A white nationalist rally in the heart of Washington drew two dozen demonstrators and thousands of chanting counter-protesters, to mark the first anniversary of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Demonstrators opposed to a far-right rally block a street as police try to dislodge them near the White House, August 12, 2018 in Washington, DC, one year after the deadly violence at a similar protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Demonstrators opposed to a far-right rally block a street as police try to dislodge them near the White House, August 12, 2018 in Washington, DC, one year after the deadly violence at a similar protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. ( AFP )

A white supremacist rally outside the White House fizzled out on Sunday after only a handful of neo-Nazis showed up and were massively outnumbered by hundreds of counter-protesters.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of the chaos of a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia exactly a year ago, Washington police closed streets and threw a ring of steel across a public park to make sure the white supremacists and rowdy counter-protesters did not come into contact.

Only about 20 white nationalists trickled in from nearby Vienna, Virginia – under heavy police escort – at Washington's Foggy Bottom Metro station, as a larger group of at least 300 counter-protesters awaited them, shouting "Shame!" and "Get out of my city!" and jeering them loudly.

After marching to Lafayette Square in front of the White House, the white supremacists were driven in police vans back to a different train station.

TRT World's Lionel Donovan has more.

'Fighting Nazis: An American Tradition'

Heavy rain ensured the numbers of counter-protesters thinned quickly, hours before the scheduled end of the so-called Unite The Right rally.

At Freedom Plaza, located on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue that leads to the US Capitol, a few hundred counter-protesters of all ages, including children and retirees, gathered in a seemingly light-hearted atmosphere. 

One group danced in the street.

"The US is for all of us, NOT just some of us," one sign read, while another said, "Fighting Nazis: An American Tradition."

TRT World's Alexi Noelle has more from the site.

Last year, torch-bearing white supremacists, ostensibly protesting the removal of Confederate statues of figures linked to the pro-slavery South, marched through Charlottesville in two days of chaos that culminated with a man driving a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and wounding 19 people. 

Charlottesville police faced massive criticism for their response and their failure to keep demonstrators and counter-protesters apart.

Opposition to neo-Nazi rally

Kei Pritsker, 22, a Washington-area volunteer for the Answer Coalition that organised this year's counter-protest, was optimistic there would not be a repeat of the violence and said it was vital to show strong opposition to the neo-Nazi rally.

"It would be a major mistake if we allowed fascists to just walk into the nation's capital and go in unopposed," he told AFP news agency.

The white supremacist movement is enjoying a greater sense of empowerment under President Donald Trump, he added.

"When Trump was elected, a lot of those people that were harbouring a lot of racist sentiments felt like, because they had a president's backing, they could just go out and say this stuff," Pritsker said.

Counter-protest organisers had printed dozens of placards, including slogans such as "No Nazis, No KKK, NO Fascist USA."

'Blame on both sides' 

In the immediate aftermath of last year's march, Trump drew broad criticism when he appeared initially reluctant to condemn the extreme right-wingers – many of whom have rallied behind him since his election, including David Duke, a former KKK leader and avowed racist and anti-Semite who praise d Trump's "courage" in defending white nationalist protesters.

Trump had said there was "blame on both sides" for the violence, condemning anti-fascist demonstrators who came "with clubs in their hands."

Two days later, after a firestorm of criticism, the president said: "Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups."

On Saturday the president issued a generic condemnation of racism via Twitter.

"The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division," he wrote.

"We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!"

Source: AFP