Counterprotesters, Antifa confront 'Unite the Right' at tense march as storm rolls in

Tension was building Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C., as a group of far-right demonstrators gathered for the so-called “Unite the Right II” march toward the White House and were met by police and hundreds of counterprotesters, including Antifa.

A passing thunderstorm forced the demonstrators to break down their rally stage in Lafayette Park near the White House prematurely, but as police escorted them from the area, reports of Antifa resistence emerged, with scuffles breaking out and fireworks heard in the air.

Hours earlier, the white nationalist rally participants — a couple dozen in all, according to estimates — gathered at a subway station in northern Virginia and traveled into the nation’s capital via train before disembarking in Foggy Bottom near the George Washington University campus. Police officers cleared a path through the counterprotesters for the group to march through on their way to Lafayette Park outside the White House. The far-right rallygoers marched in the middle of the street, surrounded by a phalanx of police, while counter-protesters heckled them from the sidewalks on either side.

While the far-right group held its rally in Lafayette Park, Antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters marched in the surrounding streets. At one point, an eruption of smoke emerged near the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

White nationalist Jason Kessler arrives at the Vienna metro station in Vienna, Va., Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018. White nationalists are gathering in Washington on the first anniversary of their rally in Charlottesville. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

‘Unite the Right’ organizer Jason Kessler.  (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

There were no immediate reports of arrests or injuries. A few confrontations between protesters and counterprotesters were defused by police.

When the far-right group arrived at Lafayette Park, another large crowd greeted them with boos, cries of “shame,” and chants of “Nazis go home” and “you are not welcome here.”

“Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler said he expected 100 to 400 people to participate in the Lafayette Park event. However, their numbers appeared to be far fewer than that.

Groups protest in Freedom Plaza with the U.S. Capitol in the background, on the one year anniversary of Charlottesville's "Unite the Right" rally, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Counterprotesters rally in Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. Sunday.  (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Some leading figures in the U.S. white nationalist movement said they would not attend or encouraged supporters to stay away.

The National Park Service also issued permits for events organized by DC United Against Hate, New York Black Lives Matter and other groups. Government and police officials in Washington have expressed confidence the city can manage the events without violence; the mayor and police chief have promised a massive security mobilization to keep protesters and counterprotesters apart.

Police work to keep 'Unite the Right Two' protesters and counter protesters separated; Peter Doocy reports.

By mid-afternoon, more than 1,000 people had gathered in Freedom Plaza, also near the White House, to oppose Kessler’s demonstration. The counterprotesters planned to march to Lafayette Square just before the arrival of the white nationalists.

Makia Green, who represents the Washington branch of Black Lives Matter, told Sunday’s crowd that: “We know from experience that ignoring white nationalism doesn’t work.”

Earlier this month, Facebook stunned and angered counterprotest organizers when it disabled their Washington event’s page, saying it and others had been created by “bad actors” misusing the social media platform. The company said at the time that the page may be linked to an account created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency — a so-called troll farm that has sown discord in the U.S. — but counterprotesters said it was an authentic event they worked hard to organize.

Sunday marks one year after the original “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, when hundreds of white nationalists — including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members — descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the city’s decision to remove a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park.

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Arrested Charlottesville protesters Chloe Lubin, left, and Jesse Beard.  (City of Charlottesville)

Violent fighting broke out between attendees and counterprotesters in 2017. Authorities eventually forced the crowd to disperse, but a car later barreled into the crowd of peaceful counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more. A state police helicopter later crashed, killing two troopers.

This weekend was much quieter in Charlottesville. On Sunday morning, a crowd of more than 200 people gathered in a park to protest racism and remember Heyer. The group sang songs, and speakers addressed the crowd.

Authorities in Charlottesville confirmed that four people had been arrested, including a man and a woman who got into a fight after the man saluted the Lee statue.

Clevenger Fitzhugh

Arrested Charlottesville protesters Martin Clevenger, left, and Veronica Fitzhugh.  (City of Charlottesville)

Martin Clevenger, 29, of Spotsylvania, Va., and 40-year-old Veronica Fitzhugh, 40, of Charlottesville, were arrested on one count each of disorderly conduct and later released on a summons.

Another Charlottesville resident, 42-year-old Jesse Beard, was arrested on one count of obstruction of free passage and was released on a summons. Chloe Lubin, 29, of Portland, Maine, was arrested on charges of misdemeanor assault and battery, disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice and possession of a concealed weapon. Authorities said Lubin spit in one demonstrator’s face and clung on to another demonstrator as police tried to arrest her.

On Saturday night, University of Virginia students and other activists briefly confronted police over the heavy security presence at a rally. They unfurled a banner reading, “Last year they came w/ torches. This year they come w/ badges” and chanted, “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here.” More than 200 marched to another part of campus, where many shouted at a line of officers.

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