US Politics

Charlottesville one year on: Protests to target White House

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How is Washington bracing for protests just one year on from the deadly rally in Charlottesville?

All eyes are on Washington this weekend with white supremacists and anti-fascists organising protests to mark the one-year anniversary of their deadly confrontation at a rally in Charlottesville.  

Authorities have raised security at a park outside the White House to try to keep the two groups separate and avoid a repeat of the violent clashes between them a year ago. 

Violent clashes erupt at the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville on 12 August 2017.
Violent clashes erupted at the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville on 12 August 2017.
Jason Andrew/Getty Images

What happened in 2017?

Last year, a rally was organised by white supremacist network Unite the Right in response to growing frustration over the planned removal of statues honouring Confederate generals in Charlottesville. 

Violence broke out between white nationalists and counter-protesters.

The clashes turned deadly when a car ploughed into a group of counter demonstrators, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

State Police keep a handful of Confederate protesters separated from counter demonstrators in front of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
State Police keep a handful of Confederate protesters separated from counter demonstrators in front of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
AAP

The 20-year-old who drove the car into the crowd was charged with second-degree murder.

The night before the violence, a large group of mostly young white males marched past the University of Virginia halls and across the Nameless Field with torches.

The ugly scenes highlighted the growing boldness of America's extreme right. 

In a low point for his presidency, Donald Trump, blamed "both sides" for the bloodshed, a reaction that triggered astonishment among many and was widely seen as escalating tensions.

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One year on

Washington authorities said they will ramp up the capital city's emergency level with both white nationalists and counter-protesters planning to converge at the same park outside the White House on Sunday.

The National Park Service said Wednesday it issued a permit for a rally in Lafayette Park by Unite the Right.

This Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 image shows s white supremacist carrying a NAZI flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va.
This Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 image shows s white supremacist carrying a NAZI flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va.
AAP

But the service said it has also issued a permit at the same park on the same day for counter-protesters, a move that appeared to raise the prospects of a violent clash right in front of the White House.

"Law enforcement's goal during the entire operational period will be to keep the two groups separated," DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters, as he added a warning to anyone coming to the city threatening violence.

"If you come here with the intent to hurt someone or break something, we're going to put you under arrest," said Newsham.

All firearms will be banned from the protest site, including those legally carried by licensed gun owners, he stressed.

A car drove into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last August, killing a woman.
A car drove into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last August, killing a woman.
AAP

The second permit was issued to the Answer Coalition, a group that has called for "mass action" on Sunday to protest what it described as racists, fascists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

"I don't know exactly what will happen, but it probably will not be good," tweeted Richard Spencer, a leader of the so-called "alt-right" movement, who said he would be staying away from the rally.

 

Mayor Muriel Bowser said she signed an order raising the city's emergency level to allow for additional resources for safety, traffic management and public works.

"We know that our responsibility is to protect First Amendment events, to protect Washingtonians and to protect our city, and we will do just that," she said.

The population of the US capital is nearly half black, according to the US census bureau.

Newsham said the permit allowed for 400 demonstrators, and that overflow zones will be available should more protesters arrive.

"We would ask everyone who attends to not let their personal passions overcome their civility," he said.

Unite the Right said on its website that supporters will march from a nearby subway station to Lafayette Park at 5pm (2100 GMT). It also warned its followers not to bring guns or "engage in any fighting."

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