Thousands mark anniversary of deadly violence in Charlottesville

Thousands mark anniversary of deadly violence in Charlottesville

Thousands of people wanting to send a message that racism is not welcome in the United States gathered in a park outside the White House to protest against a white nationalist rally on the anniversary of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In the end, less than two dozen white nationalists showed up.

The events held in both Charlottesville and Washington were part of a day of speeches, vigils and marches marking a year since one of the largest gatherings of white nationalists and other far-right extremists in a decade.

One person was arrested in Washington on Sunday, and four others were arrested in Charlottesville during events which were tense, but largely peaceful.

In Charlottesville, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed at last summer’s rally, visited the site of the attack, saying the country’s racial wounds still have not healed.

In Washington, a phalanx of police and a maze of metal barriers separated the small group of white nationalists from shouting counter-protesters within view of the White House.

Jason Kessler marches during the “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)
Jason Kessler marches during the “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

Jason Kessler, the principal organiser of last year’s “Unite the Right” event, led a gathering which he called a white civil rights rally in Lafayette Square.

Mr Kessler said in a permit application that he expected 100 to 400 people to participate, but the actual number was only around 20.

His group was jeered by crowds from the moment they emerged from the Foggy Bottom Metro station.

They marched about a mile to the White House surrounded by uniformed officers and police vehicles.

Behind the barricades, in the northern half of Lafayette Park, thousands of counter-protesters struggled to even catch a clear glimpse of the white nationalist rally.

The counter-protesters had gathered hours earlier in Lafayette Park and nearby Freedom Plaza.

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

After about 90 minutes, the white nationalists were packed into a pair of vans and driven to safety.

Susan Bro lays flowers at the spot her daughter was killed in Charlottesville last year (Steve Helber/AP)
Susan Bro lays flowers at the spot her daughter was killed in Charlottesville last year (Steve Helber/AP)

Donald Trump, who stoked tensions last year by blaming “both sides” for the violence, was not at home this year, having been at his golf club in New Jersey for more than a week on a working vacation.

Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham credited his forces for successfully avoiding violence and keeping the two sides separated. Mr Newsham called it, “a well-executed plan to safeguard people and property while allowing citizens to express their First Amendment rights”.

Earlier in the day in Charlottesville, the mother of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old killed during last year’s rally, said there’s still much healing to be done.

Susan Bro laid flowers at a makeshift memorial at the site of the attack in downtown Charlottesville.

White nationalists, led by Jason Kessler, march to Lafayette Square (AP)
White nationalists, led by Jason Kessler, march to Lafayette Square (AP)

With a crowd gathered around her, she thanked them for coming to remember her daughter but also acknowledged the dozens of others injured and the two state troopers who were killed when a helicopter crashed that day.

“There’s so much healing to do,” Ms Bro said.

“We have a huge racial problem in our city and in our country. We have got to fix this, or we’ll be right back here in no time.”

Hundreds of neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists descended on Charlottesville on August 12 2017, in part to protest over the city’s decision to remove a monument to Confederate General Robert E Lee from a park.

Demonstrators march in Charlottesville (AP)
Demonstrators march in Charlottesville (AP)

Fighting broke out between attendees and counter-protesters. Authorities eventually forced the crowd to disperse, but chaos erupted again when a car barrelled into the crowd, killing Ms Heyer.

James Fields Jr, of Maumee, Ohio, is charged in state court with murdering Ms Heyer and faces separate hate crime charges in federal court. He pleaded not guilty last month to the federal charges.

The day’s death toll rose to three when a state police helicopter crashed, killing Lt Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates.

- Press Association

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