, including an antifa member who was beaten and suffered a brain hemorrhage, according to press reports.
This potential for violence means local law enforcement must be prepared for clashes, and must plan ahead to maintain physical separation between the opposing factions.